T.J. Warren is the Right Answer to the Wrong QuestionPosted by KCarpenter on February 22nd, 2013
Poor defensive rebounding is a well-known weakness of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. As gifted as this team is offensively, shoddy interior defense and an inability to snag defensive rebounds have been a thorn in the side of Mark Gottfried all season. So in an attempt to supercharge his lineup’s skills on the boards, Gottfried went big and started 6’8″ T.J. Warren at small forward and benched fellow freshman Rodney Purvis. The move paid off big time in a game that saw near-total board dominance against the overmatched Florida State Seminoles. At least, that’s the narrative that we were treated to here.
Starting Warren over Purvis is a move that makes a lot of sense, but there are a few things about this story that don’t add up. First, was it the lineup change that led to such a great game? I doubt it. Florida State is the worst rebounding team in the conference — everyone kills them on the boards. They are ranked 242nd in the nation on the offensive glass. They are even worse on the defensive boards. Out of 347 Division I schools, there are only 27 that are worse on the defensive boards than the Seminoles. If the test for successful rebounding was being able to handle FSU, the bar was set incredibly low.
The rest of this story of strategic adjustment poses the simple idea that adding Warren is what helped NC State improve on the defensive boards. It makes sense on the face of things: Adding height to the lineup is usually a pretty sure-fire way to improve rebounding. There’s only one problem: Warren is the worst defensive rebounding rotation forward in the ACC. Seriously, of all forwards and centers who have played over 100 minutes in the conference this season, no one has a lower defensive rebounding percentage than he does.
The article states, “N.C. State guards Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and Rodney Purvis have been anxious to get out in transition and have routinely let Howell handle the rebounding.” There’s not much doubt this is true, but it needs to be noted that Scott Wood grabs 8.4% of defensive rebounds and Lorenzo Brown grabs 11.5% compared to Warren’s 7.7%. In contrast with Warren, two out of three perimeter players are actually better on the defensive boards! Of course, the one other player called out by name is Purvis, a player who only manages 6.6% of defensive boards. So, at least in terms of the numbers, replacing the worst defensive rebounder on your team with one who is slightly better (though terrible for his position) probably does help the team. On the other hand, 5’11″ Tyler Lewis grabs defensive rebounds at almost the exact same rate as Warren.
In general, starting Warren is a good thing: He’s been so great offensively that any shortcomings he has defensively are easily ignored. Still, Warren isn’t a good defensive rebounder, and trying to paint the insertion of the forward into the lineup as a salve for poor rebounding is misguided at best. Less playing time for Purvis (who in many ways is the team’s worst liability) will probably help the team in a lot of ways, but pretending that this personnel change will fix the rebounding issue doesn’t make a lot of sense. Any enhancement to this team’s defensive rebounding will probably have more to do with changes in schematics and philosophy (“don’t leak out so much”) than this specific rotation tweak.