Tarik Black likens offensive rebounding to gambling, and the Lakers coaching staff is allowing him to play his hand.
Black, in his third NBA season, is the anchor of a Lakers' second unit that has been shaken by injuries the last two games. He stands 6 feet 9, which is small for a center who makes a living in the paint. He does not have a flashy offensive game, and his shooting touch is a work in progress at the Lakers' practice facility.
But Black is a problem on the offensive glass — for opposing teams, that is. He is averaging 3.1 offensive rebounds in 14.4 minutes a game off the bench. He pulled down four offensive rebounds in the Lakers' 109-85 loss to the Warriors on Friday night, which was a game high and equal to the Warriors' team total. His efficiency on the offensive glass is attributed to his athleticism, awareness, toughness and length.
Then there is the trust of his coaches, an intangible factor that has produced tangible results through 17 games.
"For the most part we want him hitting that glass hard," Lakers Coach Luke Walton said at the team's practice facility on Saturday. "It's just about those first three steps after that, if he doesn't get it, getting back into transition defense."
The Lakers (8-9) will host the Hawks (10-6) at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday at Staples Center. That means Black could match up with former Lakers center Dwight Howard, who has been one of the NBA's best offensive rebounders this season.
And as it turns out, so has Black.
Howard is averaging 4.7 offensive rebounds a game, which is second in the league behind Heat center Hassan Whiteside. But Howard ranks first in offensive rebounding percentage — which measures the amount of possible offensive rebounds a player obtains while on the court — at 17.5%.
Among players logging 10 or more minutes a game, Black's offensive rebounding percentage of 15.9% ranks third in the NBA. That puts him slightly behind Howard and Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, but notably ahead of higher-profile big men like the Knicks' Joakim Noah, the Bulls' Robin Lopez, the Pistons' Andre Drummond, the Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson and Whiteside. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who is considered a menace in the paint, has an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.8.
"There's no one key to it," Black said after the Lakers practiced on Saturday. "Part of it is about wanting it, a lot of it is about positioning yourself and positioning yourself early. I see the play, I get myself where I need to be and then I use my athleticism and long arms to get it. And if I don't, it's right back at it the next possession."
Another part of it is sheer competitiveness. Black loves snatching the ball away from other big men to gain extra possessions for his team. On Sunday he will go against one of the few players who has been better at that so far this season.
It might not be something for which fans circle their calendars, but is Black excited to match up with the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard on the glass?
"Not really, because I think every night is a rebounding matchup," Black said. "I mean there are always rebounds, right? So to me there are always rebounding matchups. I just have to make sure I win."