Caitlin Clark scores with rebounding game driven by timing, vision

Caitlin Clark is known for logo 3s, how-did-she-see-that?! passes and scoring in bunches when the game calls for it. 

But through nine games, something else has stood out about the play of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft: Her rebounding. 

As of Friday morning, Clark’s 5.1 rebounds per game rank 34th in the league overall and ninth among guards. (Statistically, Chicago’s Marina Mabrey is the best rebounding guard in the league, snagging 6.5 per game). She’s also second-best among rookies; only Chicago’s Angel Reese (8.2), Clark’s opponent Saturday when the Fever host the Sky, averages more.

Clark is grabbing as many boards per game as No. 2 overall pick Cameron Brink, a 6-foot-4 forward who was considered the best two-way prospect in the 2024 class. That is at least partially explained by minutes: Clark plays almost 33 minutes per game, while Brink, who has a tendency to get in foul trouble, is averaging 24 minutes. (Season totals for all stats are somewhat skewed right now, as the 1-8 Fever have played more games than any other team.)

Clark’s ability to crash the boards is especially impressive when you consider her size. At 6-foot, 152 pounds, Clark is rail thin, often one of the skinnier guards on the floor. She knows adding muscle in the offseason will go a long way toward helping her excel throughout her professional career; she’s mentioned studying Steph Curry’s wiry build and trying to get strong like him. 

So Clark’s rebounding prowess now is not the result of her ability to storm into the paint and muscle the ball away from forwards; instead, it’s a(nother) testament to her exceptional basketball mind. Clark reads the ball off the rim extremely well, especially defensively; 41 of her 46 rebounds this season (89%) have been defensive. 

“I think it’s because of her IQ but also, her desire to get out in transition. She wants the ball in her hands, and that’s her motivation to rebound,” said WNBA analyst Debbie Antonelli, who has called five of the Fever’s nine games. “Part of it is habit — at Iowa, they had bigs who boxed out so she was naturally in a position to get the rebound. And now, scheme-wise, the court is so spaced out, she’s naturally reading the ball, grabbing it and leading the break.” 

The sooner Caitlin Clark has the ball, the sooner she can score

Cruise through the Fever’s highlights and it’s easy to see what Antonelli is talking about. Against LA on May 24, the Fever’s only win, Clark grabbed a Kia Nurse miss, took three dribbles and fired a pass through traffic to a streaking Kristy Wallace, who scored a layup.

Clark shines with the ball in her hands, and has always been at her best in transition. Rebounding helps her get in that rhythm earlier in Indiana’s possession. 

Against the Sparks on May 28, Clark blocked a shot early in the second quarter, grabbed the rebound and took off, throwing the ball ahead to Lexie Hull on the perimeter. Hull caught it, checked the defense, then kicked it back to Clark for a deep 3.

Both of these examples were bang-bang plays. That’s how Clark likes it.

“The sooner she has the ball, (the) easier it is for her to assess the floor,” Antonelli said. “It’s almost like a video game, the way she reads the floor. She has a great ability to see nine players at all times, and to see things before they happen.” 

Clark loves to play with pace, and has said that’s a focus as she adjusts to both the professional level, which is considerably more physical, and teammates who she’s still developing chemistry with. When she has the freedom to run good things have happened for Clark — and therefore, the Fever.  

‘That’s a huge advantage, when she’s able to get the rebound and push,’ said Indiana coach Christie Sides, adding that Clark always seems to know where she should be when a shot goes up. ‘She does a great job of just having a nose for the ball … she’s always looking to move in that direction. She’s hardly ever standing and watching.’

Seattle coach Noelle Quinn, a former 6-foot guard who played 12 years in the WNBA, said Clark’s height is an advantage, too. Even if Clark’s not a beefy 6-foot, she’s able to see over other players and anticipate where the ball is headed.

But maybe the biggest part of any guard’s rebounding ability, Quinn emphasized, is desire.

“A lot of times, it’s just their want-to,” Quinn said. “As guards, sometimes we reap the benefit of posts doing the dirty work of boxing out … but when you get a rebound and push it (yourself), that’s a guard’s dream.” 

Email Lindsay Schnell at lschnell@usatoday.com and follow her on social media @Lindsay_Schnell

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