On the heels of Rondo's injury, a lot of articles have been written about how the Celtics will move on without Rondo. A common theme for some articles has been about how the team will either 1.) stay the same without Rondo or 2.) play better without him. A popular idea spread around is this: "the Celtics have the 28th best offense in the NBA with Rondo, can it get any worse without him?” Zach Lowe (always a must-read) wrote an article today on Grantland, about how elite point guards aren't always tied to elite offenses (and other such things). But the most important thing he brings up is a flaw (roster-wise and system-wise) that this team has had for years, and something that Rondo gets some unfair blame for.
I've long criticized the offensive system the Celtics run, because of the fact that they are basically all about making tough shots and not fully utilizing the easy ones. Remember what the cardinal rule about good offenses is: free throws and 3s. The best offenses shoot plenty of 3s and draw plenty of free throws. The Celtics, scarily enough, do neither. The Celtics have always shot the 3 well, but they have never taken many of them. The Celtics used to be decent at drawing free throws, but that ended after the 2009-10 season.
Now you may be saying to yourself, "Rondo sucks at drawing/making free throws and 3s. clearly there is a connection!” But it has to be understood just how bad the Celtics are in those departments. The Celtics aren't just "below average" in terms of 3-point volume and free throws drawn, they are usually ranked in the bottom-third tier of the league. Unless you're Kevin Durant or Lebron James, it would be hard to make a dent in those numbers. Obviously Rondo isn't completely blame-free. His own poor 3-point shooting along with his lack of aggressiveness in drawing free throws does hurt the team on a smaller scale, but the problems go past him.
Another important aspect of Rondo and offense: the offense is GOOD when Rondo plays, and it usually falls off a cliff without him. Last season, the Celtics were ranked 27th in the league at 101 OTRG. With Rondo on the court, the offense operated at a 111 OTRG. That is a stunning differential. If the Celtics stayed at an OTRG of 111, they would have been ranked 1st in the league. It is impossible to fully separate a point guard and the offense he leads, but the connection is filled with other factors.
What will the Celtics miss offensively without Rondo? The major aspect would be a more conservative approach to that end. While "going simpler" may sound safer, it caps how well the team can play. A lack of creativity and talented playmaking won't break through the elite defenses. Rondo may have pounded the ball a lot, but a lot of that was due to multiple sets being run in one possession. The interesting thing about Rondo being out for this season, is that statistically the team has done slightly worse with Rondo than without. While the sample size isn't huge, if it holds up even more question marks will arise.
Rondo is a limited player. He is inconsistent finishing at the rim, cannot shoot free throws or 3s, and doesn't score efficiently. But his value doesn’t come from his own scoring. It comes from his brilliant playmaking. Danny Ainge messed up in the offseason. He grabbed several talented players, but many of them need the ball to be effective. But Terry playing at his best isn’t as valuable as Rondo playing at his best, so these poor matches are bound to end up with one guy suffering.
Celtics fans have been frustrated with Rondo this season. He has been "inconsistent", "bored", and not a "leader". Some of these criticisms are true, some seem to stem from the unrealistic expectations put on him in the beginning of the season. Even while having a "down" season, Rondo's impact was still above-average. With Rondo gone for the season, the team has to move on. The team WILL move on. Rondo is a lot of things, but the laziness evaluating his impact on this team following his injury does a disservice. This has been the Kevin Garnett Era, but Rondo has been the engine that stirs the drink.
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