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Wait a Minute! Life Without Rajon Rondo

 

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.

Check out the following chart:

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.

  • High Rollers

    We’ve kind of become the Denver Nuggets of the East with this turn of events. And the Nugs, while often ignored, are rarely counted out. There’s just a lot more dramatic chatter with our team because as a franchise it’s a cornerstone of the league along with the Lakers. Fact remains we still have a ton of talent out there. And Sunday reminded everybody that it’s the grit that makes the pearl.

  • Phil725

    Good post (that I feel like is at least somewhat directed at me, given that I've been touting those numbers here lately.) The on/off numbers certainly speak more to the team's ability to back up Rondo without a true backup PG than it does mean they can replace him altogether.

    The situation reminds me a little of the 'good side of chuckers' argument. Guys like Danny Granger (and Paul Pierce now,) use a huge percentage of possessions and aren't overly efficient at it. It makes you think that the team would be better off spreading things around. In practice though (say if Granger goes down with tendonosis,) someone 'else' has to use all of those possessions, and they'll probably be much worse at it, enough to put you in the basement of the league offensively.

    I've argued all year that Rondo hasn't been as effective as I'd like him to be and that the options around him deserve more time to work (if just to give Rondo more rest/less minutes when he's not bringing it,) but make no mistake about it, his absence is going to be felt big time. Thought Pierce was being forced to carry too heavy of a load before? Keep this number in mind: 33.2. That's his career high usage rate, and it happened 10 years ago in 02-03. He's at 27.8 right now, and Rondo's 21.7 just disappeared. Rondo's rebounding is often overlooked too, but who do you think is filling that hole? PP had 13 rebounds last night as a solid hint.

    The scary thing is where the shear quantity of possessions/ball handling are going to go. KG is already near the limits of what he can do, so who else do you give the ball too? Are you prepared to watch more Terry 1-15 nights? PP 42 minute games? That's what the Rondo injury means.

    For the record, I expect the team to play their asses off and succeed in the short term, and I expect them to make the playoffs too (despite my doom and gloom, they can be successful without him, even if it does rob Pierce of legs in the process.) It's hard to see the same ceiling as before though (even if you were dismissive of their chances of reaching it.) Good defenses will be able to take away more from this team without Rondo than they could before, and this isn't an offense that could afford that. Missing Playoff Rondo is self explanatory, and legs are a major concern. PP isn't Luol Deng, he can't play 48 minutes whenever the team needs, and he's gonna be asked to do basically that.

  • searp

    Rondo, quite simply, is irreplacable. However, before uou write the Celtic’s obituary for this season, you might want to look at film of their game with Miami on Sunday. Sans Rondo, the Celtics, as a team, actually played better. They appeared to have the swagger back that has been missing most of the year. Rather than sleep walk theough the game, watching the Rondo show and picking up scraps here ans there, everyone took ownership of their role on the floor and put forth full effort throughout. The old guard has a championship pedigree and a warrior’s heart and mentality. Garnet and Pierce will never give in, or give up. They will demand more of themselves and their teammates, rather than going through the motions on cruise control. With Pierce at the helm, a more invested Jason Terry on point, KG leading the defensive charge, and everyone taking an active role, this team could actually surge. Bring up Fab Melo (who has been a beast in the D League) to control the paint, not only can they survive, they will thriive. Miami’s achilles heel is rebounding. The Knicks will implode, they always do. When the gane slows down in the playoffs, and toughness and heart are the cornerstones of championship basketball, it will play right into the Celtic’s hands. They might not be title ready, but don’t be so quick to write them off. A veteran defense, an offense where everyone is forces to own their role, a monster na med Melo controlling the paint, and Doc may just have a hungry, focused TEAM. And, that doesn’t seem half bad!

    • Vincent

      I love your optimism. But if you're depending on Fab Melo and Jason Terry, you've got really really really big problems. Attitude is one thing, but it still comes down to talent. And the Cs, without Rondo, don't have the talent to contend, no matter how invested KG and PP are.

      • Dmitry

        I would like to know about turnovers rate with Rondo/ without him on the floor and what % of defensive mistakes comes from him, as +/- rate doesn't show that, when bigs clean up after guards mistakes. As yet this team success is based on strong defense.

  • CG12

    I confess I don't really understand what seems to be a central point of the post, which I think is that Rondo's heavy minutes mean the PP100P numbers are somehow not sufficient to tell the story of what will happen when Rondo's gone. Won't we just be taking the "Rondo on the court" numbers and replacing them with the "Rondo off the court" numbers? Isn't the whole point of PP100P numbers that they account for pace and volume, so that it gives you rates, which are specifically do not use volume-related stats like minutes as a measure of production? Yes, we will be taking Rondo's minutes and giving them to subs. And the numbers from this year indicate that the team has been more productive with those subs on the court than with Rondo on the court.

    • Phil725

      The problem is that things don't scale linearly. It's a general fallacy to expect a player's numbers to improve at a set rate as his minutes improve. Efficiency goes down, and sometimes players just aren't capable of carrying that heavier load. That concept is generally applied to good shooters who people want to shoot more, but it works here too.

      Rondo goes up against the other team's best defense (hard to quantify how this number affects the overall picture, but the bench does face softer competition in general,) and he gets the team consistent looks while he's out there. Just because Terry and Lee have been able to put up passable numbers for five minute stretches against the other team's bench a couple times a game doesn't mean they're going to be able to do it for 48.

      In fact, it's even more exaggerated in this case because you're basically turning a change up into your whole offense. The Cs play differently when Rondo is on the bench (spread offense, dribble handoffs, etc,) and teams spend more time preparing for the starters.

      That said, the Rondo led offense was hardly blowing teams away this year, and given the pitiful numbers that Rondo/Pierce/KG have had when playing together this year (97.5 Orating-hello Wizards,) it's very possible that the team could improve in some places. They'll likely be weakened in other places because of asking guys to carry heavier loads though, and you can't just expect that 105.6 number to extrapolate out to 48 minutes.

      • CG12

        The numbers will change now that the team is fundamentally differently structured. We won't be getting just the "Rondo off the court" numbers. Perhaps the takeaway is that the "Rondo on" vs. "Rondo off" numbers from earlier this year ultimately don't tell us much at all about how the numbers will change. As you note, we can't quantify all of the ways in which the numbers will change, so we are left with non-quantitative analysis of how the team will do with various guys playing longer minutes in different situations (e.g., former bench guys now playing more against starters). The numbers won't necessarily improve with more minutes, but do we know that they will get worse and that efficiency will decline? I don't know, and if anyone can cite some research on that phenomenon, I'd be interested to see it.

        • Phil725

          I know it's been well researched, but I don't have a link off the top of my head. As with all statistical probability though, we're talking probability. So it's not to say that players never keep their production or even improve when given extra minutes; maybe Jeff Green really will perform more consistently with a heavier minute load, same for Courtney Lee. I'd be more wary of stretching out a per minute star like Leandro Barbosa though.

          You're right that we don't really know how the team will respond to this. The different strategies are a mystery, as are the results. Even outside the stats, I think it's a safe bet that the team is about to undergo a big time mental shift. They have another level that they've been saving for the playoffs the last few years, but I think they bust it out now.

          • High Rollers

            Pretty well put there, Phil. I like that.

  • Kafel

    C's won at NY without Rondo ( Imo one of the best games by Celtics in this season ) and vs Miami. That's only two games but against very good and great team, without any preparation in both games. Now there will be time to adjust.

    I really like Celtics defense more without Rondo than with him. So many times I saw him loosing his player or going for a steal just to get blown by opponent. On offense? Nobody can create a shot for others like RR, but they were moving ball well without him and as I said they will have more time to get used to it.

    It won't be easy. But this team never liked the easy way. They are grind it out team. I think that players like Terry, Lee, Green ( he is playing better in each game lately ) will step up. This is still good veteran team that can play D. Make the playoffs and anything is possible!

  • IBleedGreen

    Lol @ those over-reacting to one of the most overrated players in NBA history.

  • searp

    The point your missing here is that Doc Rivers is one of the greatest coaches of the modern era. Give him a team of guys fully commited and he can game plan to maximize their potential. Fab Melo only has to defend the post and rebound (something he has shown a proficiency for). Jason Terry is an incredicle sharpshooter (check his career numbers) when he is fully committed. He admitted that in backing up Rondo he never understood his role in the plays being run (pretty much the same reason Ray Allen left). Now, with Doc game planning to his strengths, his scoring and effort should increase dramatically. Jeff Green, with Rondo out, becomes the athletic focal point that is more suited to his skill set than coming off screens and pick and rolls. As a slasher, he moves back into the role that allowed him to shine at Georgetown and OKC. Pierce gets to facillitate more on offense, rather than rely on Rondo to find him shots, and should more resemble the triple-double machine we saw Sunday. KG, because of Melo on the interior and Sullinger or Bass on the low block is free yo harrass the wings and top of the key, while concentrating on his midrange game (his strong suit) rather than play with his back to the basket. The players work better as a team when they dont rely on Rondo to do everything. They have been playing half speed, allowing Rondo to shine. Now, they get back to the core of what made them great — five fingers on the same hand instead of four guys watching and waiting for Rondo to do it all. They have talent galore and now each guy will have the chance to do what they do best. When it all comes together it will be a beautifully oiled basketball machine.

  • KillerGymRat

    Personally I've never been a fan of +/- numbers as an indicator of anything. There are just too many unaccounted for variables that make the data utterly useless. For example against Atlanta Jason Collins had a ridiculous +30. The numbers always are skewed lower for players who are on the floor for the most minutes.

    With this team, that's Rondo. Who yes, has for whatever reason given up on playing D, but he gets penalized for PP slump…AND Terry's slump….AND Bass clunking regularly…AND Green's inconsistency…AND all the other missed layups and bad shots because he's on the floor so much. Meanwhile a guy like Collins or even Barbosa comes on during a push to make a run and plays only 10 minutes or less, leaving with a huge + score.

    Quite simply, Rondo is the most dangerous weapon this team has with the ball. Period.

    We did win without him against NYC and Miami. But I would remind everyone we barely beat Miami and just barely beat NYC. Also it is more indicative of the competition than Rondo playing or not playing. This team gets UP bigtime for Miami and now for NYC. Where was that level of intensity against New Orleans or (insert embarrasing loss here).

    The team will still find a way to win and thankfully we have a lot of experience and depth, but nobody (save for Barbosa who looks worse doing it every game) can get to the rim like Rondo and nobody can create such easy shots for everyone else.

    And "IBleedGreen" no that player would be Greg Oden or one of the many players who get paid millions and never actually played a decent game.

    The guy just had back-to-back tripple doubles…playing an overtime with a torn ACL. Learn some respect.

  • KillerGymRat

    Personally I've never been a fan of /- numbers as an indicator of anything. There are just too many unaccounted for variables that make the data utterly useless. For example against Atlanta Jason Collins had a ridiculous 30. The numbers always are skewed lower for players who are on the floor for the most minutes.

    With this team, that's Rondo. Who yes, has for whatever reason given up on playing D, but he gets penalized for PP slump…AND Terry's slump….AND Bass clunking regularly…AND Green's inconsistency…AND all the other missed layups and bad shots because he's on the floor so much. Meanwhile a guy like Collins or even Barbosa comes on during a push to make a run and plays only 10 minutes or less, leaving with a huge score.

    Quite simply, Rondo is the most dangerous weapon this team has with the ball. Period.

    We did win without him against NYC and Miami. But I would remind everyone we barely beat Miami and just barely beat NYC. Also it is more indicative of the competition than Rondo playing or not playing. This team gets UP bigtime for Miami and now for NYC. Where was that level of intensity against New Orleans or (insert embarrasing loss here).

    The team will still find a way to win and thankfully we have a lot of experience and depth, but nobody (save for Barbosa who looks worse doing it every game) can get to the rim like Rondo and nobody can create such easy shots for everyone else.

    And "IBleedGreen" no the most overrated players in NBA history would be Greg Oden or one of the many players who get paid millions and never actually played a decent game or sometimes even stepped on the court (see also Andrew Bynum).

    Rondo just had back-to-back tripple doubles…playing an overtime with a torn ACL.

    • Phil725

      Single game plus/minus is pretty close to useless. It gets more meaningful as you expand it to include full lineups and minute totals get in the thousands though. It's no coincidence that KG usually leads the team by a wide margin, they've been significantly better with him on the court since he showed up in 08. Specific context is up for debate, but I'd say it shows that Rondo hasn't had a huge impact on the team this year. I think that's backed up with the eye test when you consider how much the starters have struggled at times and how many times we fans have been frustrated with Rondo. Despite all of that, he's still irreplaceable. It's going to be interesting to watch how the team copes with what you mention.

      And I gotta defend Greg Oden a little, it's not his fault the human body isn't meant to be that huge. He tried to play, and no one ever overrated him, just guessed wrong on a medical. Most overrated comes down to two types of guys; guys who earn huge contracts for decades without ever helping their team win (Marbury, Vince Carter, JO'Neal are all over 150m career earnings,) or high draft picks who get chance after chance while not only sucking at basketball, but actually being as toxic as possible wherever they go (Darko finally got out of the league 8 years after being drafted, and Michael Beasley's gonna be getting paid 7m three years from now.) Either way, Rondo's nowhere near that conversation. The Boston fans probably overrate him a little, but every fanbase overrates their own players. Mike Conley's a top 5 PG if you ask Memphis fans.

    • Josh_5

      Wow, I hope we don't barely win in the playoffs…

      • KillerGymRat

        I'm cool with barely winning in the playoffs.

        I'm not a big fan of citing games we barely won (especially in double OT) as an example that Rondo is expendable.

  • Diderot

    Bring back Stephon Marbury

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