Jan 28, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT
The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the Celtics without Rajon Rondo.
When the official word came down that Rajon Rondo had torn his ACL, it felt like a death knell for the Celtics. The natural reaction, and it might be the correct one, is that it’s time for the Celtics to move on to a new era. Maybe it would be different if they were rolling through the Eastern Conference, but even with Rondo, the Celtics were a struggling team under .500.
Given their history, however, it’s still worth wondering whether or not the Celtics can make one final playoff run without the services of their All-Star point guard.
Without Rondo this year
It only tells one small part of the whole story, but Plus/Minus numbers can at least give you an indication of what the Celtics might look like without Rondo.
The Celtics have played 744 minutes without Rondo on the floor this season. In those minutes, they have been better offensively (100.4 Offensive Rating to 99.2 with Rondo) and slightly better defensively (100.0 defensive rating to 100.5). There are a lot of factors at play here, but it is interesting that the Celtics haven’t suffered a drop-off with Rondo on the bench this season. The question is though, why not?
The Celtics have given Rondo a few more toys to play with in transition, but this is still a team that’s largely conflicted when it comes to running. No one would describe the Celtics as fast — they’re 20th in the league in pace — but they seriously grind to a halt once Rondo leaves the floor. According to NBA.com and HoopData, the Celtics pace factor is 90.5 when Rondo sits, a number that would make them the second slowest team in the league next to New Orleans.
If that trend continues, the slower pace could help the Celtics survive the loss of Rondo in a few ways. While Boston has been dreadful offensively this year (27th in offensive rating), they’ve been particularly bad at scoring in transition, as they’re just 25th in the league in Points Per Play in that setting, according to Synergy Sports.
For years and years, the Celtics have avoided crashing the offensive boards as a strategy, and that’s why they’re 29th in offensive rebounding percentage this year. While that plan is supposed to limit easy buckets on the other end, Boston surprisingly has the league’s worst transition defense (points per play) this year according to Synergy.
What’s all that mean? Although it’s hard to imagine the Celtics will be better in the halfcourt offensively without Rondo, slowing things down to a crawl could be beneficial. Limiting possessions is a tried and true underdog strategy, and without Rondo, that’s exactly what the Celtics will be.
Point guard by committee
Let’s set aside whether the Celtics need to make an outside move for now and evaluate the roster as is. Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Avery Bradley are far from “true” point guards, but there is some positive evidence that together they can handle the duties.
Boston’s third most used lineup this season is the group of Lee/Terry/Green/Sullinger/Garnett, and they’ve absolutely killed it in 95 minutes together. That unit has posted an offensive rating of 115.8 and a defensive rating of 90.9 for a net rating of +24.8. To put that in better context, no lineup in the NBA that has played at least 95 minutes has a better plus/minus per 48 minutes than that group.
An awful lot of that has to do with Jared Sullinger playing next to Kevin Garnett, as they are the Celtics’ best regularly used two-man pairing by a large margin. Playing Sullinger and Garnett may not be a direct remedy, but it can help in the grand scheme of things.
But back to Rondo’s potential replacements. Jason Terry’s overall numbers are down across the board, but he’s using the least amount of possessions he has in his entire career by a large margin with just a 17 percent usage rate. A very underrated pick-and-roll player, Terry is 15th in the league in points per play as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and his spot-up and off screen numbers are both in the top 35. It sounds simple, but Terry’s numbers suggest that he’ll benefit from having the ball in his hands more often.
With Lee, Bradley, Barbosa and even Paul Pierce open to taking some of the point guard duties, it’s still Terry who seems like the best bet for point production with the ball, mainly because the others do their most efficient work away from it. Lee is a year removed from being the most effective corner 3 shooter in the league, Bradley is at his best when he’s cutting around the baseline, and Pierce is a guy who could use more true post-up opportunities. None of those skill-sets lend particularly well to point guard play, and Barbosa hasn’t exactly wowed in his minutes at the point this year.
Call on Doc
Ultimately, losing Rondo shifts a lot of the responsibility to head coach Doc Rivers. Without Rondo’s freelancing or creativity, Rivers will have to run a heavily scripted halfcourt offense to generate results. While Rivers and the Celtics are capable of doing that, the looks are undoubtedly going to get tougher for Garnett and Pierce no matter how good the sets are. You just don’t lose the league leader in assists and not feel it offensively. However, if there’s a saving grace, the Celtics couldn’t really get much worse offensively anyway.
The defense, however, can still be elite and in a weak Eastern Conference, that can certainly be enough. The Pacers have the 29th ranked offense, but they play to their stingy D with a plodding pace that milks the shot clock, and they’re 26-18 because of it.
The Celtics are 9th in defensive efficiency, which means there is room for improvement. Losing a steal magnet and defensive rebounder like Rondo wouldn’t seem to help the defense directly, but backups like Lee and Bradley are two of the game’s most ferocious individual defenders. It’s plausible that with a slower pace and with more minutes for Lee and Bradley, the Celtics could very well improve on the defensive end — and that’s the true path to survival. Just ask Chicago.
Stats from Synergy Sports and NBA.com were used in this article.
May 24, 2013, 3:29 PM EDT
Early in the fourth quarter of the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Pacers, Ian Mahinmi grabbed LeBron James by the arm as he went up for the shot, causing James to fall a bit awkwardly as he crashed to the floor. It was ruled as a common foul at the time, but has since…
May 24, 2013, 2:42 PM EDT
The Clippers’ head coaching job is undoubtedly the most intriguing out of all of the ones that are currently open for next season. Assuming Chris Paul re-signs with the team in free agency, L.A. will return the core of a team that was talented enough to win 56 regular season games and two in the…
May 24, 2013, 2:34 PM EDT
To answer your first question, that is Todd MacCulloch getting dunked on. He played for the Nets in 2002. That was one of those years when the real NBA finals was the Lakers vs. Kings in the Western Conference Finals — whichever team got through that war was going to steamroll New Jersey. Which is…
May 24, 2013, 1:45 PM EDT
George Hill had a rough Game 1 for the Pacers — 2-of-9 shooting for five points with three turnovers. Plus, he sprained his big toe. I’m serious, he’s getting treatment and everything. The news comes from the twitter account of Mark Montieth of Pacers.com. George Hill has sprained left big toe, from Game 1. Had…
May 24, 2013, 1:22 PM EDT
When a player averages less than one point and three rebounds per game over the course of a season, while possessing the option to come back for another year with the same team at a salary of $9 million, it doesn’t take a degree in advanced economics to figure out what the chosen course of…
May 24, 2013, 1:19 PM EDT
Hibbert on if Battier does it again, "I have no problem putting my nuts in line of fire. …They pay me all this money, I got to be there."— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) May 24, 2013 Sometimes, we forget how much playing in the NBA is like any regular job. You show up. You get kneed…
May 24, 2013, 1:12 PM EDT
In their Thursday press availabilities, the tones between the Heat and Pacers were different. Indiana may have lost Game 1 but there was an optimistic “we can beat these guys” vibe around the team. Miami may be up 1-0 but there was more of a “that was not us, we can play a lot better”…
May 24, 2013, 12:51 PM EDT
The Raptors’ pursuit of Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri is kicking into high gear. Toronto received permission to speak with Ujiri, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke is aggressively pursuing Ujiri to become the Raptors’ general manager and plans to present an offer that will pay…
May 24, 2013, 11:28 AM EDT
If I’d had a vote, Greivis Vasquez would have gotten mine for Most Improved Player award — the third-year guard averaged 13.9 points and 9 assists per game for the then Hornets (now Pelicans) this past season, playing smart basketball along the way for a team that was grooming Anthony Davis and waiting for Eric…
May 24, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
The Mavericks top off-season goal is to try and sign Dwight Howard. Have fun with that, knowing what we do about Howard it should be a quick and decisive process. But they need more than just a big man. It was evident this season the Mavs need better point guard play, and somebody who can…
May 24, 2013, 10:18 AM EDT
Roy Hibbert made life difficult in the paint for the Knicks in the second round — we’ve all seen Hibbert block Carmelo Anthony’s shot at the rim but that is just the tip of the iceberg. He altered and blocked all kinds of shots inside and owned the paint. The Miami heat scored 60 points…
May 24, 2013, 8:50 AM EDT
It’s a little tough to predict where the Clippers’ coaching search might lead because hiring a coach is a task owner Donald Sterling takes on personally. He has for a long time. He was the guy charmed by Vinny Del Negro and hired him when the basketball operations people wanted to go another direction (and…
May 24, 2013, 8:10 AM EDT
You get this sense with the Warriors — guys like playing there now. You could feel the team chemistry when you watch them play. They liked each other, they were having fun together. And that was fun to watch. Carl Landry wants to stay a part of that. But the NBA is a business. Landry…
May 24, 2013, 7:21 AM EDT
J.R. Smith struggled in the playoffs. Well, he looked great the first couple games but he really struggled after returning from a one-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Boston’s Jason Terry in the first round. Against the Pacers he averaged 14 points a game but on just 29 percent shooting. His play…
May 24, 2013, 7:01 AM EDT
Veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo has landed on his feet. After the Brooklyn Nets let him walk when the season ended he strolled over to ESPN and has landed a job as an analyst (essentially taking the Flip Saunders job). Carlesimo held a conference call on Thursday to talk all things NBA, but much of the…
May 23, 2013, 11:33 PM EDT
For the next few weeks PBT will be profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we talk about Indiana’s wingman. ESPN’s well connected Chad Ford put it this simply in a chat Wednesday: “Oladipo is the guy that GMs love in this draft.” Victor Oladipo was one of those guys with…
May 23, 2013, 11:20 PM EDT
The Nets are looking to hire a big name with a strong track record to fill their vacant head coaching position, after parting ways with interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo following a season that ended with a first round playoff loss in seven games at the hands of the Bulls. Brooklyn reached out to Phil…
May 23, 2013, 8:39 PM EDT
Most likely, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take Nerlens Noel with the No. 1 overall pick. When you think about their needs, a big man who can run the floor and defend the rim fits that. Of course, Noel is a project, a couple years away from really contributing much at all to an NBA team.…
May 23, 2013, 7:01 PM EDT
Late in the first quarter of the Heat’s overtime Game 1 win over the Pacers, Shane Battier drove into the lane and challenged Roy Hibbert on a layup attempt. Battier’s form was more than a little unorthodox as he went up for the shot, leading with his right knee that caught Hibbert squarely below the…
May 23, 2013, 6:51 PM EDT
Today Kay Adams and I are talking what everyone else is — Heat vs. Pacers. I feel bad for Paul George because the Pacers wouldn’t have been in the game at the end if not for him, but that’s not what anyone will remember. And of course, we talk sitting Roy Hibbert a little —…
- Preview: Pacers must take back paint to even series with Heat 2
- Celtics deny Nets permission to speak with head coach Doc Rivers 5
- PBT Extra: Talking Heat/Pacers, and why Indy might be optimistic 12
- If Phil Jackson could have any player to start a team it would be… Bill Russell 52
- LeBron, Durant, Kobe headline All NBA First Team 28
- Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets (124)
- Kobe Bryant responds to Michael Jordan comparison from Phil Jackson (92)
- Alonzo Mourning says Scottie Pippen says LeBron would “kick Jordan’s ass” (78)
- Bradley Beal said he’d lose respect for a teammate who acted like Derrick Rose (71)
- Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 6 win over Knicks (60)
- Tiger, LeBron and bids to be the best that ever lived
- Live Extra: Watch coverage of Carb Day at Indy
- PHT: Senators fight for playoff lives in Game 5
- PST: Key battles for Champions League final
- Struggling Blackhawks on brink of elimination
- PHT: Wings push Blackhawks to brink | Highlights
- PHT: Kreider keeps Rangers alive | Highlights