Rebounding Fundamentals

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Rebounding is one of those skills that generally goes unnoticed by the casual observer. It's not flashy, it's not going to make many highlight reels, but for people who know how games are won and lost the rebounding stats are often one of the most significant margins of a victory or a loss. The old cliche is that rebounding is mostly based on effort and not skill, but the truth is that there are refined skills and learned instincts that go into reading the players you're competing against on a rebound and the shot coming off the shooter's hand.

Coaches often talk to their players about finding and understanding their role on a team. This role may change from year to year or a player may fill multiple roles. You don't have to be a 20 point a game scorer to be a contributing member to a team. If you are not a featured scorer does this mean you should stop working on your shot? No. It does mean that working to be a quality all around player will keep you off the bench and in the game because you are a contributor. A player who is a X point a game player and wants to increase those totals can do so by learning how to effectively crash the offensive boards and earning their team and themselves more shot opportunities.

Defensive Rebounding


As with many things in basketball being a good team at one aspect of the game or another means building a culture. The best rebounding teams have a culture where every single time a shot goes up all five players on the court know they must make contact. One of the more frequent excuses used by players when a player goes right by them for an offensive rebound is "That's not my man". The defense will never be in perfect alignment with the offense to allow each player to check out the man they are guarding. This means that each player must find a player in their area to make contact with even if all they are able to do is alter the trajectory of the player crashing the offensive glass away from the path of the rebound. Players must know it's not any single persons responsibility to box out, it's OUR responsibility.

Boxing out on a shot

Boxing Out Basics

The box out has a few simple steps to perform and the difficulty factor lies in reading the offensive players direction of attack. The steps are:

  • Initiate Contact
  • Seal Low and Wide
  • Find the Basketball
  • Get the Rebound

Defensive rebounders need to recognize that the offensive has several distinct advantages. The offense has a better perspective of the shot and it's path to the rim. They are able to see the ball and the defensive player in front of them allowing them to react to both when looking to attack the rebound. If the defense allows the offense to be the first to make contact or allows the offense to simply get through a gap then they have not done their job. This is why the defense must be the one to initiate contact with the offensive player in their area. This allows the defense to then read the path the offense is taking.

The offense can only go in 4 directions: Once you have established position the offense cannot go through you which prevents them from going directly forward. If the player chooses to go backwards and not crash, great! You've done your job. This leaves a player trying to get through to the left or the right. Once you initiate contact with your hand or arm this is when you want to Seal Low and Wide.

At this point as a defensive player you are facing the man you are boxing out which usually does not allow you to immediately see where the basketball is on it's arc towards the rim. By initiating and maintaining contact after sealing you have now given yourself a physical means of recognizing where the person you are boxing out is trying to go. Once they make their move, adjust to stay in front by shuffling your feet and moving to stay in front and maintain contact. You're generally not going to be able to back a player up who is trying to attack the basket so use the player's momentum against them. This means if they're pushing hard to get around you to the right, shuffle your feet to the right and drive them further out in the direction they were looking to go.

Elements of a good seal:

  • Low man wins: Win the battle of position by having a lower, stronger center of gravity.
  • Arms wide: The wider your base and arms, the more difficult it is for a player to get around you.
  • Butt Out: Use your hips and butt by sliding your feet to stay in front while maintaining contact to keep a defender behind you.

Going Through the Ball

Once you have your man sealed it's now time to find the Basketball and get the rebound. The general principle of the idea is that if all 5 players on the court box out the offense should be unable to get the basketball. This of course is not always the case but the more offensive players that have been boxed out this gives a significant advantage to the defense who has inside position (generally) to the rebound. Great rebounders have the mentality of not only going to a rebound, but going through the rebound. A player who's momentum is going to stop at the spot of the rebound is going to lose it to a player who has momentum taking them through the rebound. Don't go to it, go through it.

Offensive Rebounding

The common thought is that offensive rebounding is mostly an effort based statistic where the hardest workers get the most offensive rebounds. It's true that effort is the key component but the most important skill for offensive rebounders is learning to read the ball as it leaves the hand of the shooter. There is no sure fire way to put yourself in a perfect position each time a shot goes up. On some occasions you may be out of position, in contact with another player and unable to reach it, or possibly too close or far in relation to the hoop to have a shot at the rebound. In this section we will discuss reading the ball off the shooters hand, moves that players can use to get through contact to get to a high percentage rebounding area, and team strategy on how many players should crash.

Reading the Shot

Reading the arc and understanding the dynamics of how a shot ends up where it does is the most essential component to being a good offensive rebounder. This entails looking at the following components each time a shot goes up:

  • Who is the shooter? - This may be something difficult to do first thing in a game for defensive players, but early on in the year you should start to recognize who are the quality/poor shooters on your team and what their ranges are. If you are on a team that has a center who loves to shoot threes but isn't very good at it you know that the shot may be quite a bit off target. This person shooting may mean an air ball or a shot that hits the backboard or clunks clumsily off the rim. A quality shooter is likely to have a rebound rattle out, bounce high off the back rim and stay near the basket, or have the shot end up in the high percentage rebounding zone to the weak side of the basket. Recognize immediately who is likely to have a predictable rebound and who is likely to have an erratic shot pattern which will help you to make quick decisions on what part of the floor you should look to attack.
A shot from directly in front of the basket will usually end up with a rebound in the paint area.
  • What is the situation? - Recognizing time and score situations is something talked about often in basketball but it's often forgotten about when it comes to rebounding. Is your team down three late in the game? Be prepared to chase down a long rebound off an outside shot. Did your coach recently put an emphasis on getting shot attempts from the low post? Rebounds are likely to end up within a close proximity to the basket opposite of the post man. If you're able to learn how to anticipate a shot before it happens you're much more likely to get the jump on an offensive rebound.
  • Was the shooter balanced? - We mentioned earlier how one of the essentials to getting an offensive rebound is to read the ball as it comes out of the shooters hand. An additional component to this is reading the balance of the shooter as they step into the shot. A shooter stepping in off a pass into a shot is likely to be balanced and put up a quality shot. The opposite is true if someone is on a fast break and does not properly slow down and control themselves when trying to release a shot attempt. Notice what direction their momentum is taking them as that will have an affect on the trajectory of the ball. A player shooting a fade away is more likely to come up short and hit front rim while a player going forward shooting a floater is more likely to hit back rim. Take notice of the body momentum of a player shooting when anticipating the arc and distance of the shot.
From the wing a shot is likely to end up on the weak side of the basket.
  • High arc or low arc? - Arc is going to significant effect how a shot comes off the rim and it's likelihood of going in. The height and angle of every persons shot is going to differ but those with a flat shot with very little arc are going to be more likely to miss off the front rim/back rim. Having a more flat arc narrows the angle at which a shot is going to go in the hoop.
  • Where was the shot taken? - The place on the floor where the shot was released from will allow you to recognize where the ball is most likely to go off the rim on a miss. This is usually the weak side of the floor opposite of where the shot was taken. Here are some examples of release locations and high percentage rebounding areas:
Shots taken from the corner have a high percentage of ending up directly on the opposite side of the rim.

Fill a Rebounding Area

Filling open space is key to being a good offensive rebounder. When the shots goes up you as an offensive player have a distinct advantage of being able to see the shot in front of you as compared to having the shot come from behind you because as a defensive player you eventually have to turn to the basket. As the shot leaves the hand of the shooter, you want to crash to open space near where you anticipate the rebound is most likely to go. You're often better off crashing to open space on the floor near the basket rather than diving into a group of players where it will be tough to secure the ball if it comes your way.

Offensive Rebounding Skills

A defensive player who is doing their job in an area should look to box out and that means as an offensive rebounder you will need to have a moveset to counter the box out to be able to get to a rebounding area. Let's take a look at some of the skills you can utilize to get past a defensive player to crash the boards.

Quick Misdirection Step

This is the most straight forward move but often one of the move effective. As a defender squares you up to initiate contact, make a strong move in one direction or the other while staying low and balanced. On your first or second step, plant the outside foot in the direction you're looking to fake then quickly slide past the defender in the opposite direction.

Swim Move

The swim move is similar to a move used by a football player where as the defense steps out to initiate contact you want to step towards the player using the same foot of the direction you want to go past them. Use the same arm of the foot you just stepped towards them with and push down their outstretched arm on that side of their body. As you do this, step through with your opposite foot and "swim" with your arm allowing you to get your head, shoulder, and hips past the defender.

Spin Move

The spin move off a defender appears that a lot of the motion comes with the hips and upper body but the key to a good spin move is the footwork. Using quick and short steps make a read on the defender to step to the inside with one foot, step into the defender's body with the other, then use the first foot you planted to reverse spin with the foot swinging around in the opposite direction of where your momentum is taking you. This allows you to get your hips past the offensive player which gives you the inside advantage for the rebound. If you are having trouble with footwork, it's similar to doing a reverse pivot without having the basketball.

Pinning under the rim

This is a judgement call on advising players to do this or not because technically displacing a player could certainly be considered a foul but all teams must consider that being an aggressive offensive rebounding team is always an advantage. As an offensive player near the rim if you do not have the space to get around a defender and end up directly behind them it's much more likely you will be called for a foul making contact up high as compared to down low. If the player boxing out is not down in a strong athletic position use lower leverage by getting into their hip and using your body to move them forward essentially pinning them under the rim. This allows you to easily be at an advantage getting a ball coming off the rim if you are the more aggressive player utilizing a lower body strength advantage. As a coach we would always prefer a player being more physical and adjust to how the game is being officiated rather than to be less aggressive due to a fear of foul calls.

Free Throw Rebounding

Securing the basketball off of a free throw is crucial to not allowing second chance points which are often a significant contributing reason why teams end up losing a game. Communication and sealing well off the shot will allow the defensive team to get a high percentage of rebounds. To understand how teams line up on a rebound, let's take a look at the set-up:

The standard set-up for rebounding off of a free throw.
  • D1 and D2 are your low block rebounders. They should be your biggest/tallest/best rebounders as the majority of rebounds are going to come down to them as the free throw usually results in very few long rebounds. We recommend that D1 and D2 take a low stance and get their feet as close to O1 and O2 as possible while still maintaining a solid base and not stepping outside of their restricted area. Both of these players want to step into the body and seal off O1 and O2 with their hips. The closer they are the easier it is for them to make contact.
  • D3 and D4 are your secondary rebounders above the offensive rebounders. These positions are interchangeable amongst the three remaining players as the biggest consideration is who you want as your "deep" man who is looking to either get behind a defense who is not paying attention or will flash to the ball for a quick outlet pass to get the ball into transition. We will talk about communication between these players in the next section.
  • D5 is responsible for being aware of how the defensive players are guarding them. If they're able to "sneak" away and are all alone in the front court they may be able to get a long pass on the outlet over the defense for an easy score. Otherwise they are often in a point guard position looking to flash to the basketball for the outlet.

The offensive players should be looking to crash and disrupt the defensive rebound. Players can utilize the moves mentioned earlier in this article or try to tip the ball back to an offensive player. There is generally going to be 4 defensive players in the paint and 1 on the perimeter which gives the offense a numbers advantage to the outside. If an offensive player can't secure a rebound it may be advantageous to tip the ball back to an offense player to get another possession.

Defensive Free Throw Communication

Communication and quickly filling the correct spots and knowing your assignment is essential to being a good rebounding team on the line. The first thing that needs to happen is your best two rebounders need to be underneath which means this communication and set-up needs to happen quickly. You only have the amount of time before the referee tosses the ball to the foul shooter so players must get set quickly.

  • Foul Shooter - The two players on the upper blocks (D3 and D4) have the most important communication pieces to deal with. They must decide who is going to pinch down and who is going to box out the foul shooter. Recognize which low block rebounder is going to have the toughest time dealing with the person they are looking to box out.
  • Low Block Rebounders- These two players (D1 and D2) should make sure to communicate with each other in regards to which player will have the best size, height, and athleticism match up with the players they need to box out.
  • Player not lined up: Generally a guard, this is going to be the player who needs to make a read on the situation and understand their teams philosophy. They may want to extend the floor and set up on the perimeter in the front court. Another option would be getting available to receive an outlet pass by flashing to the basketball while understanding their position in relation to the defense. It is the responsibility of both the outlet man and the outlet passer to ensure the ball is not turned over to a defender stepping in front of a pass.

Securing the Ball and Making an Outlet Pass

Once the rebound has been acquired it's important to protect it from the players around you and to control possession to prevent a quick turnover. Nothing creates a better scoring opportunity for the opposing team than when a team that gets the defensive rebound turns it over while half the team is running up the court in transition. Most often, coaches will tell their players to "Chin It" which means having your hands securely on both sides of the ball, elbows out, and the ball at chest level or above. This prevents players from coming in and causing a jump ball by grabbing the basketball or from a strip by having the ball too low.

Often pressure on a rebounder will last only seconds as once the shooting team recognizes that the opposing team controls the basketball they will look to get back on defense to avoid giving up an easy transition basket. In this case, the rebounder can easily and quickly outlet the ball to a ball handler or a wing.

Deron Williams about to receive the outlet from Carlos Boozer
Things an Outlet passer should be aware of:
  • Defense looking to step in front of a pass: Recognize where the defense is on a floor and don't make a dangerous pass. If your outlet target is headed up the court and the defender is headed at you, they can step in front of a pass very quickly.
  • Rogue player from behind: Occasionally you'll get a lone wolf player who was under the basket or behind the rebound who will sneak behind and try to slap the ball away. See the whole floor.
  • Throwing an outlet across the court: While this can be a very effective way to push the ball in transition, it's also the highest risk of having a defender step in front of a pass.
  • Utilize Overhead Pass - Throwing the overhead pass gives strength and velocity to your outlet pass and keeps the ball high where defenders cannot get at it. It's also accurate... players should make sure to step in the direction they are throwing.
  • Reverse Pivot to face up the court: If a rebounder Front Pivot they stand a chance of bringing the ball directly into a defender which can cause issues. Always utilize a reverse pivot to protect the basketball.