Judging by some recent comments, readers seem to be debating who deserves the (fake) honor as Boston’s MVP of the first quarter of the season.
With respect to Perk and Ray Allen, I’m not sure they belong in this discussion. They’re close, but not quite at the level of our three candidates. It’s a tribute to Boston’s unselfishness and the overall skill of its players that the stats for the starting five are amazingly close. But there’s a clear-cut top three.
Here’s a statistical profile of those top three.
BASIC PER GAME STATS. (Bold means the player leads the team in that category)
Paul Pierce: 18 points-4.5 rebounds-3.7 assists-1.1 steals-2.1 turnovers-0.4 blocks
Kevin Garnett: 15.3 points-7.4 rebounds-2.5 assists-1.0 steals-1.6 turnovers-0.7 blocks
Rajon Rondo: 11.7 points-4.2 rebounds-9.5 assists-2.6 steals-2.4 turnovers-0.1 blocks
1) KG 56.6%;
2) Rondo 52.8%;
3) Pierce 48.2%
* True Shooting %:
1) Pierce 62.6%;
3) Rondo 53.6%
*This stat takes into account three-pointers, free throws and two-point attempts.
1) Pierce 84% on 5.7 attempts/game;
2) KG 78.5% on 2.8 attempts;
3) Rondo 51% on 2.0 attempts
Player Efficiency Rating (PER):
1) KG 20.9
2) Rondo 20.1
3) Pierce 19.0
We get more advanced, after the jump.
Let’s finish the discussion of offense with some advanced stats.
First: Offensive Rating. This stat measure how many points the player produces per 100 possessions. It is heavily influenced by the quality of a player’s team, but there is some variation among players on the same team. To offer another caveat: Shelden Williams currently leads the team in this category.
1) Paul Pierce: 119 points/100 possessions
2) Kevin Garnett: 115
3) Rajon Rondo: 114
Another way to measure offensive contribution would be to look at how many points the team scores with a player in the game versus with that player on the bench. Luckily, 82games.com has just that info for us.
1) Rajon Rondo: +4.3 points per 100 possessions (112.6 points/100 possessions when he’s in, 108.3 when he’s out).
2) Kevin Garnett: -0.6 (111.2 on, 111.8 off)
3) Paul Pierce: -2.1 (110.9 on, 113.0 off)
Side note: The two guys I left out of this discussion—Ray and Perk—rank better by this measure than anyone on the team. So maybe I’m shorting them. Side note #2: This stat is a raw plus/minus stat, meaning it is heavily influenced by line-ups. Pierce, for instance, may be hurt here because of the time he spends carrying the second unit in the 2nd and 4th quarters. As we’ve discussed, the bench is far more productive with Ray Allen as the lone starter than with Pierce in that role.
Of course, offense is only half the game. How does everyone rate defensively?
Let’s start with the another fairly rough statistic—Defensive Rating (via Basketball Reference). Like offensive rating, it approximates how many points a particular player allows per 100 possessions. It is also heavily dependent on team play.
1) Kevin Garnett: 96 points allowed/100 possessions
2) Rajon Rondo: 97 points allowed/100 possessions
3) Paul Pierce: 100 points allowed/100 possessions.
Not much variation. So let’s look at the 82games.com plus/minus stats for defense. Like the offensive numbers we just looked at, these measure how many points the team allows when a player is on the court versus on the bench:
1) Rajon Rondo: -6.3 (98.4 points allowed/100 possessions while on the court, 104.7 points allowed/100 possessions off)
2) Kevin Garnett: -5.3
3) Paul Pierce: -1.7
All three fare very well, but there’s a big gap between KG/Rondo and Pierce. Again, this may be due to Pierce’s extended time with the back-ups.
There are also some fledgling stats that attempt to measure how well a player guards his direct counterpart. The simplest is opponent’s PER, which measures (for instance) how well opposing point guards play while Rajon Rondo is guarding them. Here’s how the three candidates rate in this category (and remember—the average PER is 15.0):
Paul Pierce holds opposing small forwards to a 13.7 PER.
Rajon Rondo holds opposing point guards to a 14.8 PER.
Kevin Garnett holds opposing power forwards to a 16.3 PER.
So Pierce fares better here than he does in the defensive plus/minus category. Weird. And it’s not as if the league is bereft of quality small forwards. Pierce has had some tough defensive assignments, ranging from Kevin Durant to to LeBron James to Gerald Wallace to (at times) Andre Iguodala.
There is a new stat that tries to take into account the fact that some guys may be guarding better players on most nights. At Basketball Prospectus, they have a new stat (introduced last year) called dMULT that measures how well a player limits the offensive production of his opponent compared to how that opponent normally produces. So if Rajon Rondo holds opposing point guards to 92 percent of their normal production (a really good mark), his dMULT figure is .92. If point guards are lighting up Rondo—producing at 110 percent of their normal levels, for instance—Rondo’s dMULT figure would be 1.10.
Here’s how the three guys are faring so far:
1) Garnett: .882
2) Rondo: .918
3 Pierce: .970
Some context: The marks here for KG and Rajon are just off the charts. They’re so good that they probably can’t be sustained over the course of a full season. Pierce’s mark looks bad in comparison, but it’s actually quite solid and in line with his mark from last season (.969), when everyone agreed his defense was outstanding.
Ok, just one more and we’re done. Basketball Value has an adjusted plus/minus system that seeks to account for the fact that some guys may be on the court with stars, some guys may play more minutes against the other team’s scrubs and some guys might be expected to be lone starter carrying a bench unit.
Basketball Value uses some math to adjust for those realities and place each player on an equal playing field. You can see how individual C’s rank by this metric here, and here are the three me-appointed MVP candidates
1) Rajon Rondo: +9.79
2) Paul Pierce: -2.83
3) KG -4.55
Read into this what you will.
Deep breath. That’s a lot of stats. Probably too many, especially since some contradict the others. (Paul Pierce, for instance, has the highest offensive rating but the worst offensive plus/minus on 82games). Is there any way to digest all of this and come to a definitive conclusion?
Probably not. I mean, we can see some general trends. Rondo and KG “beat” Pierce in nearly every defensive category (save opponent PER), and we can probably conclude that they are slightly more valuable on defense than Pierce. But all three are really outstanding.
Offensively, the numbers are all over the board.
One conclusion you can make: Imagine someone who had access to these stats but no way of watching games. That person could very well conclude Rajon Rondo is the best player on the Celtics. Statistically, we are there. Based purely on numbers, you can make the case that—right now—Rajon Rondo is the team’s MVP.
Personally, I’m not there yet. Paul Pierce remains the rock of this team. He is the one expected to score or get to the line when the Celtics absolutely need points. He’s the guy most capable of creating his own shot. He is still the team’s stabilizing force on offense when things are going to crap. He gets to the line more than anyone on the team, he’s turning the ball over less than he has at any point in his career, and his 48.2 field-goal percentage would be a career high. He carried the team’s offense over the first 10 games or so, when KG was struggling with his jumper. He has been the most consistent player on the team from game one.
If I had a ballot in this mythical vote, I’d still vote Pierce. But it’s close. Really, really close.
And that’s why the team is so damn good.