Zach Lowe: Boston the same with or without Rondo

In a recent Grantland article, NBA writer Zach Lowe lays out Rajon Rondo’s impact on the Celtics and what their recent success says, if anything.

Boston projects as the same team without Rondo that it was with him — a defensive juggernaut that will win games when its offense does just enough to allow its defense to carry the Celtics across the line. How often they can find the right balance remains to be seen, but Rondo’s absence certainly lowers their game-to-game ceiling on offense, especially against top defenses that will scout Boston’s new offense and have the skills and smarts to bottle up this motion-style stuff.”

Lowe talks about the team’s recent four-game winning streak and how fans shouldn’t get too excited about it. The idea of taking anything away from four regular season games is “stupid” to Lowe and any conversation of the streak should include who they beat.

This is especially true in Boston’s case. Its four wins have all come at home. The first came against a very good team (Miami) that has allowed a disturbing number of its opponents to hang in until the final buzzer. Then came the Kings, 5-21 on the road, and 29th in points allowed per possession. Then the Magic, 2-21 in the last 23 games, and missing Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, and Jameer Nelson (for the second half). That is something close to a D-League team. The last win came against a Clippers team that had lost by 25 in Toronto two days earlier and has now lost six of eight without Chris Paul.”

Lowe goes on to talk about the stats showing the team adjusting to Rondo after relying on him more this season than any other. He shows how the team has to work harder to get plays off without a legit playmaker and while their offense is clicking right now, it could slip back down to mediocre if those jumpers stop falling.
For Lowe, Rondo wasn’t Boston’s solution or problem.

This team still has all the same limitations that sabotaged its Rondo-centric offense. It lacks a consistent big man post presence, though Garnett will bull his way down there more aggressively in particular matchups. It lacks a pick-and-roll beast who likes to dive hard toward the rim, Tyson Chandler-style, on every pick-and-roll, sucking in defenders and opening up shots all over the place. It’s still old, still turnover-prone, still allergic to offensive rebounds, still just so-so at getting to the line. Boston has in fact been more turnover-prone in the last four games, coughing it up on 17.1 percent of its possessions in that stretch, a mark that would rank dead last in the league. Turnovers can jump when a team is whipping the ball all over the floor and asking more of guys who have spent much of their career as spot-up shooters.”

He doesn’t really address what all this means for Rondo’s future in Boston as his name had been floated in trade rumors before the ACL injury and could be dealt when he comes back next year. But for this season, Rondo or no Rondo doesn’t seem to matter.

The early signs are good, but the smart money is on Boston looking very much like the so-so, defense-only team it has been for much of this season — a relatively safe bet to make the playoffs that can compete with anyone on a given night, but lacks the firepower to beat a really good team four times in seven tries. What that says about Rondo’s value is the real question.”

For me, it says quite a bit that a so-called superstar being yanked off his squad does not have a drastic impact on the team’s outlook. Yes, the team has had to adjust and when/if they make the playoffs they will be much more gassed than if Rondo were still healthy. But after all the analysis, stats and video highlights, this team still looks like a second round exit at best. With or without Rondo.

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