Point, Counter Point

The Merits and detractions of Rajon Rondo's game going forward

{styleboxjp width=200px,float=right,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes} Rajon Rondo has been such a revelation for this franchise during an otherwise painful season{/styleboxjp}. His ability to consistently produce the spectacular has made him a fan favorite of many and given Celtics fans hope for the future. Anyone that's listened to Celticsstufflive or read the Celticsblog message board for fifteen minutes is aware of "MikeDfromNP" and his bandwagon leading charge in Rondo's behalf…not a bad seat to be in most would agree.

In the interest and quality of Mike's recent post, I thought it would serve as an excellent staging ground for a true analysis of where Rajon is as a player and where he needs to get to in order to truly be what we want to see him become.

Mike's post in italics:

The offensive and defensive rating stats are considered by many to be a "gold standard" in rating a team's performance. They are quite simple to calculate:

Total number of points scored (or surrendered) / Total possessions X 100 = The rating.

rondo-danny.jpgThese are also able to be tracked for the team according to when a certain player is on the court. If you go onto Basketballreference.com , you will see, in the advanced stats, the offensive and defensive ratings for players since the late 70's. 82games.com also tracks them throughout the season. They are another tool that can be used to evaluate a players impact upon a team, and be able to tell the ineffective stat stuffers like Marbury apart from guys like Kidd, whose numbers are similar, but whose real impact is far more beneficial.

Since 82games.com tracks the ratings for players when they are on the court, they are also able to track team performance when they are off of the court. By doing so, they are able to generate net "swing" numbers regarding a player's oncourt/off court effect. These are influenced, of course, by the makeup of that players team. A player who plays on a squad with a strong bench will have less of a positive impact than one who plays on a squad with weak bench, but it is still easy to see that the elite players have more of an impact than the very good, the very good more than they good, and so on.

Most of the league's very good players have an on court/ off court net between +6 and +8. Some are a little higher, and some a little lower, but it is a fairly consistent measurement. Paul Pierce, with a + 7.5 falls into this range, as do LeBron James +7.5, Kobe Bryant +8.0, Dwayne Wade +8.3, Baron Davis +8.2, Jermaine O'Neal +8.2, Chauncey Billups +9.2, Rashard Lewis +6.6, McGrady +6.5, Yao +5.8, Jason Kidd +6.3, Chris Bosh +7.3, Ron Artest +5.2, etc. There are more, but I think you can see that these are are widely respected players, at least ability wise, in the league, and are All-Star caliber players.

Then there is the next level of player, the guys who are on the short list for the MVP, by right, even though a good case could be made for James and Bryant. This is where you find guys who have already won MVP awards, and one who should win this season: Nowitzki +15.3, Nash +14.5, Garnett +14.4, and Duncan +11.4 (remember that number). So, not so coincidentally, the 2 - 5 players in this stat are the three most recent MVP winners, and the guy who should win it this year. Who leads this stat? Gilbert Arenas with a ridiculous +17.4. So just in case you thought that Gilbert wasn't worthy of mention, think again. If it wasn't for him the Wizards would be hot on our heels.

I think I made a good case that this is a very revealing statistical indicator. There are some guys who you were probably expecting who aren't there, like Boozer, but remember that the Jazz bench is the best in the league, so all of the Jazz starters have their numbers depressed by that being the case. He is still safely in the positive category, though. Both Melo and A.I. rated poorly, and they don't have a great bench to use as an excuse. CP3 didn't fare well either, which really surprised me, but I think he is getting caught in the bench hole too, though the Hornets don't have a bench like Utah's. The Jazz bench has won a lot of games for them this season, but the Hornets did pretty well without Paul, so who knows?

--Great start to the article, but its important to remember that variance within these groups is likely high because the numbers aren't controlled for the other 4 player's on the court with them. {styleboxjp width=150px,float=left,color=grey,textcolor=black,echo=yes}Players will always sort by rank in any statistical measure of production, but limiting the variance in these numbers is really the only way to know what order everyone falls in....{/styleboxjp}just something to think about...

There are some interesting things that become clear when doing such an analysis. Case in point: many of us have long claimed that Pierce is an equivalent player to Wade, Kobe and James. Well, according to these stats, he is. He represents the same impact upon his team's effectiveness. Guys who many people feel to be ineffective stat stuffers, like Melo and A.I., come across poorly with their low ratings (+0.2 and -1.6 respectively).

--Same as above: Melo and AI are underperforming relative to their supposed peers, but there are mitigating factors all around this. Chemistry, experience, and continuity are all major variables at play in the roster makeup of all these teams. Both of these players are CENTRAL elements to their team's offensive sets. Building the continuity necessary to incorporate them into one functional unit is a process that takes far longer than one season.

You all should know what is coming now, as I'm not going through this for nothing. Pierce does not lead his team in this stat. Rajon Rondo leads the Celtics. He represents a ratings swing of +11.6, 0.2 more than Duncan...I told you to remember that number. Does that mean that Rajon Rondo is as good, or even in the same neighborhood, as Tim Duncan? No way. What it does mean is that what the Celtics look like without Rondo out there is pretty much what the difference is between what the Spurs are with Duncan in and out of the lineup. Anyone familiar with that team knows that the Spurs are a vastly different, and inferior, squad when Timmy isn't out there. The same is true of the Boston Celtics and Rondo.

Enough of the "garbage time" stuff. Rondo has been playing the serious minutes for a while now, and he has improved this rating in that time. A lot of it has to do with the inferiority of the other two point guards on this team. Delonte is effective at the two, and Bassy is decent, but no great shakes as the backup.

act_rajon_rondo.jpgPersonally, I think he is more of a catalyst than anything else. Varejao actually has a 0.5 lead on Lebron for the same reason. The Cavs are a much better team when he is out there. He plays tough D, grabs a lot of rebounds, and basically helps to raise the level of his team's play. David Lee has an even bigger swing than Rondo for the Knicks, for very much the same reason, though he is the only player whom I didn't already list who does.

So you all who think that Rajon is kicking butt and taking names, as I do, you are correct. To those of you who think that he is substandard, then I advise that you to start to rethink how you evaluate a player. Numbers like that do not happen by accident. They are the direct result of a player's positive impact upon his team's performance.

--All this is very compelling evidence to support your point, but one must recognize that situational impact players are only used in the situations that play to their strengths. There are at least 12 to 20 minutes in any given game where players like Lee and Verejao are taken out of the game for matchup or rotational purposes. The same applies to them as it does to Rajon at this time.

There's no denying they all can play, but they're losing about 25 to 35 percent of their maximum rotational time because of the distinct limitations of each...and for each one it's offensive production.

A majority of possessions are played in the half court and all three of these teams play in a lot of isolation sets- Celtics with Jefferson and Pierce, Cavs with Lebron and Hughes, and NY with Curry and Marbury. This is what accounts for that 25-35 percent. Transition players are overly reliant on their help skills in half-court sets and it puts a heavier burden on the other 4 players to produce offense.

When defensive intensity increases and offensive movement suffers, {styleboxjp width=250px,float=right,color=maroon,textcolor=white,echo=yes}situational players like Lee, Varejao, and Rondo often have to come out because they can't function effectively in a positional, static game{/styleboxjp}.

Who, by the way, are the next guy's on the list for this on the Celtics? Allan Ray +2.9 (he's been solid in his time out there), Tony Allen +2.7, Jefferson -0.1, Telfair -0.1, Szczerbiak -0.3, and Perkins -0.8. Sound about right? Yeah, I thought so. Delonte's is -5.0, but that is overwhelmingly due to his time at the point. He has been quite effective at the two.

rondo_bricks300400.jpg--Anyone that argues that Rondo hasn't had an extremely successful season is a fool. He's been one of the best rookies in this draft class, only getting the benefit of half a season's worth of real playing time.

But that's not the argument we have not seen eye to eye on. There is NO DOUBT Rondo has the ability inside him to be a great point guard in the NBA, that was reported on by DraftExpress day one in Summer League this year.

The question was what Rondo could do in the half-court sets this team runs. To Rondo's immense credit, he gets the team to RUN more often than any other PG on this team bar none-part of the reason he's got such a great player rating for sure...

The Celtics haven't committed to running though, and until that jump shot is rectified, he's not going to be able to run the half-court sets consistently and stick on the court. Against some teams, he absolutely can be effective. But playoff basketball is about half court execution and Rondo isn't a consistently effective half court point guard.

EVERY point guard with this problem has run into the same difficulties historically aside from Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, both of whom could post to compensate...and are HoFers...Avery Johnson, Brevin Knight, and Eric Snow have all overcome this, as has TJ Ford who is hopefully the curve that Rondo is working off of.

Taking this argument a step further, Jason Kidd has never played with an effective interior big man. If Kidd is truly the gold standard for weak-shooting point guards who have success than it must be recognized that Kidd has always been the best player on his team and has been responsible for creating on virtually every play, a responsibility that Rondo is unlikely to have. When Kidd was at his worst shooting-wise his team was also a lottery level team. When Kidd reached Phoenix and New Jersey he played in up-tempo systems that were devoid of dominant interior offense. Rondo plays with Al Jefferson and that dramatically effects how the team will run its offensive sets. This will require Rondo to his kick-out shots with the clock running down, something he's been unable to do thus far.

It IS a legit problem to be concerned about though, because {styleboxjp width=175px,float=right,color=skyblue,textcolor=black,echo=yes}Rondo has some of the worst mechanics I've ever seen. To his credit he's had moments in shoot-a-rounds where he's looked like he was starting to isolate his motion a bit and eliminate the numerous things he does that cause shot variance{/styleboxjp}.

Overall his fundamental mechanics are all over the map most of the time and it is going to take a tremendous amount of self-awareness and hard work to improve those issues. Rondo does work hard, so we can expect him to improve as a player. But certain players can't or won't admit to their own flaws, (Celtics fans should be able to relate to that) while still working hard.

If Rajon can commit to that type of improvement he truly could be special. All I have ever asked in his evaluation is to recognize how special that type of commitment is. This level of improvement isn't something to be taken as a given.

I asked Rajon early this year if he had thought about personal trainers and workout routines and at that time he told me he was going to do what he usually did to prepare. To me this showed his youth. While there's no doubt that Rajon knows how to work hard on his own, but working hard is different than working smart. Powe is in this boat too.

You've got to get with a professional workout regimen before you're really going to make strides. Being in shape is different than doing the best drill work to improve the biggest fundamental problems. {styleboxjp width=125px,float=left,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}If the organization or the individual players are on top of their games, Rajon will have a great offseason program mapped out for him{/styleboxjp}. Perk and the summer crew may recruit him; it'd certainly help Delonte to work on his lateral quickness and his right hand. What he does between May and September is going to be what makes him a true starter in the league next year and not 2 years from now.

Perhaps the most important element in this equation is what the Celtics add to their team this offseason. If the Celtics are fortunate enough to add Greg Oden to the frontcourt the team will become extremely half court oriented with an emphasis on inside/outside play. At Rondo's current shooting level, he'll be a substantial detriment to these offensive sets. Rondo is currently 11 for 46 on the season shooting jumpers outside the paint, that's 29 percent. That's not going to cut on a playoff team looking to compete with other half court oriented teams when hitting perimeter shots to open up the inside for Jefferson and Oden will be essential.

doc-rondo.jpg If the team adds Kevin Durant, or another floor spacing big man, Rondo will still need to improve his shooting to take advantage of the looks created from the defensive attention those players receive, but he should have some more wiggle room to grow. At the end of the day however, Rondo's overall game isn't going to win out over a dominant frontcourt-centric offense and that's going to require major personal growth on his behalf.

Jefferson and Pierce are going to be the focal points of this offense for the foreseeable future and the team is certain to add another big time front court player to that tandem. Rondo won't be afforded the time and opportunity that Kidd, Payton, Johnson, Miller, Knight, and Ford were given.

It's not a question of his ability, but a matter of the team that surrounds him and the demands that will be placed on him given the nature of the offense. This team is fixing to build a competitive playoff team which will be build around frontcourt dominance and stellar perimeter scoring. Without a reliable jumper, Rondo is most likely to be the change of pace back up, which should still give him 20 to 30 minutes a game with plenty of big time performances.

The ball is in his court, but he's got to lock down that missing piece before he'll start on a Celtics team that's being constructed to rely on reliable outside shooting from its backcourt. We won't know how Rajon has come in this regard until next November, but it's unquestionable that he must if he wishes to be the lead guard on a team with championship aspirations.

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