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Advanced Stats Class: Poor rebounding helped sink the Hornets season

It’s hard to be a winning NBA team when you can’t clean the glass.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets finished the regular season with a 43-39 record and the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. Let’s take a look back on the Hornets team advanced stats and better understand why their season went the way it did. This week we’ll break down the Hornets rebound percentage.

Advanced stat: Rebound percentage

What it measures: Percentage of rebounds secured compared to the total number of rebounds available

Hornets result: 48.6 percent

League rank: 27th overall

Writing an article with the conclusion that the 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets were a bad rebounding team is like writing a column about how water is wet or donuts are delicious. If you care enough about the Hornets to be reading this article, I’m going to tell you what you already know: Charlotte needs a rebounder.

The Hornets finished 27th out of 30 NBA teams in rebound percentage, meaning they secured fewer available rebounds than all but three other teams - the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Sacramento Kings. Not surprisingly, those three squads were three of the worst teams in the league last year. Teams that struggle to control rebounds - and therefore maximize possessions - also struggle to win. Poor rebounding was a key contributor to an otherwise talented Hornets roster being on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Rebound percentage can be broken down between offensive and defensive metrics. The Hornets were actually a decent offensive rebounding team at 27.0% which ranked 14th in the league, so they finished right in the middle of the pack. Where the team fell apart was on the defensive glass. Charlotte’s 70.6% defensive rebounding percentage ranked second-to-last in the league.

It’s hard to blame any individual Hornets player for the team’s poor results on the boards. If anybody deserves blame it’s general manager Mitch Kupchak for assembling a roster devoid of any consistently above average rebounders. Mason Plumlee ranked 25th in the NBA in rebound percentage this year among regular players (minimum 41 games and 20 minutes per game) and he was the teams top rebounder. Montrezl Harrell was the team’s second best rebounder and he ranked 39th in the league in rebound percentage.

That’s not a slight on either Plumlee or Harrell. They are what they are and Kupchak knew that when he signed them. Neither player has been known as a great rebounder in his career yet the Hornets front office constructed a team where they would be expected to regularly clean the glass. To no one’s surprise, they struggled to do so. Failure to secure rebounds means extended defensive possessions and fewer offensive opportunities. That dynamic factored heavily into the Hornets remaining a fringe playoff team instead of a true contender.

On the bright side, LaMelo Ball is an excellent rebounder for a guard. His 9.8% rebound percentage ranked 12th among NBA guards and third on the Hornets behind Plumlee and Harrell. Where the Hornets big men struggled to secure rebounds, they got a lot of help from a guard coming down to secure the ball.

A number of mock drafts have the Hornets selecting Duke center Mark Williams with one of their two first round picks. Based on the team’s lackluster 2021-22 performance in the rebounding department, an interior presence like Williams could make an immediate impact in an area where the team is sorely lacking.

There have been a lot of “if only” moments over the last two years with the Hornets. If only they had at least one dominant rebounder, perhaps they are a playoff team. Charlotte won’t be a good rebounding team unless the roster changes, and let’s hope Mitch Kupchak finally fills this gaping hole.