Over the past 24 hours, NBA pundits are trying to come to terms with the idea of a sustained period of time sans Rajon Rondo. One of the more persistent storylines is the idea that the Celtics are just as efficient- both offensively and defensively- with Rondo as without him. Upon first glance, that appears to be correct. Just look at the chart below:
Defensively, it appears that the Celtics have been consistent whether or not Rondo’s on the floor. Offensively, the two seasons that span 2010-2012 make Rondo look like an impact player but the other years make him look nearly replaceable. From this data, it seems fair to say that the Celtics are just as efficient with or without Rondo. This data set, however, is incomplete. There is one, HUGE, contextual element preventing this analysis from actually holding up: MINUTES.
There is a huge disparity in the number of minutes in which Rondo is on the court, versus when he’s on the bench. Since the 2008-2009 season, Rondo has averaged 36.22 minutes per game (out of a likely 48). In other words, he’s played 67% of the possible minutes since the 2008-2009 season. To put it simply, Rondo never gets off the court.
As you can see, it’s the same chart as displayed above, just with the minutes. It would be one thing if Rondo shared an equal amount of minutes with the sum of his replacements, but he just doesn’t. That makes sense given that the Celtics haven’t had a true backup point guard since Sam Cassell. Since their Championship season, the C’s have entrusted guys like Tony Allen, Delonte West, Ray Allen, Lester Hudson, Keyon Dooling, Carlos Arroyo, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Gabe Pruitt, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa to be Rondo’s primary backups. It’s easy to see why he rarely sees the bench for extended periods of time.
This is not to say the Celtics can’t see any sustained success while Rondo recovers from his ACL tear. I’m just not ready to suggest they’ll be fine without him. As we indicated in our emergency 3-on-3, Doc Rivers has his work cut out for him when it comes to devising a new offensive game plan that does not include Rondo.
Over the past five seasons, it’s impossible to suggest that the same numbers would hold up if Rondo’s back-up guards were afforded the same amount of minutes. We just don’t know. As for this season, it’s easy to see that offensive and defensive efficiency numbers have gone down with respect to Rondo being on the court. The reasoning for such is complicated and not entirely tied to Rondo. Sure, Rondo deserves a big chunk of the blame given how essential he is to the offense, but it would be negligent to ignore the entire team’s inconsistent play. The Celtics’ stars are one year older and their supporting cast is almost entirely different.
Right now, we can’t definitively say how the Celtics will play without Rondo. We do know, however, that we’re about to find out.