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These Charlotte Bobcats will go nowhere unless they can rebound

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

Even the best basketball players in the world miss more than half their shots.

That leaves a whole lot of potential rebounds clanking around the rim in the NBA, and the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t get nearly enough of them last season.

New coach Steve Clifford is a pleasant fellow who can be blunt. And on this topic you can tell he is going to be very demanding of his players.

Clifford believes the Bobcats’ record won’t rebound until the team starts rebounding on every possession. He has studied each Charlotte player’s rebounding compared to others who play their position and has decided the Bobcats only have two players who are good rebounders at the moment.

“Al Jefferson is a good defensive rebounder,” Clifford said Monday of the Bobcats’ new big man. “Not great, but good. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for a rookie last year was an exceptional rebounder. Other than that, we don’t have guys who, to be honest, have even been average with any consistency.”

The best rebounders combine toughness and technique. Being close to 7 feet tall helps, too, but it’s not enough by itself.

Note that 6-foot-9 Bismack Biyombo was conspicuously absent from Clifford’s list of good rebounders, as were Josh McRoberts (6-10) and Brendan Haywood (7-0, and a player Clifford characterized as someone who “has had years where he’s been a good offensive rebounder”).

Gerald Henderson said Monday he knew he was a “below average rebounder” for his position and must improve, so it’s obvious Clifford has been drilling this message into his players.

Rookie Cody Zeller averaged eight rebounds per game for Indiana last season. When I asked Zeller Monday how good a rebounder he is, he said: “In the NBA, I don’t know. These guys are so big and strong. ... But at the end of the day you’ve just got to go up and get it – scrap and claw if you have to.”

Dennis Rodman, who at around 6-7 was hardly ever the tallest player on the floor, led the NBA in rebounding for an astonishing seven straight seasons from 1991 to 1998. As eccentric as Rodman has always been, he was also an awesome rebounder, which is why he made basketball’s hall of fame and why teams put up with him.

Clifford brought up the Brooklyn Nets’ Reggie Evans as an example of a great NBA rebounder these days. Evans barely scores at all, but he is valuable because he grabs 11 rebounds per game.

“Watch Reggie Evans on tape,” Clifford said (and the way he says it, you can bet the Bobcats will). “When the shot goes up, he’s instinctively moving to where he thinks the ball’s going to come, every time. And more often than not, he’s right.”

As a 6-1 point guard, Kemba Walker won’t ever get a ton of rebounds. But he has some thoughts on the subject.

“Rebounding is all about toughness,” he said. “It’s all about wanting to get the 50-50 ball. No question this team has the ability to rebound – it’s just are we going to want to rebound?”

They had better. Clifford talks so enthusiastically about the subject that you can bet it will be an enormous emphasis during training camp and that much playing time will eventually depend on it.

“The bottom line is this,” Clifford said. “We can get a lot better on offense and a lot better on defense. And if we don’t get a lot better rebounding, it may not matter.”

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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