DeMarcus Cousins led the league in offensive rebounds this season, his second year in the league. Cousins pulled down 265 offensive rebounds this season according to the official stats (more on this in a moment), 14 more than Joakim Noah (second highest), and 26 more than Greg Monroe, to which Cousins is often compared.
However, Cousins is a man with a reputation. Actually, Cousins is man with several reputations, but one specific reputation regarding his rebounding. Cousins is known as a player who rebounds his own misses. It's easy to understand this reputation. Cousins has a low shooting percentage, particularly for a big man. And anecdotal observations seems to support this idea. It's not an uncommon sight to see Cousins tip the ball around the rim several times before scoring. But is the reputation true?
I recently subscribed to Synergy sports for the offseason. I want to clarify that this post is in no way a sponsored post, nor have I been given any compensation such as a free subscription (but hey, Synergy guys, if you're reading this I certainly wouldn't mind!).
I set out to determine if the reputation is deserved or a myth. Using Synergy, I watched every offensive rebound Cousins had this season. I then tracked whether it was an offensive rebound of his own missed shot, or the shot of a teammate. Then, for the sake of comparison (because science!), I did the same with Greg Monroe. I chose to use Monroe rather than Noah for several reasons. Monroe and Cousins have remarkably similar stats, are both in their second seasons, and are both on teams that are, uh, not good. I felt this would give a more accurate barometer of how Cousins rated. Additionally, I have it on good authority that the Kings would trade Cousins for Monroe "in a cocaine heartbeat".
Before I reveal the results, there are a few things I need to clarify. The numbers I am about to give you are not perfect. Watching an endless stream of offensive rebounds makes things sort of blend together. I tallied 260 rebounds for Cousins, despite Synergy and the NBA stating there were 265. There were some plays that were labeled as an offensive rebound when this was clearly incorrect (such as a player making a free throw). Nothing is perfect, so take these numbers with a grain of salt. Additionally, I counted 237 offensive rebounds for Monroe, rather than the reported 241. Since the difference is roughly the same for both players, we'll call it square.
Additionally, I need to explain what counts as an offensive rebound. I need to explain this because I found it somewhat different than what I expected. If your shot is blocked, and you recover the ball, this is an offensive rebound. Every tip of the ball after it touches the rim could potentially be counted as an offensive rebound. I say "could" because it appears to be inconsistent. Stats are compiled by humans, and therefor there may be some interpretation involved. If you performed the same process I did, I wouldn't be surprised if your numbers came up slightly different than mine.
Now that we've got all of that out of the way.
The Raw Results
DeMarcus Cousins gathered 260 offensive rebounds, 97 of which were from his own missed shot.
Greg Monroe gathered 237 offensive rebounds, 50 of which were from his own missed shot.
What The Results Tell Us
Sadly, the results seem to support the reputation that Cousins inflates his offensive rebounding numbers by rebounding his own missed shots. However, something else jumped out at me as I watched these rebounds. Stats are but a number, they are not a conclusion unto themselves. Yes, Cousins stats may be padded, but that is in large part due to styles of play. Allow me to explain.
Cousins is a tenacious rebounder. We know this. We also know that Cousins does not shoot as well as he should. But it seems that Cousins knows this as well. Cousins follows his shot the way your 5th grade Rec League coach told you to. Whether they were mid range jumpers up layups, Cousins earned rebounds off his own misses by following his shot and fighting for another chance. For Cousins, the initial shot is a formality. It might go in, but if it doesn't he still plans to score.
Greg Monroe is very different when it comes to how he handles an offensive rebound. Both Cousins and Monroe attempt to tip shots in. But Monroe does so only when the opportunity presents itself. While Cousins attempts to tip the ball in at nearly every opportunity, Monroe is more likely to pull the ball down, regroup, and decide what to do with it. He might take it back up again, he might kick the ball out to reset, or, if the opportunity is right, he'll forgo gathering the ball and tip it in. The stats support this as well.
Per Synergy, Cousins attempted to score after gathering an offensive rebound 222 times this season. Monroe only 162. Monroe remained the more efficient scorer in these situations, shooting 59% compared to Cousins' 46.2%. These stats do not surprise me. They aren't an indictment of either player, the stats simply reflect their styles of play. Monroe attempts to make the smartest play in the situation, Cousins attacks regardless of the situation.
And while Cousins' stats may be padded, but they are most definitely earned. I didn't track the clips to this level of detail, but I observed many instances where Monroe would tip his own miss, miss again, and someone else would rebound the ball (either a teammate or an opposing player). Obviously, these instances happened with Cousins as well, but less frequently. Cousins would tip his miss, miss again, and somehow still find the ball for a third attempt.
Are Cousins' offensive rebounding number inflated by the rebounds he gathers from his own missed shots? Without question. Ideally he will improve his shooting percentage and will need fewer tip-ins of his own shot. But until then his rebounding numbers aren't any less meaningful. He still has to beat out opposing players and teammates for those rebounds. And when it comes to that, DeMarcus Cousins is the real deal.