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Rondo Returns

March 13, 2009

A week ago today, I gasped and held my breath for what felt like a eons. My eyes felt as if they were attempting to burn a blistering hole through the LCD screen of my laptop as I watched the Celts v. Cavs on ESPN360.com last Friday night.  I was hoping that there was a lag, or mis-sent chunks of streaming data, or a technical flaw in what I was seeing on my screen. What was I seeing?!?!?!?!? This:

Um, Rondo? Get up. Please?

Um, Rondo? Get up. Please?

No flaw. No nothing. Ok. A rolled ankle, not that bad. A sprained ankle? It’ll heal, but with Rajon sitting a few games. But now we’ve seen what happens when your starting point guard goes down with a minor injury: you drop 2 close games that you should have won. Especially when your team seems to be plagued with injury after injury. Especially when your back-up point guard is being asked to play too many minutes and hasn’t played in over a season. Especially when it is a point guard that is having a break-out season and that many felt was snubbed of having his first All-Star appearance.

How important is Rondo to this team? Too important.
After the signing of Starbury, Dave Berri over at Wages of Win talked about whether or not the Starbury signing would in fact lead to the Celtics winning more games. His answer was in essence NO, that it would not. Berri’s argument rested around the idea that if Starbury eats up minutes, then he takes minutes/playing time away from House and Rondo, both of whom produce more wins per 48 minutes than Starbury has in his career (WP avg.).According to Berri:

With this focus in mind, let’s look at what Marbury brings to the Celtics.  Starbury is a point guard, so therefore his minutes will come at the expense of Rajon Rondo and/or Eddie House.  Here is how these players compare with respect to WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]:

Rajon Rondo in 2008-09: 0.356

Eddie House in 2008-09: 0.157

Stephon Marbury in 2007-08: 0.036

Stephon Marbury in 2006-07: 0.070

Stephon Marbury Career: 0.105

Average WP48 is 0.100.   So Rondo amazing (in fact, he is the most productive Celtic), House is above average, and in recent years Marbury is below average.  Such numbers tell us that Boston is not helped by a re-allocation of minutes towards Starbury.

I don’t completely buy this argument because we know Starbury won’t be playing (or at least shouldn’t be playing) more than 15 minutes in any given game in the playoffs. He is an instant-Kool-aid kind of role player this year: come in, score some points, give Rondo a chance to rest, and that’s it. So then what does this statistic tell us? It tells us that Rondo is THE most important player on the Celtics in terms of gauging who is responsible for wins per 48 minutes. Rondo is the most productive player on the court and produces the most amount of wins per 48 minutes– more than KG, more than Paul Pierce, more than Ray Allen, more than any other individual.His 8 assists and 2 steals per game also lead the team– those are holes that aren’t easily filled by House OR Starbury, or anyone else on the team.

That is the statistical importance of Rondo. Don’t believe in statistics? Fine. Here is anecdotal evidence to the fact that this team will rise and fall with Rondo.

  • Is Eddie Hous3 a true point guard? No. Not even a discussion: Hous3 is an effective player when moving without the ball to get free to hoist threes up like they’re going out of business. His line of work? Shoot shoot shoot. Hous3 is not meant to distribute the ball, and to know where his best options are when on the floor. He is not a floor general, and his ball handling skills are not anything to jump up and down about. When Hous3 plays point, you see him become more of an observer.
  • Stephon Marbury is still learning the team offense, learning about priorities and options when on the floor, getting to know guys’ tendencies, etc. More importantly, he has never been a defensive minded player. He is learning to embrace that role, but it’s not in his blood and will take time. I still think he can be an important piece to this year’s team, but it will take time.
  • Rondo has been playing with the other 4 starters since last year. He averages about 34 minutes, which means any combo or Pierce, Ray, and KG are on the floor when he is on the floor. He knows these guys. He knows the plays. He knows the options. He has the balls to say NO to one player if he thinks there is a better option or if someone has the hot hand.
  • Rondo plays with confidence. That damn word SWAGGER has been thrown around all season long. That is just a stupid word for confidence. Rondo plays with hot damn confidence. It’s tough not to when you develop and grow as a player with three future hall of famers. Starbury is playing with anything BUT confidence right now. Again, in time he will be fine. His timing and anticipation seems to be coming back, but that 20 foot jump shot isn’t. He can still slash to the hoop, but he is just so hesitant right now– it’s as if he just doesn’t want to make a mistake and is thinking too much. As a result, he isn’t doing much. In due time?
  • Rondo is a shut down defender, or at least, could be argued as one of the best point guard defenders in the league. Aside from his 2 steals per game, he knows when to make the rotations… he knows when to make the switches… but best of all, he is quick and strong enough to fight through picks. Rondo doesn’t give up on plays, and knows there is not a single point guard in this league that can go by him. This forces many point guards to play differently, at times even uncomfortably against what they know.
  • Rondo sacrifices his body. Rondo will get to the paint at will. What’s the classic Rondo move? Dribbling through the lane, seeing nothing, and sweeping back to the perimeter from underneath the hoop. Love it or hate it, it proves one thing: defenders have a tough time stopping him. He is too quick and too fast. But when he goes up for a shot, he will go up against the bigs. We all remember the stretch after the Lakers game when Rondo seemed scared, shaken up, and hesitant– we know how well the Celts played during that stretch… We need an aggressive point guard because the Celts play aggressively.
  • When Rondo is starting, that means Starbury can try to get in the game to make plays and score points for a burst of time– that is why we brought the diva on board. Hous3 can play off-guard with Starbury in, and all of the sudden you have the two guards that can fit into their ideal roles that can effectively produce while on the floor. When Rondo is not in the lineup, things get a bit messy: Starbury and Hous3 get removed from their natural positions/fits/jobs and forces them to play differently, which let’s be honest… is neither 100% effective or consistent. Forcing minutes upon Starbury is not what he was brought in to do: he was a relatively low-risk gamble that could give the Celts some bench help (15 minutes in the playoffs?)– anything more than that means taking time away from Rondo.
¡Rondo!

¡Rondo!

Tonight Rondo makes his return, as he says that he is going to give it a try. I hope it is not too early that it poses a chance of easily re-injuring himself, but just with him in the lineup tonight must give the team a boost of confidence, as they start showing signs of business as usual. That would mean we would be 4/5 of the way toward returning to the original starting five.

Let’s bring back the fire, Rajon.

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