Running On Rondo
Icon SMI Media
I find the relationship between Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics captivating. I find it strange that the Hall of Fame accomplishments of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, pre-dating their time in Boston, somehow net them more credit for the recent run of Celtics success than the current accomplishments of Rondo. I’m always bewildered how often the Celtics are described as “becoming Rondo’s team” when they’ve really been his team all along. Garnett transformed them defensively but giving the keys to Rondo was just as defining at the other end of the floor. I’m also baffled how team struggles are linked specifically to to age and injuries, nebulously to Rondo’s lack of shooting willingness and acumen, but rarely in an explicit way to things he does or doesn’t do on the floor. Most of all I’m amazed at how willing the Celtics seem to be to part with a player completely unlike anyone else in the NBA.
Throwing Rondo out as trade bait for Chris Paul is certainly defensible, but that’s not the first time his name has popped up in rumors. In 2009 he was reportedly offered to Detroit, along with Allen, for Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. Later he was part of a proposed deal with Memphis for Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. Right before the lockout there were rumors that Danny Ainge had offered him and Jeff Green to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook (a stunning request for a redo, +10).
The contributions of Paul Pierce notwithstanding, Rondo is what makes the Celtics offense go. Last season he came out of the gate on a terrific tear, garnering himself some early MVP buzz. He tailed off, as did the Celtics ,but strangely the blame for that fade went to injuries and age. If we’re to peel away the layers of his value to the Celtics, numerica must be included.
Rondo’s offensive contributions come primarily from his ability to create shots for his teammates. Despite his shooting deficiencies he’s able to use cuts and penetration to do quite a bit of scoring as well. In fact his scoring and shot creation constitute a significant chunk of the Celtics’ offense.
Using numbers from Hoopdata I was able to calculate the value of Rondo’s assists (accounting for three-pointers) and combine it with the points he scored. I started by identifying his points created per game, by month, for last season. The table below shows that information along with the Celtics’ monthly win percentage.
[table id=34 /]
When the Celtics were at the best last season, Rondo was responsible for somewhere between forty and fifty percent of their offense. The Celtics’ win percentage by month generally declined and so did the amount of offense he was creating each game. However, this wasn’t just a case of Rondo deferring to other players and taking fewer opportunities, his efficiency actually declined steadily as well. I took Rondo’s points created by month and divided them by the number of possessions each month. I know an assist, which is included in points created, is not by definition a way of using a possession, but this gives a general idea of his offensive creation relative to his usage. The table below shows the same data as before along with his points created per possession.
[table id=35 /]
Looking at these numbers on a per possession basis, the connection becomes even stronger. In fact there was an 0.883 correlation between Rondo’s points created per possession and the Celtics’ win percentage.
So far this season, Rondo is creating 45.0 points per game with his scoring and passing. However, he’s doing it at a very inefficient rate, 2.02 points created per possession. Using the connection between that number and what the team did last year it’s not surprising that the Celtics are 0-3.
The explanation for Rondo producing a lot, but not efficiently, is hidden in the balance between scoring and creating shots for his teammates. This season Rondo’s Assist Rate (assists vs. possessions used) has fallen from 79.00 to 30.82. Last October and November, when he was creating upwards of 40 points per game, 72.8% was coming in the form of assists. This season just 42.2% of his points created are coming in the form of assists. It should be no surprise to anyone that the numbers indicate Rondo is more efficient as a passer than as a scorer.
Obviously, playing without Paul Pierce has changed the role Rondo has to play, but he’s clearly bouncing on the wrong end of the teeter-totter for the Celtics to really be successful. The aggressiveness and engagement Rondo has shown to start the season is a huge positive, but it needs to be focused in a different direction. There aren’t a lot of options on the roster if the Celtics’ are looking to lighten the offensive load for Rondo. Pierce is the only player who can really score efficiently, without relying on Rondo to create that efficiency for him. The roster moves over the last few seasons seem designed to supplement The Big Three, not necessarily their true offensive core. The question from here on out is, do the Celtics’ have the pieces to allow Rondo to find his balance, or has the window closed on their ability to maximize his unique style of play?