More on Rajon Rondo and Celtics Ball Movement

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The mystery of Rondo's absence being linked to better ball movement, and what that means to the Celtics moving forward is mulled. The fact that everyone on the team around the horn has nearly doubled their assist rate without Rondo is remarkable - did Rondo know his team mates were capable of getting and keeping each other involved like this? Barbosa was huge for the Celtics post-Rondo - what to do about his replacement with the trade deadline approaching?

The Celtics have had well-documented success since the season-ending injury to Rajon Rondo, with the C's going on an 8-1 run into the All-Star break. The Celtics were seemingly under-performing up until Rondo's injury, and despite their recent surge, they aren't out of the woods by any means. First and foremost, they will have to continue to readjust to life without their 10 assists per game (apg) point guard, especially since they just lost another point guard to injury in Leonardo Barbosa.

The phenomenon of the team stepping up has been a treat to watch. It has been duly noted that the ball has been moving better without Rondo, and that has been showing up in the team assists. The team has actually increased the number of assists without Rondo's with an increase from 21.5 to 23.4 per game (48 min basis). The ball distribution load has mainly been taken up by Paul Pierce who has had two triple-doubles (he's been rebounding too) during Rondo's absence. However, the chart below indicates how uniform the uptick in everyone's assist totals have been in the 9 games before and after the Jan 25th Atlanta game when Rondo's knee put him on the sidelines.

Celtics_assists_per_game_chart_medium

Pierce's 7.2 apg makes him a point forward on the level with LeBron. But the fact the other seven players in the rotation uniformly increased their assists by 1 to 2 per game is special. It also points to how potentially damaging the loss of Barbosa may be to the second unit. Barbosa was chipping in 2.8 apg in only 20 minutes per game (mpg) and had solidified a late game role within the Celtics rotation.

Unfortunately, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee haven't shown the propensity for dishing the ball, and that's why rumors abound regarding the potential for the Celtics to pick up old friend Delonte West has recently been discussed. But the fact that he shunned the NBDL, hasn't played competitive ball since Heck was a pup and fell out of favor with a Mavs roster that could have used him, does not bode well for Redz. There's talk of potential trades for folks like Luke Ridnour in the PG factory known as the T-Wolves. Will Bynum in Detroit, who is now 3rd on the depth chart with the arrival of Jose Calderon, could probably be had. Then there are some interesting options in the NBDL (see Jessica Camerato's tweet on Shelvin Mack of the Maine Red Claws), but would a non-veteran really be able to get the job done on this Celtics team?

Anyway, it doesn't look like the PJ Brown version of a PG is going to be walking through the proverbial door.

Rondo's Ball Domination

As everyone loves what Rondo "the Houdini" can and does with the ball, the fact that the ball has been moving better without Rondo on the floor is a bit of a head scratcher. It is worth repeating the quote Ian Thomsen of SI.com obtained from an "unnamed scout" on why things are at least temporarily better without Rondo:

"When Rondo had a chance to make the first pass to help get the ball to the other side of the court, he was not going to make that pass because he wanted to get the assist. Rondo would pound the ball until he could get a guy open for the shot so that he could get the assist. That's why the ball wasn't moving as much when they had Rondo, and it's why the ball is moving so much better now that he's out. The reason they're running more is because he didn't kick the ball ahead. He wanted to hold on to it. "

The enigma of a pass-first point guard literally holding on to the ball, to pad his assist totals no less, just doesn't seem to hold water. It is true that Rondo's record of 37 consecutive games with 10+ assists appeared to take a life of its own at times . . . fortunately that ended in November. Character issues about Rondo have certainly been raised in the past - look no further than some of Ray Allen's comments about being a bit annoyed by Rondo's dominance of the ball. In the end, it is more likely that Rondo's team mates simply became too reliant on Rondo, as was suggested by Danny Ainge (see Mark Murphy's article in the Herald).

Certainly, the court savvy Rondo has observed what has made this team click in the short time he has been absent, and is making notes with regard to how he can make the team better by becoming even more selfless and perhaps humble. The great ones always seem to step back and take measures that put the team in the best position to succeed.

Alternatively, he may see this team resort to the same funk it was in while he was routinely triple-doubling. It would be as simple as elder statesmen Garnett, Pierce and Terry simply showing their age.

Note: For more on Rondo, there's a nice introduction to Bill Simmon's treatment of Rondo's absence, his so-called Ewing Theory, within a Fan Post by stephenmarshall.

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