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The Celtics shoot a lot more three-pointers when Rajon Rondo is on the court. In fact, of all point guards in the NBA, only Chris Paul has a more dramatic impact than Rajon on the number of three-pointers his teammates shoot when he’s on the floor versus when he’s on the bench.

That’s according to one of the Hoop-o-sphere’s (no? OK) best statheads, Jon Nichols, who has been cranking out interesting stuff all off-season long at his site (Basketball Statistics) and Hardwood Paroxysm

And there is some evidence—not much, but some—that Rondo also gets the C’s shooters better three-point looks. Paul Pierce’s accuracy improved by 4.3 percent, Ray Allen’s by 2.8 and Eddie House’s by 1.3 percent, and that’s despite the fact that each of those guys is jacking threes much more often when they play with Rajon. (Interestingly, Nichols found that the Paul/Rondo/LeBron types who create more three-point attempts for teammates don’t typically have a large positive impact on their  teammates’ accuracy from deep). 

Here’s a chart showing Rondo’s impact on individual teammates, courtesy of Nichols:

Picture 8

Here’s how you read that chart: The 13.4 percent figure in the first column next to Pierce means that if, say, 20 percent of Pierce’s field-goal attempts are three-pointers with Rondo on the bench, that number rises by 13.4 percent with Rondo in the game. That would mean 33.4 percent of Pierce’s shot attempts with Rondo on the floor are threes. That’s a big difference.

There are two ways to look at this data: 

1) Rondo is an extremely effective point guard with  a unique ability to create long-distance shots for the team’s best shooters; 

2) The stats are exaggerating Rondo’s impact on the team’s three-point shooting. 

If #1 is true, Nichols’ findings have a lot of interesting implications for the Celtics. If Rondo is indeed uniquely skilled at creating good three-point looks, does it follow that Doc should play Rondo and House together more often? (The two were on the court together for 28o minutes last season, just two minutes more than the 278 minutes Rondo played with Brian Scalabrine—and House played about three times more total minutes than Scal last season). 

Along the same lines, does it mean Rondo should play a few minutes per game with ‘Sheed? If so, Doc will have to juggle his line-up combinations in some of the ways I pitched earlier this week, including using Rondo as the lone starter on the floor with four back-ups. 

But let’s think some more about Nichols’ findings.

Interpretation  #1 makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? Rondo has an almost Nashian way of finding the seams in a defense and causing rotation havoc, right down to the way he dribbles along the baseline, pauses under the rim to look for an open man and then dribbles out the other side. All of this action opens up perimeter shots for Allen, Pierce and House, especially from the corners, where Allen in particular took more three-pointers last season than in prior years

But there’s also interpretation #2—that the stats are exaggerating Rondo’s impact. Remember, these numbers are comparing three-point attempts with Rondo on the floor versus Rondo on the bench. Last year’s bench lacked a point guard with Rondo’s ability to penetrate, draw the defense and dish to shooters. That alone likely resulted in a decline in three-point attempts/minute. 

Now add in the fact that play-making duties in Rondo’s absence fell mostly to Pierce and Allen. That means they did less spotting up for threes and more posting up, creating off the dribble and getting to the line. Net result: Fewer three-point attempts/minute. 

Long story short: Is it possible that the huge discrepancy Nichols found is the result not of Rondo’s brilliant shot-creating but rather of the bench’s lack of brilliant shot-creating? 

The truth, of course, probably lies somewhere in between. The three-point shot has been a big reason why the Celtics have been a top-10 offensive team over the last two seasons, and it promises to be an even bigger part of the team’s offense this season with the addition of Rasheed Wallace. (Remember—only 11 teams in NBA history of shot a higher percentage from deep than the C’s 39.7 percent mark last season). Finding the line-up combinations that produce the best looks without sacrificing defense or other types of scoring will be paramount.

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Zach Lowe

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