Kyle Soppe also writes about the NBA for Pickin’ Splinters. Follow him on Twitter.
The ‘year of the point guard’ will be highlighted by three tremendous talents when the First, Second, and Third All NBA Teams are announced. Based on national narratives and, for lack of a better term, “sexy” style of play, I believe the NBA will get it wrong and leave Rajon Rondo as the third team selection, with Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook occupying the top two spots. I’m sure everyone has seen more highlights of CP3 and Westbrok, but you don’t have to look far to determine that Rondo is having the best season.
In my opinion, a crucial stat is the percentage of a team’s points the point guard has a hand in creating on a nightly basis (“points produced”). For the season, Rondo produces (calculated by adding points assisted on and points scored and comparing it to the team’s average points per game) an outstanding 41.1% of the Celtics offense. That’s 41.1% of the Celtics’ total offense. If we look at just the minutes he’s on the floor the number would rise significantly. This trumps the figure of Paul, 41.0%, and is considerably ahead of Westbrook’s 35.8%. Looking at just totals, Paul has produced more points this season, which would lead many to think he’s having the better season. But if you factor in the team’s style of play, and Rondo has a slight edge in productivity.
Usage Rate provides another scalpel for separating the three. The Kentucky product uses only 21.07% of Boston’s possessions, yet accounts for the greatest percentage of points. Paul is used on 23.77% while Westbrook is used on nearly a third of the Thunder’s possessions. These numbers reflect a different type of impact. Rondo is “used” less when it comes to scoring, yet his impact on the game is equal, if not greater, than these other two studs. Passing is often overlooked, as the scorers are recognized, but Rondo’s efforts in 2012 prove that the pass is just as valuable as anything when it comes to leading an offense.
When it comes to Rondo, you’re getting the best creator in the game. His average assist numbers have increased every year in the league, while Paul has seen his assist numbers dip every year since 2008. Ironically enough, in that 2008 season, Paul averaged 11.6 apg and was honored with a First Team selection. Rondo is averaging 11.6 apg with only a few games remaining this year, but seems very unlikely to be named a First-Teamer.
His gaudy assist numbers become even more impressive when you take into account his teammates, and how they’ve played when compared to the Clippers and Thunder supporting cast. Oklahoma City boasts two players, Kevin Durant and James Harden, who are more efficient in terms of APER than any member of Rondo’s Celtics. Blake Griffin of Los Angeles also tops every member of Boston. It’s undeniable that Paul and Westbrook have more talent around them. Rondo combats that talent deficit by putting his teammates in the optimal place to succeed; near the basket. Even though Westbrook has the athletes like Serge Ibaka, and Paul has Griffin and DeAndre Jordan flying around in the paint, Rondo averages the most assists per game at the rim. He finds role players like Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson an average of 4.2 times per game, while Paul (3.4 assists at the rim per game) and Westbrook (2.2) have relied more on their teammate’s natural ability to finish. Rondo’s finally crafted plays result in 2 points, just like the highlight plays you see from Lob City, and he does it more often. This stat is even more impressive when you consider that the Celtics current starting center, Kevin Garnett, and reserve Brandon Bass make their living on drawing their defenders out of the paint and knocking down midrange jump shots.
Rondo’s passing prowess doesn’t end there. His assist rate is an unheard of 71.26, far and away tops in the league for regular rotation players. Paul, at 47.94, and Westbrook, at 21.10, are obviously used in different ways, but to say that this difference doesn’t more than compensate for the minor shooting percentage difference wouldn’t be accurate. Speaking of shooting, Rondo is accused of not being able to throw it in the ocean, but he doesn’t trail the uber-efficient Paul in FG% by much. The Celtics ring leader is shooting 44.6% from the field, while Paul shoots 47.8% and Westbrook 46.7%. With Rondo’s shooting limitations, that’s a very respectable percentage considering that every defender just tries to prevent him from getting to the rim.
Rebounding isn’t always essential for a point guard, but it helps ignite a fast break. Rondo leads this trio with a DRR of 11.1, giving him just another feather in the cap.
Discussion of All-NBA teams, like the MVP, comes down to how you define the honor. Mo Williams is a capable replacement for Paul, while Kevin Durant and James Harden would have the OKC machine running smoothly without Westbrook. But take Rondo off the Celtics and you’re looking at a lottery team. His offensive creation means everything to the Celtics. Westbrook has recorded a positive plus/minus ratio in 29.4% of the Thunder’s losses, indicating that his play has less of an impact on the outcome than Rondo (15.4%) or Paul (13.0%). We’ve seen that passing can be just as valuable as scoring, and the game’s best should take home the top honor at his position this year. There is one argument I’m willing to listen to, and that is for Chris Paul. The stat in his corner is his superior plus/minus ratio. The Clippers are +321 with him on the court, and -160 with him on the bench. But the body of work from Rondo makes him my First Team All NBA point guard.