Easy Buckets: The Effects of UNC’s Excellent Offensive Rebounding


J.P. Tokoto has brought down the house with many dunks over the course of his career in Chapel Hill, but one of his dunks against the Duke Blue Devils last week was particularly noteworthy, not only for its aesthetic beauty but for another reason.

At the end of the half, Joel Berry II drove into the lane and threw up a wild shot. It bounced off the rim, but J.P. Tokoto skied over everyone, dunking the ball and providing an exclamation point to the end of the first half.

Tokoto might have made that dunk look easy, but putback dunks and offensive rebounding in general is not. But, North Carolina has a few players who excel at this task. And North Carolina’s collectives aptitude at offensive rebounding is one of the biggest reasons why UNC can piece together an offense that ranks 11th in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, while ranking third to last in all of Division 1 Basketball in percentage of points coming from three pointers.

First, let’s define what an offensive rebound is. A simple definition, from sportingcharts.com —

"A term used in basketball to describe a rebound secured by an offensive player after his/her teammate has missed a shot. When this occurs, the team has a chance to secure “second-chance points”, which are especially valuable."

Pay attention to that last sentence in the definition — “The team has a chance to secure “second-chance points”, which are especially valuable.” When UNC or any other team secures an offensive rebound, easy points usually follow, because 1) the defense is scrambling and out of place after the miss and 2) the ball is usually pretty close to the basket, and generally, the closer the ball is to the basket, the easier it is to score.

What I want to really drive home is that offensive rebounds are like gold. They almost always lead to an easy basket or at the very least, another possession. They are like a get out of jail free card for an offense.

Next, let’s take a look at an example of a UNC player making an offensive rebound from a different game — this time Brice Johnson making the play against Florida way back at the beginning of the season.

In the play, Justin Jackson drives baseline and throws up one of his trademark floaters, attracting two defenders in the process. Take a look at this screenshot from right after Jackson releases the ball…

First off, take a look at #20 on Florida, who does a good job boxing out J.P. Tokoto on the release.  His teammate doesn’t do such a good job, which will prove to be costly for his team. #30 on Florida, in front of Brice Johnson, appears to be in good rebounding position. But he fails to box out Brice, and even as the ball goes up, Brice is preparing to leap up and put-back the ball for an easy bucket.

This is a skill. If you put you, or me, or even a less accomplished Tar Heel big man like Desmond Hubert, in Brice Johnson’s spot, this shot would probably lead to a defensive rebound by Florida. But Johnson has a skill for positioning himself under the basket, corralling the missed ball and going straight back up with it for the easy lay-in.

North Carolina has a few guys who excel at offensive rebounding. In fact, per kenpom.com, UNC has four of the top 38 best players in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage (OR%) — two elite rebounders, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, and two elite rebounders at their position on the wing, Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto.

This chart does a good job illustrating just how good these four players are at offensive rebounding and putbacks.

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The first column of data is the total number of offensive rebounds each player has on the season. This is just a simple counting stat. Notice Meeks leads the way with 69, but Johnson isn’t far behind at 66.

The second column is offensive rebounding percentage, or, simply, the percentage of your team’s misses that you grab. The higher the percentage, the better. For reference, the best player in the country in this metric is AJ West of Nevada with an OR% of 21.9%. (Isaiah Hicks also excels in this category, with an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.8, but he doesn’t play nearly as much as the other four.)

The last two columns are extra important. They show the total number of putbacks — what we saw on video earlier — on the season for the players. Kennedy Meeks leads the team with 43 putbacks on the season. The final column shows the field goal percentage of the Tar Heels on those putbacks. Those field goal percentages are pretty high.

When you look at the offense as a whole, you can really start to see the effects of the offensive rebounding.

UNC ranks 11th in offensive efficiency, per kenpom.com without shooting well from beyond the arc, without getting to the line a lot and without generating a lot of points via turnovers. How, then, do the Heels piece together that elite offense? With superb offensive rebounding. UNC ranks fourth in the country, per kenpom.com, in offensive rebounding percentage. And, on those offensive rebounds, UNC shoots 71.1% at the rim on putbacks, per hoop-math.com

Carolina pieces together an elite offense by grabbing a super high percentage of their misses and either putting them back up quickly for easy points or grabbing extra possessions for the offense to use.


Let me sum up my argument in a few last points.

1) Offensive rebounds are very good.

Offensive rebounds lead either to easy shots at the rim or to extra possessions, both of which are good.

2) UNC has some really good offensive rebounders who corral misses and prey on easy points after.

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Meeks, Johnson, Tokoto and Jackson all get easy points from all the offensive rebounds, keeping the offense going forward even if jumpers aren’t falling.

3) Add those two points up, and you get an elite offense built off strong offensive rebounding. 

Carolina takes the easy points and extra possessions and is able to build an excellent offense without good or even average three-point shooting.

Keep an eye out for the effect of Carolina’s offensive rebounding in the game tonight and for the rest of the season going forward.