SB Nation's Paul Flannery discusses whether the Celtics are better without Rajon Rondo.
When the Boston Celtics lost Rajon Rondo to an ACL injury on Jan. 27, things were looking dire for an aging team floundering at 20-23. And despite the fact that the Celtics beat the Miami Heat on that day, the general reaction was that the team needed to think long and hard about blowing up the veteran core that had brought so much success to Boston in recent years.
Boston has gone 7-1 without Rondo in the lineup, with the only slip up being a 94-91 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night. Over those eight games, the Celtics beat not only the Heat, but both Los Angeles teams and the Denver Nuggets as well. The victory over the Nuggets in triple-overtime was especially sweet, with Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry hitting big shot after big shot and willing the Celtics to victory.
The recent run of strong play has quieted much of the trade talk, and has also opened up an interesting can of worms: Are the Celtics actually a better team without Rajon Rondo?
At first blush, it seems like a preposterous notion. Rondo is an All-Star who's arguably the best passer in the NBA, leading the league in assists at 11.1 per game before going down with the injury. His ability to penetrate and create for others theoretically should make the Celtics' offense run smoother. And come playoff time, Rondo's abilities are especially crucial against top defenses. It's for these reasons among others that people like SB Nation's Paul Flannery, CelticsBlog's Jeff Clark, Grantland's Zach Lowe and The Boston Globe's Gary Dzen have all said at some point since the injury that the brakes should be pumped on this kind of talk.
However, some of the advanced statistics do paint an intriguing picture. Per NBA.com, the Celtics have an offensive rating this season of 100.4 points per 100 possessions, which is just 22nd in the league. But since Rondo went down, the Celtics' offensive rating is 103.4, a mark that would put them at 12th. Even more interesting are the on/off court splits. With Rondo on the court this season, the Celtics' net rating was -1.3. With him off the floor, it's at 3.5. And not only has the offense been better without him, but the defense has as well.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Rondo's absence has been Terry, who struggled to fit in for much of the season. Prior to the Rondo injury, Terry was averaging 9.8 points on 42.6 percent shooting and 36.1 percent from three-point land. But in the last eight games, Terry has found a rhythm, averaging 13.1 points on 52.1 percent shooting and 39.0 percent from deep. Without Rondo, Terry has seen the ball more and thus has produced at a higher level.
It's hard to say whether the Celtics will be able to keep up this level of play over the long haul with Rondo sidelined. Injuries to Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa do not help matters, and again, the playoffs are a completely different animal. But for now, this quote from Celtics president Danny Ainge to ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullen may be the best explanation for what is going on:
"We are different without him," Ainge explained. "We're running better now because five guys are running. Honestly, I think we rely on Rondo too much."
Whether Boston is truly better or not without their star point guard, it will be entertaining to see this group of cagey veterans try and prove that they are not done just yet.