There was a good article on Red's Army the other day asking the question that most Boston Celtics fans are asking since Rondo went down with an ACL injury back in January: are the Celtics better without him?
Looking at the Celtics record, you'd certainly have to conclude that they are better. The Celtics were 20 and 23 through the first 43 games of the season with Rondo. Since he went down, they're 16 and 6.
When you dive a bit deeper into the numbers, you'll find that the Celtics offense (the part of the game where Rondo thrives) is almost exactly the same from a statistical perspective. They have virtually the same shot percentage, 3-point percentage and points per game.
But when you look at the defense (something that basketball fans often forget is 50% of the game) then you do see that the Celtics have improved. Boston has a defensive rating of 100.5 points per possession when Rondo is on the floor. When he's off the floor that drops to 98.3, which translates to about a 4 points per game improvement without him in the lineup.
So the Celtics are the same on offense and a little bit better on defense. But I don't think this kind of analysis really captures some of the important intangibles:
- The attitude of the team seems to be a lot better.
- The younger and newer guys are getting the ball a lot more and feel more empowered.
- They don't take as many nights off.
- They don't fight with the refs as much.
- They're spreading the offense around and playing at a faster pace.
- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have been forced to take back their leadership role.
- The team seems much more coachable.
Obviously all of these things are hard to measure but there's no doubt they make a difference. I have to say, I really like this team without Rondo.
But all of that said, it'll be interesting to see how they perform without him in the playoffs. They don't really have a young superstar on the court without him. And often that's what you need in the playoffs. It's awfully easy to forget that Rondo was the Celtics leading scorer in 3 of the 7 playoff games with the Heat last year and that he put up 44 points in game 2.
The good news is that we will get some closure on this soon. Right now the Celtics are slated to play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. If the Celtics show they can play with the best teams without Rondo, they will have some clarity and may have to make some tough decisions in the offseason. On the other hand, if they get knocked out early, a lot of sportswriters will have some apologizing to do. I'm looking forward to watching.