It may sound obvious but rebounding is a huge part of playing winning basketball. You can’t win if you allow the other team to get second and third chances in the offensive end, and if you find a guy that’s able to give you those kinds of opportunities when you’re trying to score, you’re going to have a huge edge.
That’s why, even though the old-fashioned, heavy-footed, defensive-oriented big man seems to be a dying breed in today’s basketball, we’ll still see plenty of centers and rebounding specialists make their way to contending teams.
The Houston Rockets may have committed to the small-ball but look how that turned out. Basketball is a game of fundamentals and rebounding is one of the most important of all. That’s why today, we’re going to talk about the top 20 players with the most rebounds per game in NBA history.
20. Hassan Whiteside – 11.7 RPG
(via Rip City Project)
Hassan Whiteside has always been a controversial player, to say the least. No one can deny his ability to dominate both sides of the glass and his work as a rim protector but he’s looked careless in the defensive end more often than not.
Even so, Whiteside cracks the list of the top 20 players with the most rebounds per game in NBA history at 11.9 boards per game. He can still finish higher if he continues to put some work on the glass.
19. Harry Gallatin – 11.9 RPG
Harry Gallatin was a never-ending source of energy. He had an impressive drive on both ends of the floor, thus earning the nickname of ‘The Horse’. Once he took off, there was just no way of stopping him, even if he didn’t strike with athleticism.
Despite being undersized for the power forward and center spots (6’6”), Gallatin even led the NBA in rebounding during the 1954 season with a career-high 15.3 rebounds per game. He never averaged fewer than 10.1 rebounds per game over his career.
18. Bill Bridges – 11.9 RPG
Another undersized 6’6” big man makes our list. Bill Bridges was schooling hoopers long before entering the NBA. He was an All-Big Eight during his three years in college and played for the Kansas City Steelers of the ABL before joining the St. Louis Hawks as a bonafide star.
As a matter of fact, Bill Bridges was considered the best rebounder not named Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain during his prime. He averaged a double-double per his career and is one of the three players to ever grab 35+ boards in NBA history.
17. Dolph Schayes – 12.1 RPG
Even though younger fans may have never heard about him, Dolph Schayes is considered to be one of the greatest – if not the greatest – player in Philadelphia 76ers history. He led the team from their days as the Syracuse Nationals with his scoring and up to this day, is still one of the most dominant rebounders of all time.
Schayes was an unstoppable force below the rim. He made the most of his vertical leap and wingspan to get an advantage over his slower, less athletic competition. With him in control, the Sixers, then still known as Syracuse Nationals, won the 1955 NBA Championship.
16. Moses Malone – 12.2 RPG
Moses Malone is one of the greatest players we just never seem to talk about. The guy was a huge menage on both sides of the glass (as you can tell by his career average of 12.2 rebounds per game) and one of the best two-way players ever.
Malone could put 25+ points against the greatest defenders on earth and then lock them up in the post or below the rim. He was an elite shot-blocker and had a great offensive repertoire for the time. We should really mention him in the best big men in history conversation.
15. Dwight Howard – 12.3 RPG
(via Lakers Daily)
It seems like some people forget just how great Dwight Howard was in his prime. He was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a guy that constantly led the league in rebounding, and led the Orlando Magic to the Finals almost on his own.
Now, Howard has embraced a much-lesser role in his career. He’s trying to redeem himself and prove that even though the traditional big is a dying breed, he’s still got a lot left in the tank to contribute to any contending team. Hopefully, he’ll get that much-desired ring.
14. Elvin Hayes – 12.5 RPG
The Washington Bullets / Wizards franchise has had its fair share of elite talents but among them, maybe Elvin Hayes stands out the most. The guy was a dominant force on both ends of the court and one of the most respected big men in the league during his prime.
Wes Unseld may have been a better defender than Hayes but Hayes clearly had the upper hand when it came to scoring. Moreover, he’s currently fourth in the all-time rebounding list even though he spent most of his career playing as a power forward and not center.
13. Gus Johnson – 12.7 RPG
Gus Johnson was yet another example that proved that you didn’t need to be the tallest guy in the room to dominate the glass. You just needed to be hungrier and stronger than the rest of them. Sitting at 6’8”, he was a huge two-way menace as a forward-center.
Johnson was one of the most dominant players above the rim and one of the most electrifying dunkers during his prime. He was faster, stronger, and more willing to put his body on the line that everyone else on the hardwood, and even averaged 17.1 rebounds per game in 1971.
12. Willis Reed – 12.9 RPG
It’s been quite a long time since the New York Knicks had a player worthy of bragging about but they sure had a lot of superstars back in the day. One of the bigger, if not the biggest, was Willis Reed, a born winner, and fearless competitor.
The Captain was the New York Knicks’ driving force during their two NBA Championships and reports claim that he was one of the best shot-blockers in the league, even though they didn’t keep track of blocks until his final season in the NBA.
11. Dennis Rodman – 13.1 RPG
Dennis Rodman has a strong shot at being the most versatile defender in the history of the game. He could guard one through five with ease and lock up the strongest, biggest players in the world and would never hesitate to put his body on the line.
Rodman is considered the greatest rebounder of all time because of how undersized he was for a big man. Sitting at just 6’7”, The Worm led the league in rebounding seven straight years, including seasons of 18.7 and 18.3 rebounds per game.
10. Elgin Baylor – 13.6 RPG
Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest players never to win an NBA Championship. He was the definition of an elite scorer and defender and set the standard for the small forwards who came after him. He was a walking bucket and an athletic freak.
It’s truly remarkable to see that Elgin Baylor cracked the top 10 of the list of the most rebounds per game in NBA history considering he wasn’t a power forward or center. His ability to take off and dominate the glass earned him the nickname “Rabbit” back in the day.
9. Dave Cowens – 13.6 RPG
It was pretty clear that Dave Cowens was special when the Boston Celtics drafted him with the 4th overall pick of the 1970 NBA Draft out of Florida State University but even so, it’s fair to say that he exceeded all the high expectations around him.
Cowens was as smart as they come. He knew how to pick apart opposing defenses and make the most of his size and positioning to give the Celtics multiple second-chance opportunities. He even won 1 MVP and a couple of rings for Boston.
8. Walt Bellamy – 13.7 RPG
Walt Bellamy was a gifted athlete and he proved it at every single level. He broke Indiana University’s record for most rebounds (1,087, 15.5 RPG) before taking his talents to the 1960 Olympics along with Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Jerry Lucas.
Bellamy made it to the NBA a couple of years later and won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award after averaging 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds per game, both league highs. He played for 17 years and averaged 11.0+ in 14 of those seasons.
7. Andre Drummond – 13.8 RPG
Credit: USA Sports Today
Andre Drummond would have been in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year conversation if he had played 10 or 20 years earlier. Sadly, he’s caught up in the modern NBA and even though he’s one of the best big men in the game, his services aren’t as highly coveted as they could be.
Drummond has evolved to become a solid rim protector and a defensive anchor. He’s the best rebounder in the NBA right now and a guy that could play a huge role in a Championship team. Sadly, he’s yet to be in a positive environment.
6. Wes Unseld – 14.0 RPG
When talking about undersized great rebounders, Wes Unseld’s name has to be in the conversation. Like Dennis Rodman, he was just 6’7” but thrived on both ends of the floor, and even though he wasn’t as physical as The Worm, he always knew how to get the job done.
Unseld never flashed with his scoring numbers but was a player that was able to contribute to every single aspect of the game. His defense and rebounding were pivotal in the Baltimore Bullets’ success and they’re yet to have a player like him again-
5. Nate Thurmond – 15.0 RPG
Well, they didn’t call him Nate ‘The Great’ Thurmond out of pure pleasure. Nate Thurmond could literally do it all on both ends of the floor, even becoming the first player to record an official quadruple-double in the history of the Association.
Playing as a 6’11” forward-center, Thurmond had a 42-rebound game. Only Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain ever grabbed more. Moreover, his ability to create for others and swat shots into the stands made him a fan favorite and one of the most beloved players of his time.
4. Jerry Lucas – 15.6 RPG
Long before the New York Knicks became the franchise we know nowadays, they were actually one of the powerhouses of the NBA, and having another top-tier rebounder like Jerry Lucas was one of the main reasons why they were like that.
Lucas was a rebounding machine for most of his career until he lost his first step with age. In fact, he even led the league in rebounds with 21.1 boards per game in 1966, had two seasons averaging 20.0+, and averaged double-digits in boards in 10 of his 12 seasons in the league.
3. Bob Pettit – 16.2 RPG
Bob Pettit was one of the first dominant forces in professional basketball history. The St. Louis (Atlanta) Hawks constantly fed him down low and he made his rivals pay as he had something no other big man in the league had: a jump shot.
Pettit dominated the league at will from start to finish. He could run the break, pull up, spot up, you name it. He was bigger, stronger, and more athletic than the average player in the league, as you can tell by his career average of 16.5 boards per game.
2. Bill Russell – 22.5 RPG
Bill Russell is one of the greatest legends in the history of sports. Not only did he win 11 NBA Championships in 13 seasons but he also became the league’s standard for a defensive standout. There weren’t easy buckets when Russell was looming around.
Russell is the league’s biggest winner. His name isn’t often brought up in the GOAT conversation because of the poor competition he faced in his prime but that’s just not fair. He was ahead of his time and could have thrived on any era of basketball.
1. Wilt Chamberlain – 22.9 RPG
Unsurprisingly, Wilt Chamberlain sits at the top of this list and his record isn’t likely to be taken down ever. He was the ultimate freak of nature, a guy so dominant that the league had to enforce several rule changes just to prevent him from having an unfair advantage.
Chamberlain’s only knock on his résumé will always be his lack of silverware but he’ll always be considered as the most athletic player to ever leap. His vertical leap and wingspan just didn’t make any sense and there’s even a legend of him recording the only quintuple-double in NBA history, blocking 24 shots.