Charlotte Bobcats guards Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker told new coach Steve Clifford they were sick of all the losing. Clifford suggested a simple, achievable way to address that:
Grab more long rebounds.
Traditionally the Bobcats are among the NBA’s worst rebounding teams. Suddenly they’re among the best. They lead the league in defensive rebounding percentage (77.3 percent) and are 7th among 30 teams in total-rebounding percentage (51.8 percent).
The Bobcats were bottom-three in each of those categories the past two seasons.
The improvement by Henderson and Walker isn’t the only reason this has changed, but it’s a big part. Henderson averages 4.7 rebounds this season, compared with 3.7 last season. Walker averages 4.2, compared with 3.5 last season. That might not sound like a big change, but it’s essentially the difference between being below-average for their positions, versus proficient.
"One thing (Clifford) emphasized even before (training camp) was most of our players, for their career and last season, were below-average for their position," Henderson said of rebounding. "In college and as a pro, I’ve been under the average for a two-guard. That was something I could improve on.
"It’s not that difficult. You’ve just got to go grab the ball. I’m playing 30 minutes, so it shouldn’t be that hard to grab at least four or five rebounds."
The Bobcats have no individual player among the top 40 rebounders in the NBA. (Center Al Jefferson’s 9.1 average doesn’t yet qualify because he’s missed about half of this season’s games).
Jefferson and backup Bismack Biyombo (6.8 per game) are good rebounders, but they are certainly not dominant ones on the scale of a Dwight Howard or Kevin Love. So Clifford has asked the players to "gang rebound," which means the guards have to share this responsibility more than they have.
"Almost all of them have improved on their rebounds-per-minute from last year,’’ said Clifford, who then singled out Henderson: "He has not just rebounded the ball well, he’s gotten traffic rebounds and fourth-quarter rebounds."
The Bobcats weren’t all that bad last season at guarding, but they often didn’t finish the job because they gave up 11.8 offensive rebounds per game. That’s far too many extended possessions for the opposition, particularly when you consider how limited offensively the Bobcats were and are.
This season the Bobcats are giving up a league-low 9.3 offensive rebounds per game. That will be tested against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, particularly if Biyombo (right ankle sprain) and small forward Jeff Taylor (left heel contusion) can’t play.
"We had to (improve perimeter rebounding) in order to win games,” Walker said. “We always relied on the bigs to grab all the rebounds, but it’s on us, too Gerald has always been criticized for not being a very good rebounder. He took all that criticism to heart, and now he’s hitting the boards.
"I’ve always been a pretty good rebounder, but last year maybe I was a little slack. Coach has been on me about that and I just want to win.
"Getting those long rebounds, that’s something I can do. We’re all holding each other accountable, and that means fighting for rebounds."
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell