Dwight Howard has led the league in rebounding the last two seasons and will undoubtedly be one of the league's leaders when all is said and done at the end of this season (although his current 11.4 rebounds per game average places him seventh in the league). But surprisingly, Orlando has never ranked very highly in rebounding under Stan Van Gundy. Part of that can be reasoned away by the team's defensive strategy which does not require or want players to crash the offensive glass, instead favoring that they get back on defense and prevent fast break opportunities.
This year has been different. And it does not appear to be something that will change.
Through Saturday's games, Orlando is second in the league in total rebounds with 47.2 per game and leads the league by far in rebound differential, outrebounding opponents by 9.8 boards. The differential is really what is surprising. The last two years, Orlando ranked third and fifth, averaging 43.3 in 2008 and 43.2 rebounds per game last year. Both those teams had slim differentials.
It is likely the Magic are not going to maintain the 9.8 differential they are posting now (even though Orlando already faced the second-best rebounding team, Minnesota, this year). Even with a small sample size of five games, something has clearly changed with the Magic's rebounding mentality.
Orlando is grabbing 11.2 offensive rebounds per game to this point. That is more than Orlando averaged the last two years when the team was around 10 offensive rebounds per game.
The raw numbers do not tell the whole story though.
Dwight Howard is a rebounding machine. There is no doubt about that. But he has also dominated Orlando's rebounding.
Last year Howard averaged 13.2 rebounds per game, grabbed 30.5 percent of the team's total rebounds and 35.1 percent of the team's total offensive rebounds. He had a 22.0 percent total rebounding rate. The year before, Howard averaged 13.8 rebounds per game, grabbed 30.8 percent of the team's total rebounds and 41 percent of the team's offensive rebounds to go with a league-high 21.8 percent total rebounding rate.
As you can see, Howard has done a lot of the rebounding heavy lifting for Orlando.
This year, the total number of rebounds per game Orlando is grabbing has risen and that can be directly attributed to a more focused effort on not only getting more offensive rebounds, but (simply enough) attacking the defensive glass a little harder.
Howard's numbers are not down by a lot, but other players are bolstering his effort on the glass so far this season.
As mentioned above, Howard is averaging 11.4 rebounds per game through five games this season. If that were to continue, it would be his lowest since his rookie season. Howard has grabbed only 24.2 percent of the team's total rebounds and his rebounding rate is at 21.6 percent.
A lot of his numbers seem to be on part with what he usually produces, but the Magic as a team are rebounding better and supporting Howard's efforts. That has been the big change this year.
Brandon Bass is second on the team with 6.2 rebounds per game and Rashard Lewis grabs 6.0 per game. And Marcin Gortat is not too far behind with 5.8 per game. The last two years no one else on the team has averaged 6.0 rebounds per game. Rashard Lewis was second in 2009 with 5.7 rebounds per game and Matt Barnes was second in 2010 with 5.5 per game.
With Bass playing pretty well, it is not hard to believe this focus on team rebounding will not continue and Orlando will become an even better rebounding team. The Magic set out to become a little bit bigger and tougher after the Eastern Conference Finals loss to Boston. Rebounding is only nominally a measure of that.
But the Magic under Stan Van Gundy have historically been a very good rebounding team, but not a league-leading or rebound-focused team. They have relied on Dwight Howard to clean up everything on the glass. Now he has help and some pretty good help at that. It makes Orlando that much more dangerous of a team to face.