When an avid NBA fan thinks about Samuel Dalembert, chances are that their mental image is one of him fouling things up for the opposition with his preternaturally long arms. He blocks shots, he alters shots. Standing 6-feet-11, with a knack for defense and a wingspan of 7-feet-7 inches, Dalembert will give the Bucks an interior presence in the starting lineup to match the one coming off their bench in the form of Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh.
For a franchise traumatized by Andrew Bogut’s injuries, the surprise factor most often mentioned following the trade for Samuel was his durability: he has played 473 of 476 possible games over the past six seasons. Or perhaps the other surprise was his free-throw shooting ability, a skill that has improved greatly over the course of his career.
However, Samuel Dalembert is not a good rebounder. Dalembert is an excellent-to-elite rebounder — and I think that may be what is most surprising about the Bucks’ new center.
Samuel isn’t a superstar-caliber, 35-minutes-per-game player. He played 24 minutes per game for Sacramento in 2010, and 22 for Houston last season. Looking at his rebounds on a per-game basis won’t do his skill any justice; he’s not on the court as much as some other players. Instead, look at his rebounding as a percentage of shots taken when he is on the court: offensive/defensive/total rebounding percentages.
Dalembert’s rebounding percentages are both impressive and balanced. Last season, Samuel reeled in 12.5% of available offensive rebounds — the 13th-best mark in the league among qualified players. On defense, he collected 24.1% the shots his opponents missed when he was on the court — good enough for 15th best in the NBA.
Here is a list of the league’s best overall rebounders from 1 to Ersan, based upon total rebounding percentage. (The list includes only players who met the minimum qualifications for the league leaders, which in the lockout-shortened season was 1207 minutes played.) With the dual advantage of crashing the boards well from both sides, Dalembert finished with the sixth-best overall percentage in the NBA.
As a point of emphasis, it should be noted that this list includes some of the league’s worst free-throw shooters. Dalembert was just a tick below 80% for the season.
For the record, Dalembert has finished in the top ten in total rebounding percentage for the last five seasons: 10th, 5th, 3rd, 7th, and 6th. By way of comparison, Andrew Bogut’s three career-best finishes (as a full-season qualifier) were 11th, 12th, and 26th. And Dalembert has done it with three teams in three cities, so you know that his results are not a product of any one system, player-personnel combination, or any other type of fluke happenstance.
The only real concern is that his productivity could taper off with age, but that is unlikely, as rebounding is usually one of the last skills to erode; in recent seasons, players like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Marcus Camby have been terrific rebounders well into their mid-30s.
There are few things that bother me as an NBA fan more than an average power forward taking up tons of playing time, putting in some points and grabbing 10 rebounds per game, and then parlaying that job into a massive contract. (This notion isn’t a knock at Ersan — who is reportedly very close to a 5-year, $45 million deal with the Bucks. His deal, both pro and con, is a separate matter as a stretch-4 power forward.) Defense matters, even more than rebounding, for an interior player. But Samuel’s reputation as a defender precedes him, to the extent that his skilled rebounding has often gone without notice.