By Pete Baxter
Today I would like to give a shoutout to one of the most underrated, underappreciated player types in basketball: the rebounding specialist. It can be a dirty, violent job. They play hard in the trenches where elbows fly and noses shatter. These unsung heroes don’t get the attention and admiration that comes with scoring, but they can massively impact a game just the same.
Yes, there have been some exceptions in which a player who makes their living on the boards was able to breakthrough and become a household name. Dennis Rodman made two All-Star appearances and entered the NBA Hall of Fame despite averaging just 7.3 points per game for his career, thanks primarily to his 13.1 career rebounding average. Ben Wallace made four All-Star games and is also a Hall of Famer thanks to a combination of his defensive and rebounding prowess.
However, most rebounding specialists spend their careers flying under the radar, rarely receiving the recognition they deserve for their fearless efforts in the paint. In this piece, I would like to shout out and bring to light six different underrated, oft-forgotten masters of the boards who fit the following criteria:
- They are retired
- They never made an All-Star game
- They are not in the NBA Hall of Fame
- They averaged at least 11.0 rebounds/36 minutes for their careers
Because most of these guys were role players with varying opportunities for playing time, we will focus on “per 36-minute” statistics to level the playing field. This will help emphasize their true effectiveness on the boards despite limitations to their overall time on the court.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at our first unsung hero:
#1: Ira Harge, 6’9” Center – 13.6 rebounds/36 minutes – 6 seasons (ABA)
Ira Harge will be the elder statesman of this list, and the lone honoree who spent his career in the ABA prior to the NBA/ABA merger in 1976.
Harge was a second-round draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1964 NBA draft but opted instead to play in the American Basketball Association. His six seasons in the ABA were a hell of a journey, as he played for six different teams over that span. He found success, however, during his short-lived career, as a member of two different ABA Championship teams, the 1968 Pittsburgh Pipers and the 1969 Oakland Oaks.
Harge ranks tenth in ABA history in rebounds with 4,955. He finished his career averaging just 12.0 points per 36 minutes, but a highly impressive 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, making him the most prolific rebounder on this list.
#2: Reggie Evans, 6’8” Power Forward – 13.3 rebounds/36 minutes – 13 seasons
Reggie Evans was a journeyman over the course of his 13-year career. However, prior to his retirement in 2015, he had gained the reputation in the league as an aggressive defender and ferocious rebounder when given the opportunity to play. His career per-game averages of 4.1 points and 4.7 rebounds may look pedestrian at best, when extrapolated to a per-36-minute mark he averaged a truly impressive 13.3 rebounds!
Evans became known for such performances as his zero-point, 20-rebound game in 2006 as a member of the Denver Nuggets. He put up career highs in points (22) and rebounds (26) in one game as a member of the Nets. He was the king of all things dirty work, as a notorious flopper, tenacious defender, and the man who grabbed Chris Kaman by the junk.
Cheers to Reggie Evans, the fearless enforcer.
And then there is his former teammate, who Evans once narrowly beat out as the most prolific rebounder per minute:
#3: Marcus Camby, 6’11” Center – 11.9 rebounds/36 minutes – 17 seasons
Marcus Camby may be the biggest NBA star on this list, but he surprisingly fits the criteria as he was never selected to an All-Star game. This is quite shocking when you consider Camby won a Defensive Player of the Year award and was a member of four NBA All-Defensive Teams.
That said, as the second overall selection in the 1996 NBA draft, Camby ultimately lived up to his billing as a lottery pick. He was one of the first stars of the Toronto Raptors, leading the league in blocked shots during his second season. However, as a rebounder extraordinaire, he really came into his own as a member of the New York Knicks, where he averaged 11.5 rebounds per game during the 2000-01 season. He dragged down a career high 13.1 rebounds per game as a member of the Denver Nuggets in 2007-08.
He finished his 17-year career with a per game average of 9.8 rebounds, but a truly impressive 11.9 rebounds/36 minutes. While his name may at least come up in the discussion, Camby will probably never be a Hall of Famer. However, he should always be remembered for his efforts on the boards.
And then there is this intense looking individual:
#4: Popeye Jones, 6’8” Power Forward – 11.4 rebounds/36 minutes – 11 seasons
While he was marginally better on offense, Popeye Jones had a similar career to Reggie Evans. He hung around the league for more than a decade thanks to his expertise in one thing: rebounding the basketball.
Jones was a second-round draft pick who spent his first season in Europe. However, when he returned to the states and joined up with the Dallas Mavericks, he quickly made a name for himself on the boards. During the 1995-96 season he dragged down a career high 28 rebounds while averaging 10.8 rebounds per game on the season (along with a career-high 11.3 points). He also holds an insane record for offensive rebounds without a single defensive rebound in a game, with 12.
Jones finished his 11-year career (spent with six teams) with an impressive average of 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.
And then we have the original Big Willy Style:
#5: Will Perdue, 7’0” Center – 11.4 rebounds/36 minutes – 13 seasons
Will Perdue quietly put up an incredible career as a highly respected backup center. He won four NBA Championships, as part of Michael Jordan’s first three-peat and then later as David Robinson’s backup in San Antonio.
Perdue’s career numbers look very pedestrian at first glance, with averages of just 4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game. However, considering he was a backup for nearly his entire career and played just 15.6 minutes per game, he was actually highly efficient, particularly on the boards. When expanded to a per-36-minute average, Perdue put up 10.9 points, 1.5 blocks, and 11.4 rebounds for his career. His best years as a rebounder came with San Antonio, including a career best 12.9 rebounds per 36 minutes in 1997-98.
And without further ado, this fashion icon:
#6: Kurt Rambis, 6’8” Power Forward – 11.0 rebounds/36 minutes – 14 seasons
And last but certainly not least, we have the man best known for his Rick Moranis glasses and sweet 80’s porn star mustache, Kurt Rambis. Like Perdue, Rambis was a solid role player on some truly great teams, winning four NBA titles with the Showtime Lakers.
Also like Perdue, Rambis started his career in Europe before making his way back to the states to join the Lakers. While he played for four different teams, he would start and end his career as a Laker. Rambis is another player who truly embraced his role as the man doing the dirty work. He was a relentless defender and consistent rebounder, though his pedestrian career averages of 5.2 points and 5.6 rebounds may tell you otherwise. Despite starting 462 of his 880 career games, Rambis averaged just 18.5 minutes per game. When spreading those numbers of 36 minutes, Rambis averaged a rock solid 11.0 rebounds for his career.
Kurt Rambis should always be remembered for his rebounding prowess and his incredibly unique style.
Thank You for Your Hard Work and Sacrifice
While these guys will most likely never join the ranks of the NBA Hall of Fame, they certainly deserve to be remembered in the Hall of Pretty-Damn-Good. These dudes didn’t chase the fame and notoriety that comes with leading their team in scoring. They dove headfirst into the lane, boxed out bigger, stronger players, and got the damn ball for their teams.
So spread the word, hardcore basketball fans. Make sure these unsung rebounding heroes are not forgotten and lost to future generations. It is the least we can do for the guys who did the dirty work for our favorite teams.