Acceptable Board Scores for Finals
Commonly when discussing the Suns title chances, the conversation usually turns to if the Suns have enough juice on the defensive end to topple teams like the Mavs or Spurs to finally advance to the Finals. I think this a viable argument & have definitely wondered it myself (I think their defense on the perimeter is solid, it's specifically their interior defense that is shaky). But what probably does not get mentioned enough, and definitely needs to be questioned as much as their defense, is their subpar rebounding. It is a byproduct of D'Antoni's preference for a smaller, quicker lineup. Their boardwork has been a problem the last few years in the regular season, and ultimately a major stumbling block (along with their interior def.) in their quest for a NBA Finals appearance & title.
So I examined the rebound numbers of the NBA Finals participants the last 20 years (87-06). Basically the overriding trend I found was what I expected: You'd better be at or above an even rebound margin per game if you want a trip to the NBA Finals. Let's look at some key facts:
--The only team to win a championship in the last 20 years with a significant rebound disadvantage was the '95 Rockets. '95 Rockets had a 48.3% rebound percentage (- 2.8 rpg margin) for the regular season. The 94 Rockets also won a championship with a negative rebound margin, but it was only -.33 rpg.
--The only teams to make the Finals with a negative rebound margin were: '95 Rockets (-2.8); '00 Pacers (-1.6); '94 Rockets (- .33) *-the '87 Celtics were basically even, their opponents only outrebounded them by a grand total of 6 for the year.
--In the last 20 years, every NBA champ (besides the 2 Rockets teams) has had at least a +1 rpg margin for the reg, season: the lowest was the '02 Lakers (+ 1.06), the highest was the '96 Bulls (+6.6).
The numbers are not in the Suns' favor. Phoenix is currently getting outboarded by 2.1 per game. Not good. They are one of the worst offensive rebounding clubs in the NBA, & their defensive rebounding is nothing special. Also, the Lakers have more to worry about then just their current poor play--LA is at a -1.1 rpg disadvantage for the year. This combined with their suspect defense does not bode well for the Lake Show. Actually, the Pistons are slightly below .500, but are only at -.4 rpg, so not too much of concern.
One caveat for the Suns would be some loose similarities to the '95 Rockets. The Rockets were an average defensive squad like this Suns team & they loved to use the 3pt. shot as a major key to their offense. Both teams would/do camp 2-3 guys on the 3pt line at all times. While the Rockets would basically dump the ball into Hakeem, then if the double comes, kick out to the 3pt line. If no double, Hakeem goes to work in the painted area with the deadliest footwork ever belonging to a 7-footer. Nash functions somewhat similar to Hakeem, where he dribble-probes inside the 3pt line waiting for the defense to react--if they come double, kick-out to the 3pt. line. Neither team really ran/runs plays, very simple offenses--the Rockets used Hakeem as their facilitator/ultimate decision maker, the Suns use Nash as theirs. Both teams ultimately did/do a great job spreading the defense out.
In '95, no team attempted or made more 3pts. than the Rockets. The league average for 3pt attempts in '95 was 15.3 per--the Rockets attempted 21.4. 5.5 3pt. makes was the '95 NBA average--the Rockets made 7.9 per. Although, the Rockets only hit on 36.8% of their 3pts., opposed to the stellar 40% currently for the Suns. Also, overall the Rockets' offense was pretty good (48% from the field, 5th best), but it was not quite as deadly as this Suns team.
Phoenix's offensive rebounding definitely hurts their overall board numbers, but with how deadly efficient their offense is, the extra possessions are really not that important. It would not hurt them to hit the offensive glass better, it could make their offense even more potent; it would allow them to cut corners on defense even more.
I would be more concerned with the def. rebounding. It's not great--last checked they were 18th in the NBA--but it could be just good enough. But the Suns could have to face rebounding (and defensive) juggernauts like the Mavs & Rockets, and the Spurs are pretty solid on the boards as well, so the Suns really might need a guy like Kurt Thomas to step up big more than most realize.