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How Bulking Up Helps

Every year, in every sport, as training camp draws near, there is the report of the player that spent the offseason in the weight room, adding 15 pounds of muscle.

As the AmericanAirlines Arena re-opened its doors to players Thursday morning, it was readily apparent that the subject of that storyline would be Chris Bosh. And Bosh wisely refrained from boasting with the specifics of weight numbers – until he was talked into admitting that his bench press weight increased about 60-70 pounds – saying that after taking a month to recover from last season, he focused on getting in the weight room and spending the rest of his life there.

But where some players can hurt themselves adding that weight, either slowing a once-fleet footed game or causing injuries to an overburdened frame, Bosh, who averaged the fewest rebounds per game since his rookie year, had a reason.

“There shouldn’t be a season where I don’t average 10 rebounds,” Bosh said. “I felt like I let me team down. That’s not going to happen again. The only way I can do that is to get stronger, get more physical and be more of a presence on the boards.

“That’s unacceptable,” he added later.

Per-game numbers only tell a small part of the story, however, so let’s dig a little deeper into Bosh’s rebounding into a 2010-11 season in which Bosh criticized himself for not working hard enough.
For his career, Bosh has grabbed 14.7 percent of all missed shots while on the court. For every 100 missed shots available to board, he has 8.2 on the offensive end and 21.2 defensively. But after a peak 2009-10 that saw Bosh pulled down 25.2 percent of defensive boards and 9.9 offensively, those percentages dropped to 20 and 6.4 in his first season with the Miami HEAT.

It should be said that some drop-off was to be expected simply due to the fact that not only was Bosh leaving a traditionally poor rebounding team in Toronto to play alongside two of the best rebounding wings in the league, but also a front-court mate, Andrea Bargnani, who grabbed fewer than 10 percent of total available boards in 2009-10. But even with that knowledge, Bosh was disappointed in his rebounding performance, so while he may never return to his rebounding numbers of Toronto, he’s clearly trying to get closer to them.

Muscle can both help hold off offensive rebounders and move bodies out of the way for misses that require a little more distance to be traveled. And once the ball is in hand, that muscle – particularly in the shoulders, where much of Bosh’s weight work is noticeable – helps secure the ball and keep it from being tipped away.

Defensive rebounds effectively end one possession and begin a new one for your team, though, and they virtually all end with Bosh handing the ball off to a ballhandler to take the ball up court. So, it stands to reason that, with due mention of the aid that added bulk provides in earning post position and absorbing a season’s worth of contact, the area Bosh stands to improve the most with more muscle – that he admits must be maintained over the course of a season – is on those rebounds that continue a possession, that keep the action in the paint alive.

While Bosh grabbed the fewest offensive rebounds of his career last season, some of this can be excused by coach Erik Spoelstra’s emphasis on defense and thus, getting back on defense. If you’re already backpedaling to the other end of the floor there’s no reason to expect a rebound to be gained, but that will still affect the overall percentages.

Thanks to Synergy Sports, we also know that his efficiency in offensive rebounding possessions – putbacks, essentially – fell off slightly, and that’s where Bosh’s offseason work might help him the most. As long as the added bulk doesn’t affect his touch around the rim, there’s no reason to think that with the bulk to help power a second jump at the rim, and his number’s natural ascension closer to his norm (even after adjusting for a new environment), that his efficiency should rise significantly, point by point, dunk by dunk.

The most interesting part of last season’s rebounding numbers, however, isn’t the totals, the percentages or the shooting. It’s the choice he made with the rebounds he did get.

Because Synergy tallies possessions (ending with a shot, foul or turnover) for individual players in specific situations, we know exactly how many times Bosh tried to score after his own offensive board. Using those numbers, and his offensive-rebounding totals, we can create a simple new statistic, let’s call it Attempted Putback Rate, to illustrate how aggressive a player is with those boards.

The higher the APR, we can safely assume, the better, as most offensive boards, particularly from big men, are gained in the painted area, an area where most player usually shoot a high, efficient percentage. And since Bosh, even in a statistically down year, shot over 50 percent on putbacks, we can say it’s generally a good thing for him to try to score off an offensive board.

His five-year average before Miami: 54.7 percent of offensive rebounds used for putbacks (or turnovers).

In Miami: 48.2.

That’s over six fewer high-percentage shots taken by Bosh for every 100 offensive rebounds. It may seem like a small number, but considering Bosh had an APR as high as .678 in his last year in Toronto, and the number of close games Miami plays against good teams, a few more shots in the paint could make a major difference.

Or, in reality, they couldn’t. But nothing in basketball guarantees results. The best anyone can do is prepare themselves, and put themselves in the position to, have the highest chance of succeeding. And whether a little added muscle helps Bosh grab more boards, shoot a higher percentage in the paint or simply gives him more confidence to go up strong more frequently, he’s done nothing but put himself in a better position to succeed.

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