When Nikola Milutinov hangs up his sneakers, the Serbian center will surely be viewed as one of the best big men to ever play in the EuroLeague. But is he truly the greatest offensive rebounding big in the history of the game?
There’s at least one person who thinks so: Wade Baldwin. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s star guard made that bold comment after Round 22 this season when Milutinov grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds against the Israeli powerhouse and pulled down nine offensive boards.
Milutinov’s highlights against Maccabi:
Now, whether something got lost in context or not, we don’t know. But it’s probably safe to assume that Baldwin made the comment thinking of EuroLeague bigs, as it’s impossible to compare Milutinov to NBA great offensive rebounders Moses Malone and Robert Parish.
Milutinov Holds a Record
If so, Baldwin does have merit to think so highly of Milutinov. After all, the 29-year-old Serbian holds the EuroLeague record for the most offensive rebounds in a single game when he grabbed 16 boards against Milan on December 30, a little over three years ago. By the way, Milutinov pulled in just three defensive rebounds in that game.
Milutinov’s highlights against Milan:
This season, there is one player who has averaged more offensive rebounds than Milutinov – Baldwin’s teammate in Maccabi, the high-flying center Josh Nebo, but his upper hand on Olympiacos’ big man is tiny, as he leads Milutinov 2.8 to 2.7.
What do advanced statistics tell us about Milutinov’s performance on the offensive glass this season? The best metric to use is ORB% or offensive rebound percentage, which calculates the percentage of available offensive rebounds that a player grabs while he’s on the court.
It’s no surprise that Milutinov is up there with the best of them. His ORB% of 16 is the best among players who have averaged at least 15 minutes per game. Overall, if don’t account statistical anomalies like Valencia’s guard Lucas Mari – he has played 2 minutes and 26 seconds in the season, and his ORB% is 50 – Milutinov only trails Freddie Gillespie of Crvena Zvezda Belgrade and Monaco’s Mouhammadou Jaiteh. Both decent centers in their own right, but they’ve averaged just eight minutes on the court per contest.
Milutinov doesn’t just pass the eye test; he also excels in statistics, so it’s a fact he’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. Before we discuss whether he really is the best of all time in the EuroLeague, let’s take a look at what makes a player great at grabbing their teammates’ misses.
IQ, strength, and much more
Have you ever heard of anyone talk about an all-time offensive rebounding great who’s a guard? No? Of course not, because height is advantageous, providing a larger wingspan and making it easier to reach over opponents. Athleticism is equally important. A player needs agility, speed, and explosiveness to outmaneuver opponents and reach the ball quickly.
All great offensive rebounders have one more thing in common – they are strong. As offensive rebounding often involves physical battles with opponents, strength is crucial for holding position and securing the ball.
Strength might sometimes fly under the radar when we think of some players. Let’s take Milutinov, for example. He isn’t built like a bodybuilder yet can hold his own against pretty much anyone. On the flip side, last season, Baskonia had Steven Enoch as one of their centers, and although the American has big muscles, he was quite often boxed out easily in the rebounding department.
What’s sometimes overlooked is basketball IQ. Understanding the game is vital. Great offensive rebounders read the trajectory of the ball after a missed shot, anticipating where it will land. They also have a good sense of when to crash the boards and when to retreat to prevent fast-break opportunities for the opposing team.
Excellent offensive rebounders have a knack for anticipating where the ball will come off the rim. They position themselves strategically to be in the right place at the right time. Understanding the tendencies of teammates’ shooting styles and the opposing team’s defensive schemes aids in effective positioning.
Also, a player’s own teammates can help him have a big night on the offensive glass. If we take Olympiacos’ Round 22 game against Maccabi as an example, Milutinov often had a mismatch near the paint, but it didn’t mean Olympiacos pushed the ball to him.
Instead, when Milutinov was in a good position but two or three passes away from receiving the ball near the three-second area and the shot clock running low, Olympiacos took a three-point shot, and when it missed, Milutinov was in prime position to battle for the offensive rebound with a smaller player being his direct opponent for the ball.
Furthermore, successful offensive rebounders study game footage to understand opponents’ tendencies, including shooting angles and rebounding strategies. Analyzing one’s performances also helps identify areas for improvement.
So who’s the GOAT?
Over his 220-game-long EuroLeague career, Milutinov has grabbed 563 offensive rebounds, meaning he averages 2.6 offensive boards per game. This places him ninth in the EuroLeague all-time ranking, with Tanoka Beard (3.4) and Joseph Blair (3.2) leading the way.
But the Americans didn’t play a lot in the EuroLeague, with Beard amassing 73 and Blair 65 appearances. Among players with at least 150 games under their belt, Milutinov is fractionally behind Real Madrid’s Cape Verdean tower Walter Tavares, with Real’s other center Vincent Poirier (2.3) holding the third spot.
There are also some great offensive rebounders who aren’t high on the list. For example, Real’s Felipe Reyes (2.0) is 40th, and Žalgiris Kaunas legend Paulius Jankunas (1.4) is just 123rd. This just shows that statistics can sometimes be misleading. Besides, both Reyes and Jankunas played over 350 games in the EuroLeague. It’s also worth noting Jankunas finished his EuroLeague career when he was 37, and Reyes played until he was 41, so it’s obvious why their all-time statistics suffered.
Reyes’ rebounding highlights:
In the end, right now it’s impossible to say who’s the EuroLeague’s offensive rebounding GOAT. There are many good candidates, but no one sticks out more than any other player. Should Tavares and Milutinov be able to hold their averages around the current level and play close to their forties, we might have an answer.
The question of the GOAT is so tough that even AI doesn’t know the answer. When we asked ChatGPT who is considered EuroLeague’s all-time offensive rebounding great, it refused to give an exact answer and told us to check the official EuroLeague website, reputable sports news outlets, or basketball statistics databases for the latest data and discussions within the basketball community.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, you just read the latest discussion within the basketball community.