Moses Malone-ing It
In a recent interview, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams remarked that this year’s team is “Moses Malone-ing it” on the offensive glass, suggesting that maybe the team’s offensive rebounding statistics are somewhat inflated by offensive rebounds coming off of missed easy layups. From my own experience watching games this season, this seems like a plausible phenomenon, with Kennedy Meeks the most obviously guilty party. While there is anecdotal evidence supporting this theory, what do the numbers show?1
North Carolina currently leads the nation with a rebound margin of 14.5 (which is over two rebounds per game higher than the next largest margin) and offensive rebounds per game. It also leads the nation in offensive rebounding percent, rebounding 43 percent of its missed shots, according to Inside Carolina. However, it is difficult to discern how much this is due to superior rebounding ability and how much it is due to poor finishing at the rim. In a recent News & Observer article, Williams addressed this trend:
“We’d lay it up and get it and lay it up and get it and lay it up and get, lay it up and get it – ‘Well, God, they’re a great rebounding team.’ Well, dang, we’re 1-for-4. So it’s a little bit inflated by that.”
Just over 13 percent of Carolina’s offense rebounds this year are coming from players rebounding their own missed shots (we’ll refer to this stat as OwnOR%). Compared to the rest of the ACC, this is actually quite low, ranking second to last in the league. Virginia Tech has the highest rate in the conference, with nearly 30 percent of its offensive rebounds coming from players rebounding their own missed shots. Since the 2005-06 season, only two other Carolina teams have had a lower rate of offensive rebounds coming from a player’s own missed shots.
This trend holds if we narrow our results to the percent of offensive rebounds coming from a player’s own missed layups (we’ll call this OwnLayupOR%). In this metric, Carolina ranks 12th in the ACC at about 7 percent.
Compared to past Carolina teams, this year’s team has a relatively high percent of its rebounds coming from a player’s own missed layups. Only three other years have had higher rates.
Another possible play outcome that could artificially inflate team offensive rebounding numbers is missed layups being rebounded by players other than the shooter. Calculating the portion of offensive rebounds coming off of any player’s missed layup (we’ll call this LayupOR%), Carolina falls right in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Virginia Tech also leads the league in LayupOR% (at almost 40 percent) and OwnLayupOR% (at nearly 16 percent).2
While as a team Carolina does not appear to be “Moses Malone-ing it,” what about individually? If you are a Carolina fan, you have probably yelled “Just dunk it!” at some point this season following a missed Kennedy Meeks layup. Unsurprisingly for those familiar with this year’s team, Meeks has a higher OwnOR% than his teammates, at least among those who have a significant number of offensive rebounds. (Half of Joel Berry’s offensive rebounds are off his own missed shots, but he only has six offense rebounds on the year).
The following chart provides a breakdown of Carolina’s offensive rebounds by shooter. For clarity, it is limited to only players with at least 20 offensive rebounds on the season. (After the six players with over 20 offensive rebounds this season, Brandon Robinson and Theo Pinson are next with nine). From this chart, we can see that Meeks and Tony Bradley have a comparatively large number of their offensive rebounds coming from their own missed shots, and the other top offensive rebounders have comparatively fewer. Intuitively, this makes sense, since Meeks and Bradley take more of their shots in the paint, where it is more likely that they will be able to clean up their misses.
Meeks leads the conference in offensive rebounds per game with 3.9. Of all ACC players with at least 20 offensive rebounds on the season, he ranks ninth in both OwnOR% and OwnLayupOR%. Most notable of those with a higher OwnOR% than Meeks is Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, who ranks third in the conference with 3.4 offensive rebounds per game and has an OwnOR% of just over 27 percent, compared to Meeks’s 22 percent.
Even when examining offensive rebounds coming only off of other players missed shots, Meeks is still a force on the offensive boards. Adjusting for number of games played, Meeks is second in the ACC behind only Clemson’s Sidy Djitte in offensive rebounds following teammates’ missed shots.
How does Meeks stack up historically among recent Carolina teams? Over the last 12 seasons (including this one), there have been 85 players who have collected at least 20 rebounds in a season. Of these, Meeks this season ranks 14th in terms of his OwnOR%, which is currently 22%.
Tyler Hansbrough has the highest rate among post players, posting an OwnOR% above 30 percent in both the 2007 and 2009 seasons.
On the flip side, Brice Johnson last season finished with an OwnOR% of just 12 percent. Given Johnson’s stellar 61 percent field goal shooting, it is hardly surprising that a smaller portion of his total offensive rebounds came off his own shots. Meeks, currently shooting 52 percent on the season, has more opportunities to rebound his own misses than Johnson did.
As a team, North Carolina’s offensive rebounding stats do not appear to be inflated due simply to missing layups and rebounding them. Virginia Tech actually leads the league in “Moses Malone-ing it.”
Although Kennedy Meeks does appear to be “Moses Malone-ing it” to some degree with a comparatively lower field goal shooting percentage and higher percentage of total offensive rebounds coming from his own missed shots, his stats are not out of line with those of other current ACC and past UNC players. Even if his offensive rebounding stats are slightly inflated, he is still having an outstanding year on the offensive glass. Ol’ Roy’s complaints are warranted, but he may be exaggerating somewhat in an attempt to motivate his players.
1. [All data used in this post was web scraped from play-by-plays on ESPN and GoHeels.com. For the current season, this includes only games played before January 24th. The data is available in our Google Drive here.]↩
2. [Although typical OR% stats refer to number of offensive rebounds out of total missed shots, our metrics of OwnOR%, OwnLayupOR%, and LayupOR% refer to the number of offensive rebounds of that particular type out of all offensive rebounds.]↩