Nov 3, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) talks with Detroit Pistons small forward Josh Smith (6) before the game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
With Rajon Rondo’s return just on the horizon and the Boston Celtics in prime position to win the Altantic division, they have a great opportunity ahead of them. The question is should the Celtics jump on this opportunity? Let’s discuss.
There have been multiple reports that Rajon Rondo has returned to the practice court. Though he hasn’t begun to participate in five on five contact drills, the progress of return has still advanced. According to Brad Stevens, Rondo is on his own timetable. That’s something that won’t–and probably shouldn’t–change. But Rondo is a competitor and will be back as soon as he can.
Rondo, when he was injured, was still one of the league’s best point guards. He was leading the league in assists with 11.1 per game and scored 13.7 points to boot. While Rondo wasn’t the most effective scorer, he created shots consistently by getting into the lane and dishing the ball out to shooters.
First of all, the Celtics have lost an offensive element because of their lack of productive point guard play. With Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley and Phil Pressey filling the point guard slot the Celtics have consistently struggled in bringing the ball up the floor and getting into their sets.
According to 82games.com, 38% of the Celtics shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock winding down. What’s more, as the clock continues to run down their eFG% continues to shrink. The Celtics have a 55% eFG mark when the Celtics shoot within the first ten seconds of the clock winding down. That means that the Celtics get their best looks with at least 14 seconds left on the clock.
But when the Celtics shoot between 13 and eight seconds left on the clock the Celtics eFG% drops to 46%. And it gets progressively worse as the clock continues to tick down. This is because they don’t have any players on the perimeter who can create shots and get the ball out to teammates in one smooth motion.
Rondo was arguably the best passing point guard in the league. His teammates knew that if they were open, he was going to find them. Jordan Crawford presents the C’s with a shot creator, but he isn’t a very good assist man. He doesn’t have the same court vision that a Rondo does and it isn’t fair to ask him to have it. Point guard just isn’t his natural position.
The Celtics have also struggled with their assist to turnover ratio this season. They’ve been one of the worse teams in the league at protecting the ball while sharing it. Of all of their possessions this season, 15.7% of them have resulted in a turnover. They average 16.7 turnovers per game to only 17.8 assists per game. That’s an awful mark to have on both ends of the ball.
Last season, with Rondo providing some pad, the Celtics averaged 23 assists per game to 14.6 turnover–an increase in assists and a decrease in turnovers. Rondo would certainly help spread the ball around for the Celtics more than they have been able to this season. And he’d be able to take care of the ball unlike the options that the Celtics have right now.
Of course, that number may not be completely replicated. The Celtics traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and they also contributed to the C’s assist numbers. But he’d definitely be able to get things moving in the right direction for this team.
The question is, do they want things to move in the right direction? The Eastern Conference is weak right now and this would be an opportune moment to take over. The third best team in the East is 9-9–that would put them in 13th place in the Western Conference. The Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat have five combined losses right now. The Celtics don’t have the talent to stick with either team in this case.
So Rondo’s return may leave Danny Ainge with some hard choices to make. You can argue that the weakness of the East makes Rondo more likely to be traded once he returns. No team is going to make an extreme offer for Rondo until he comes back and proves that he’s healthy, so this could be leverage for him. If he wants to remain a Celtic, he could keep himself out as close to the trade deadline as possible.
Still, there’s no guarantee that some point guard won’t go down or some team may be desperate at the position and try to move Rondo. His deal is salary cap friendly and it would make the gamble on his health worthwhile. But that seems like an extreme circumstance when there’s no guarantee that Rondo will play this season. Him being back on the practice court is a great sign, but Derrick Rose was cleared to play last season and ended up never suiting up.
The Celtics are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference and it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting one of the top draft picks in the draft this coming summer. But with how talented this draft is said to be and the plethora of picks that the C’s have for next year and the future, we could end up seeing a move like we saw the Philadelphia 76ers pull off last season with Jrue Holiday.
If Holiday is worth a first round pick and a potential talent in Nerlens Noel, Rajon Rondo should be with at least that–even if he doesn’t play a minute this season. Rondo is a multiple time All-Star player and still has the basketball IQ to be a top point guard in this league even if he’s lacking in athleticism. If he has improved his game at all, he’ll need to prove that in his play on the court. But I don’t see a reason why if the Celtics put Rondo on the table no one would bite.
At the end of the day, there are many routes that the Celtics could take with Rondo back on the team. But in the short term, he’d improve this team a lot and get them some much needed consistency at a position where they need that at.