The new college basketball season gets underway on Tuesday, with a number of top teams in action. Ahead of it all, we’re using AutoStats tracking data to determine which returning prospects look to be the best rebounders in the country this season.

With the 2021-22 college basketball season just days away, we’re taking a deep dive into what figures to once again be a critical, yet underappreciated aspect of the game: rebounding.

There’s much more to pulling down boards than meets the eye or that can be captured by traditional rebounding metrics. In order to glean a more insightful perspective on true rebounding talent, we’ve leveraged AutoStats player tracking and event-level data to adjust for contextual factors such as rebounding role, rebounder/opponent/ball location, deferrals of in-area rebounds to teammates, etc.

Here, we’re focusing on returning NCAA players ranked in the top 450 of our consensus 2022 NBA Draft board, a weighted amalgamation of big boards and mock drafts.

Before we dig in, let’s establish a definitional foundation of our AutoStats rebounding terminology.

Rebound Conversion Definitions

  • Rebounding Chance: The fundamental unit and denominator upon which these offensive and defensive rebounding statistics are derived. A player must be within 3.5 feet of a rebound in order for it to be considered a viable chance.
  • Contested: When an opponent is also within 3.5 feet of a rebound. 
  • Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OREB%): The percentage of offensive rebounding chances converted (OREB / OREB Chances). 
  • Rebounding Percentage (DREB%): The percentage of defensive rebounding chances converted (DREB / DREB Chances). 
  • Rebound Deferral: When players are within 3.5 feet of a rebound and their teammate converts the rebounding chance. 
  • Adjusted Offensive Rebounding Percentage: Adjusted OREB% = OREB/(OREB Chances – OREB Deferrals)
  • Adjusted Defensive Rebounding Percentage: Adjusted DREB% = DREB/(DREB Chances – DREB Deferrals)

Rebounding Role Definitions

  • Crashing: When a player is within five feet of the basket at the time of a rebound or moves five or more feet toward the basket after a shot attempt and ends between five and 20 feet of the basket at the time of the rebound. 
  • Getting Back: When an offensive player moves five or more feet directionally away from the basket after a shot attempt and ends 20 or more feet from the basket at the time of the rebound. 
  • Leaking Out: When a defensive player moves five or more feet directionally away from the basket after a shot attempt and ends 20 or more feet from the basket at the time of the rebound. 
  • Floating: When a player is not boxing out, crashing, getting back, or leaking out. 

Rebound Location Definitions

  • At Rim: The rebound occurs within five feet of the basket. 
  • Short: The rebound occurs between five and 10 feet of the basket. 
  • Long: The rebound occurs 10 or more feet from the basket. 

Offensive Rebounding Standouts

PlayerTeamRankOREB%Adj. OREB%% of OREB ContestedContested OREB%
Oscar TshiebweKentucky (via WVU)
Isaiah MobleyUSC275.077.470.868.0
Jalen WilsonKansas364.571.475.057.7
Jaime Jaquez Jr.UCLA40.61561.575.054.5
Armando BacotUNC50.68972.158.156.3

(Minimum 25 tracked offensive rebounding chances)

Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky takes home the crown as king of the offensive boards. Despite a strange, disappointing season that resulted in him leaving the program 10 games into his sophomore campaign, the Congolese big man was an absolute force keeping possessions alive for the Mountaineers.

Some offensive rebounding specialists are wide-bodied bigs who leverage strength, effort, and positioning to displace defensive rebounders. Others rely on superior length or athleticism to sky through the paint and pull down rebounds over an array of outstretched arms of would-be defensive rebounders. Big O’s chiseled 6-foot-9, 255-pound frame with a 7-foot-4-plus wingspan and 9-foot-1-plus standing reach, physicality, and high motor meld these archetypes into an offensive rebounding supernova.

As indicated by 89.5% of his offensive rebounds being contested, very few of these are lucky bounces falling into Tshiebwe’s lap. Winning close-quarter duels with defensive rebounder combatants to the tune of bringing down 70.8% of viable in-area offensive rebound chances is quite remarkable. Expect Tshiebwe to thrive in a new environment serving as an overqualified garbage man who cleans up the offensive glass and derives much of his production doing the dirty work as a physical, relentless paint presence.

The former one-and-done candidate’s draft stock has somewhat soured in the eyes of NBA evaluators (currently ranked outside the consensus top 100), but he could be in store for a resurgence if he’s able to star in his complementary role on the big stage in Lexington.

Defensive Rebounding Standouts

PlayerTeamRankDREB%Adj. DREB%% of DREB ContestedContested DREB%
Julian ChampagnieSt. John's177.688.246.775.0
Jaylin WilliamsArkansas275.486.845.765.6
Connor VanoverArkansas (via Cal)377.891.340.468.0
Jermaine SamuelsVillanova490.097.831.182.4
Kalib BooneOklahoma State560.3 77.446.348.7

(Minimum 50 tracked defensive rebounding chances)

During last year’s pre-draft process, we touched on Julian Champagnie’s contested rebounding prowess. After testing the 2021 NBA Draft waters, Champagnie returns as a consensus late first-round talent looking ahead to the 2022 draft.

Jermaine Samuels has flown a bit more under the radar as a draft prospect (currently ranks outside the consensus top 150 prospects) but grades out as the fourth best returning defensive rebounding prospect based on his 2020-21 performance. 

While Samuels has a lower proportion of contested defensive rebounds than his peers at only 31.1% (which gives the Arkansas twin towers duo a slight edge in the rankings), he’s absolutely elite at ending possessions by converting defensive rebounds regardless of circumstance with an absurd 97.8 adjusted DREB% and 82.4 contested DREB%.

As can be seen in the video above, much of Samuels’ defensive rebounding prowess is catalyzed by playing sound defense throughout the pre-shot portion of the possession. 

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Samuels leverages impressive core and lower body strength to maintain position and hold his own against perceived post-up mismatches, which often results in the opposition forcing up a missed low percentage look and easy rebound for Samuels. 

He’s also apt at crashing after closeouts, boxing out bigger opponents, and has the vertical pop to high-point rebounds in traffic.

As a fifth-year senior who turns 23 this week, the preseason All-Big East second team selection’s age will undoubtedly be held against him when it comes to draft projections. But as an athletic hybrid forward who can both stretch the floor and command the defensive glass, he fits a highly sought after archetype that will appeal to NBA scouts. 

Following Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s departure, Samuels could be poised for increased opportunity.

Rebounding Versatility Standouts

PlayerTeamRankCrashing %Box Out %Floating %Getting Back %Leaking Out %% at Rim% Short% Long
Isaac LikekeleOklahoma State135.
Leaky BlackUNC231.
Jaden ShackelfordAlabama327.66.656.35.53.924.437.837.8
Kyler EdwardsHouston (via Texas Tech)419.07.654.
Devo DavisArkansas533.610.950.2 3.41.930.044.026.0

(Minimum 50 tracked rebounds and 250 rebounding role identifications)

Isaac Likekele is a quirky, unorthodox player – Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart 2.0, perhaps. Our NBA Draft model compares him to the likes of Brad Wanamaker, Shaq Harrison and Justin Simon in many regards. 

While he is lacking as a shooter (his primary concern from an NBA translatability perspective), the sturdily built 6-foot-5, 215-pound lead guard impacts the game in a variety of other ways, leading the Cowboys in plus/minus each of the past two seasons.

Likekele’s positional size, strength, 7-foot wingspan, massive 11-inch hands, and explosive 41-inch vertical enable him to track down rebounds like a heat-seeking missile on both ends of the court.

Likekele had the most balanced distribution of rebound locations among returning prospects and was also quite versatile in what rebounding role he took on throughout all of Oklahoma State’s tracked rebounding chances. 

He’s purposeful in his movement when a shot goes up, as indicated by the only sub-50 floating percentage among the versatile rebounders above.

When crashing from the perimeter, Likekele’s most frequent intentional rebounding role as a backcourt player, he has the strength to swim through smaller guards and the quick vertical pop to then outjump stationary bigs in the paint.

When boxing out, he’s very technically sound and uses his thick frame well to gain leverage while tracking the likely path of a forthcoming rebound.

Likekele is among the best, most well-rounded rebounders at his position in college basketball. While high-end guard prospects typically thrive as off-the-dribble shooters and advantage creators, Likekele’s unique statistical profile and non-scoring impact could appeal to an NBA team that’s well-equipped with shooters that he can adequately complement. 

Especially when a team plays a heavy dose of perimeter-oriented stretch bigs, a bulldog guard who can mix it up in the paint and add value on the glass becomes that much more enticing.

Design by Briggs Clinard.