Our friends at Blog-A-Bull put together some interesting numbers based on what point guards are paid vs. their PER. PER is ESPN stat nerd John Hollinger's efficiency rating that measures an NBA player's per minute productivity; it's not a perfect number, but it's become a popular tool to show the importance of a player to his team. I hate to debunk Hollinger's methodology, but Rajon Rondo ranked 78th in PER last season at 17.55, so I'll take these numbers with a grain of salt. This is a guy that poured in six triple doubles in the regular season (no one else finished with more than one) and four more in the playoffs. Stats notwithstanding, every Celtic fan knows that the team will go only as far as #9 will take them. As Charles Barkley famously put it, "he is the engine that stirs the drink." I'm guessing that Hollinger doesn't have a weighted stat for drink-stirring.
However, there are some valuable takeaways from the Blog-A-Bull numbers. According to the numbers, Rondo ranks as a "fairly paid player" at around $10 million a year with a PER of 17.5 and an expected PER of 17.7. By comparison, Russell Westbrook was a bargain at roughly $5 million a year with a PER of 22.9 and an expected PER of 15.2. At the bottom of the list, Kirk Hinrich made $8 million in the final year of his contract and performed at a PER of 9.2 when he should have been contributing at a PER rate of 16.7. To put it plainly, we're getting what we pay for with RR, but we all know that's not true.
The top four PG's on this list (Westbrook, Curry, Rose, and Irving) were on playing on either a rookie contract or a rookie option. Their residual efficiency based on their cap hit is going to be a little inflated because because of the limitations of their contracts. Really, all this means is that they peaked as young players before hitting the free agent market. Outside of Chris Paul, most of the players in the "underpaid" bracket fit that bill: younger, inexperienced players out performing their happy-to-be-here contracts.
To appreciate how undervalued Rondo is on this list, you have to go back in time when he signed his five year extension in Boston. At the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, Rondo was playing for peanuts on a rookie contract and he wasn't exactly tearing up the league yet. The Celtics were one year removed from a championship and coming off a post season derailed by Kevin Garnett's injury that forced him out of the playoffs and the Celtics limping out of the second round against Orlando. However, Rondo's play in back-to-back seven game series against the Bulls and Magic warranted a new contract. In the regular season, he averaged about 12 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds. In 14 games from mid-April to mid-May, he elevated his game and nearly averaged a triple-double with 16.9 points, 9.8 assists, and 9.7 rebounds.
Although the playoffs were a small sample size, Rondo had become a prime time player performing on the biggest stage and Danny knew he had to lock him up. The following fall, Danny signed Rondo to a five year, $55 million extension and made him the future face of the franchise. In hindsight, what strikes me about that deal are two things: 1) how much of a gamble Ainge took in signing a kid that could have easily been a flash in the pan and 2) how much Rondo left on the table because he could have easily played out the season and joined a free agency class that included Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. They were acts of extreme faith from both sides.
From Danny's perspective, he wasn't exactly signing a player to a max contract, but $55 over 5 isn't exactly chump change. With that deal, he's never given enough credit for recognizing Rondo's talent and knowing the economic landscape of the league and acting before the CBA expired two years later. From Rondo's point of view, this was a big leap. For all the bluster about his stubborness and rumors about run-ins with teammates, Rondo isn't recognized enough for putting team over tea bills. We all recognize him as a max contract player and I think he knows that, too. Players know when they're just better. He could have easily played out 2009-2010, faxed his resume to the other 29 NBA teams, found a suitor that would have maxed him out, and forced Danny to match, but he didn't. He returned the favor, gave Danny a hometown discount, and put faith in the guy that saw something in him when he was coming out of Kentucky.
I hate the idea of putting a price tag on winning but a few weeks ago, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the Celtics second in "smartest spenders in sports" for the NBA, just behind the Lakers and ahead of the Heat. It's easy to crunch the numbers after the fact and say this team is "smarter" than that team because they've been savvier with their pocket books (especially in a salary-capped sport). But sometimes, it isn't about that. My favorite movie from last year was Moneyball. In a lot of ways, it was better than the book because it did a great job showing how even though the success of Billy Bean and his system relies on player analytics and numbers, you still have to have faith in people. The numbers are nothing without them. I don't want to romanticize Mike Zarren's decision to stay with the Celtics too much, but I wonder how much of it was based on his loyalty to the team. I wonder how much re-signing Jeff Green to what most consider is a bad contract is Danny seeing something in JG that won't show up in a box score or his PER. Ray Allen can turn his back and join the enemy and a team can go out and trade for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and look great on paper, but I'll bet on the guy that plays with a dislocated elbow.
Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics! Let's go, Celtics!
50 days and counting.