Reggie Evans is dominating at rebounding. He came into this season with few believing he'd be a regular part of the rotation, and now not only is he starting but he's playing the role of the most potent rebounder in the NBA.
Evans is averaging 16.3 boards per game, which is most in the entire League. He's averaging 6.3 offensive rebounds per game, which is also tops in the NBA. He's corralling 29.1 per cent of all missed shots when he's on the floor, another stat that he leads the league in. By just about any measure, Evans has started the NBA season as the most potent rebounding force in the league.
The amazing thing is that for the Raptors, his rebounding effort is absolutely essential. These gaudy numbers aren't a quaint statistical marvel; they are utter necessities if the Raptors are to remain competitive on any given night. That's because alongside Evans every night starts one of the worst seven-foot rebounders in NBA history, Andrea Bargnani.
Bargnani is pulling down just three rebounds per game so far this season, good for 161st in the NBA and tied with point guards Jrue Holiday, D.J. Augustin and John Wall. He grabs just five per cent of available rebounds when he's on the court, which puts him second last amongst NBA centers and 244th amongst all players, tied with point guards Baron Davis and Darren Collison. Remember, Augustin and Collison are both a foot shorter than Bargnani is. He's truly an embarrassment as a rebounder, especially when Evans is doing a Herculean job just trying to prevent the team's frontcourt from being wildly outrebounded on any given night. That the Raptors are a top-ten rebounding team owes tremendously to Evans' willingness to exert himself in all the ways Bargnani won't.
Here's a question, though: Are Evans' rebounding efforts a bad thing for Bargnani?
In a way the answer is an obvious ‘no'. What Evans is doing is making up for a glaring hole in his teammate's arsenal, and when constructing a team that is exactly how you aim to balance your roster. You take a collection of players and try to blend their skills in such a way that people compensate for each other's weaknesses while trying to create the most evenly skilled rotation you can muster. In that sense Evans is one of the ideal partners for Bargnani and he cannot be looked upon as a negative for being so.
However, the big picture is a different story. For right now, as in today, Evans is helping cover up Bargnani's horrible rebounding, but what of the future? If the Raptors want Bargnani to be a relevant player in the future plans, he can't be a three rebounds a game guy. He can't even be the 6.2 rebounds per game guy that he was last year. For a seven-footer, those numbers are simply inexcusable, and for a seven-footer making roughly $10-million per-year...well, let's just say that only makes the situation more disquieting.
Before we continue, let's also do away with the idea that Bargnani being a shooting big man prevents him from being a dominant rebounder. Troy Murphy attempted 4.6 threes per game last year and still managed to average over 10 rebounds per contest. Antawn Jamison attempted 4.1 threes per game last year with Washington and still managed 8.8 rebounds per game. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom and Mehmet Okur have made it work in previous years, too. Being a shooter does not have to equate to being a horrible rebounder. Done.
What Evans is doing, though, is taking what lingering interest Bargnani has in rebounding and quashing it with his force of will. With Evans grabbing a two-person allotment of rebounds whenever he's on the floor, Bargnani feels no compulsion to hunt down rebounds himself. He has no instinct to go after the ball when a shot goes up, he barely even moves to box his guy out (something that would at least make rebounding easier for his various teammates). It's like when a parent tells a child to do his or her chores but then does them for the child when the child refuses. It creates an environment where the child (or in this case Bargnani) knows that there is no penalty for not doing the work as someone else does the work regardless. This is further reinforced in Bargnani's case because even though he's not putting in any effort on the glass, he's still getting a team-leading 33.7 minutes per-game and a team-leading 17 shots in those minutes. So, he gets his money, he gets his minutes and he gets his shots and there is no penance for not rebounding? How is this preparing the man for the future when Reggie Evans isn't around?
Because that's how this story ends, kids. Evans grabbing 16.3 rebounds per game is a very temporary fix. Whether it's because he's a free agent at the end of the season, or because he's packaged in a trade or because no winning team starts Reggie Evans every game because his talent base is just too small, he's not going to be around to clean up after Bargnani forever. When he's gone, Bargnani is going to be a weaker player because he was never forced to put in the effort in that area of his game. Remember in the Sacramento game, when DeMarcus Cousins beat a disinterested Bargnani to an offensive rebound and put the ball back in to tie the game in the middle of the decisive fourth quarter? Or four minutes later, when Cousins beat a disinterested Bargnani to an offensive rebound and Bargnani fouled him on the put back, and Cousins put the team up by five? That's the kind of thing the Raptors are going to see a lot more of if they don't find a way to compel Bargnani to give a damn with regards to rebounding the basketball.
So yes, Evans' rebounding has been a sight to behold and a silver lining to a 1-2 record (that could easily spiral to 1-5 after road games against the Jazz, Lakers and Blazers), but in some long-term ways it's doing more harm than good. Of course, so long as Bargnani remains a career 4.8 rebounds per game guy, you can't really say with a straight face that he has much long-term value to the club as their cornerstone guy, anyway. Maybe the endgame here is to just pump his offensive numbers enough to net a nice return on the open market. If that's the case that using Evans to shield Bargnani's rebounding woes makes perfect sense. If that's not what happening here, though, then the Raptors have to get serious about finding ways to compel Bargnani to at least feign an interest in rebounding because Reggie Evans, the rebounding maven, can only protect him for so long.