Why Teaira McCowan is the most efficient rebounder in the WNBA

Indiana Fever rookie Teaira McCowan battles for a rebound during a preseason game against the Chicago Sky on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein
Indiana Fever rookie Teaira McCowan battles for a rebound during a preseason game against the Chicago Sky on May 16, 2019. Photo by Kimberly Geswein /

The 6’7 rookie out of Mississippi State leads the WNBA in rebounding percentage

Teaira McCowan has learned a lot about rebounding in the WNBA during her first month as a pro. These lessons, plus her natural rebounding ability, have helped her become the most efficient rebounder in the league.

Heading into Indiana’s game at Phoenix Friday, McCowan is first among players who regularly play with a rebounding percentage of 17.9%. This stat measures the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while on the floor. She is third in the WNBA with 3.0 offensive rebounds per game. She’s 16th in the league and best on the Fever with 7.1 rebounds per game.

During McCowan’s senior year at Mississippi State, she was second among D-1 players with a rebounding percentage of 25%.

Before Indiana’s game against Minnesota on June 25, McCowan talked to High Post Hoops about rebounding in the WNBA.

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“In college, I was taller than everyone so I didn’t have to really jump,” McCowan said. “But [in the WNBA] I have to jump and I have to time it perfectly.”

McCowan has also been adjusting to the physicality and speed of WNBA players. She’s learning how to keep track of her opponents while she’s boxing out for a rebound. Since opposing players in this league are so tall and quick, McCowan can’t loose track of them for a millisecond when she’s trying to box out for a rebound.

She’s also learning how to track the ball when teammates and opponents shoot it. By knowing where the ball is likely to bounce off the rim, McCowan can better position herself to grab a missed shot.

“If someone shoots the ball, nine times out of ten, it’s going to come out on the backside (of the rim),” McCowan said. “Not too many of them come out on the front side (of the rim). So if someone shoots it from one side of the goal, you want to get to the backside and put your man under the goal so you can get the rebound.”

You can see exactly what McCowan is talking about in this video, where she pushes Sylvia Fowles under the rim to draw a foul on the offensive rebound attempt. This is no small feat, as Fowles is the fourth-best rebounder in WNBA history.

McCowan said she tracks the ball about the same as she did in college, though she’s still getting used to her teammates’ shooting tendencies to help her get even more rebounds in the future.

McCowan’s rebounding was extremely helpful when the Fever endured two games without veteran F/C Natalie Achonwa, who missed games at Atlanta and Chicago with a left calf strain.  McCowan made her first start in that Atlanta game and posted her first WNBA double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds in 23 minutes. It was the first game that McCowan played more than 20 minutes. McCowan had 13 rebounds at Chicago and 13 rebounds in the following game at Seattle.

Achonwa has played in Indiana’s last two games, but McCowan has stayed in the starting lineup. At the beginning of the season, Fever coach Pokey Chatman said she wanted to bring McCowan along slowly this season. But after the injury to 6’3 Achonwa, who is one of the team’s best post players, that process had to speed up a bit.

Chatman said McCowan has handled that acceleration wonderfully. After a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday, Chatman was extremely pleased with the way McCowan defended Fowles. Minnesota’s star center had just one point and three rebounds in the second half. McCowan played the entire second half.

Fowles finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.

“Tearia frustrated Sylvia not just with her size, but with her ability to move her feet,” Chatman said after that game.

Chatman also played McCowan and Achonwa together for the longest stretch of the season against Minnesota. They played together for 15 minutes of the second half and sparked a 33-9 run that helped the Fever erase a 22-point third-quarter deficit. Indiana wasn’t able to hang on to win, but Achonwa noticed some positives during her extended minutes with McCowan.

“Sylvia had nine points tonight and I think eight of them were on me,” Achonwa said after the Minnesota game.  “So, when (McCowan) is guarding (Fowles) and when she’s got that size and she can bang with her, it’s tremendous. It helps us on the defensive end. And then of course, when teams have to rotate on us on offense, it puts her in a perfect position to get those little bunny rebounds and those putbacks.”

McCowan will face another legend Friday night when the Fever play Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury. McCowan had two points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of action during Indiana’s loss to Phoenix on June 9 in Indianapolis. Tonight’s game tips at 10:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.

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