Have you looked at the league leaders yet this season?
There are some familiar faces atop some of the big categories. Kobe leads the league in scoring. Nash leads the league in assists. Rondo leads the league in steals.
You almost expect to see those guys near the top of those categories.
But have you taken a look at the league leaders in rebounds? It’s not exactly a who’s who of NBA big men over the past few years.
Here’s the top ten:
1. Gerald Wallace 13.8
2. Marc Gasol 11.9
T3. Chris Bosh 11.6
T3. Carlos Boozer 11.6
5. Dwight Howard 11.1
6. Joakim Noah 11.0
T7. Brendan Haywood 10.7
T7. Al Horford 10.7
T7. Zach Randolph 10.7
10. Emeka Okafor 10.5
I know it’s still very early in the season, and inevitably some of these names will fall out of the top ten. But as of right now, only three of the top ten rebounders have ever played in an all-star game (Bosh, Boozer, Howard).
Last year, six of the top ten rebounders have been all-stars. The year before that the number was five. Before that, it was eight.
What does it all mean? Probably nothing. Like I said, it’s still early.
But, it could mean that there has been a shift in the way teams are putting together their rosters.
Earlier in the decade, there seemed to be a real focus on finding big guys who could not only rebound, but contribute offensively as well. The logic behind that makes sense; you want a player that can do everything in your lineup.
But I think that teams realized that players like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Elton Brand don’t grow on trees. Along the way, someone realized, “you know what, it’s about impossible to find a great rebounder and defender who also scores 20 points per game. What if I tried to find one of each?”
The result, as it would seem, is that more and more teams start specialists at the big positions. They’ve decided that they’ll let one of their bigs do all of the offensive work, and one of them focus on the defensive and rebounding aspects.
Look at some of the players in the top ten in rebounding right now. Brendan Haywood, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Emeka Okafor, Al Horford. All of these players are very similar.
They aren’t complete stiffs on offense, but they aren’t exactly weapons either.
But look at the other bigs that they have surrounding them. It’s all scorers. Haywood had Jamison (when healthy). Noah has a revolving door of Tyrus Thomas, Loul Deng, and Brad Miller. Gasol has Zach Randolph. Okafor has Julian Wright (an alleged scorer, though the jury is still out on this one). Horford has Josh Smith.
In each case, there is a defensive and rebounding specialist flanked by a scorer up front.
Now, it’s still way too early to say whether this strategy of two bigs with two completely different roles will have any success. After all, the teams with the most success last season, the Lakers and Magic, each had big guys that did everything, so that still looks like the way to go.
But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of starting two specialists up front: a scorer and a rebounder/defender. It just makes sense. If you can’t find one guy who does everything, use two guys.
It may be a trend built out of necessity, like I said, 20-10 guys don’t grow on trees.
Or it could be a shift in the development of players/setting up of teams.
Either way, it’s something to keep an eye on.