HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Will the Boston Celtics blow it up with Rajon Rondo out for the season?
That will be determined by what kind of offers Danny Ainge gets for Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce between now and Feb. 21 trade deadline.
For now, the Celtics are moving on with what they’ve got. And they’ve got to figure out how to play without Rondo if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers are just three games behind the Celtics, have a soft stretch of schedule coming up, and hope to get Andrew Bynum back at some point down the line.
The Celtics without Rondo are the Celtics without a point guard. None of the other guards on the roster — Leandro Barbosa, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — are real floor generals. Of the group, only Barbosa has an assist percentage above that of either Garnett or Pierce.
But the Celtics have been OK without Rondo so far this season. In fact, they’ve been incrementally better, both offensively and defensively, with him off the floor than with him on the floor.
Celtics efficiency with Rondo on and off the floor
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Defense really shouldn’t be an issue. Even though Rondo has been named to the All-Defensive first or second team each of the last four seasons, he’s not much of an impact player on that end of the floor.
Bradley and Garnett, meanwhile, are just that. And though the Celtics’ defense had fallen off dramatically when Garnett stepped off the floor in the first two months of the season, it’s been fine (92.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Garnett off the floor and Bradley on. It’s a small sample size (83 minutes), but it’s certainly encouraging.
Offensively, though Rondo leads the league with 11.1 assists per game, the Celtics still have an above average assist rate with him off the floor.
Celtics offense with Rondo on and off the floor
|Rondo on/off||2PT%||3PT%||OREB%||TmTOV%||FTA Rate||AST/FG|
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Celtics have shot better and turned the ball over less with Rondo on the floor. But with him on the bench, they’ve gone to the line more often and given themselves more second-chance opportunities.
The key to the rebounding is that Jared Sullinger — the Celtics’ best (and only) offensive rebounder — has played just 33 percent of Rondo’s minutes on the floor, but has played 55 percent of Rondo’s minutes on the bench.
Overall, the Celtics have been much better with Sullinger on the floor (102.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than with him on the bench (97.9). Not only is he their best offensive rebounder, but he’s the one Boston big man who actually takes most of his shots from the paint.
The Celtics’ two most-used lineups without Rondo both include Sullinger, and both have been excellent offensively.
Celtics most-used lineups without Rondo
|Terry, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Garnett||17||95||85.2||115.8||90.9||+24.8||+39|
|Barbosa, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Garnett||13||73||87.4||107.6||100.1||+7.5||+4|
|Terry, Lee, Pierce, Bass, Garnett||8||42||96.1||96.6||77.2||+19.3||+11|
|Barbosa, Terry, Pierce, Green, Garnett||5||27||90.4||88.3||83.8||+4.5||-2|
|Terry, Lee, Green, Bass, Sullinger||8||25||93.0||103.1||84.1||+18.9||+8|
So Sullinger’s minutes could be the key to Boston maintaining some sort of offensive success without Rondo. The problem is that he has a difficult time staying on the floor. Of 266 players around the league who have logged at least 500 minutes this season, he has committed, by far, the most fouls per minute (6.3 per 36). He has fouled out eight times already this season.
The Celtics are not going to be a very good offensive team no matter what. But they can stay competitive if they match their top-five defense with an offense that doesn’t regress without their point guard.
So Doc Rivers has got to roll with the rookie. Sullinger started his first game in 2 1/2 months against the Heat on Sunday and managed to commit just one foul in 22 minutes. That was a defensive win against the second-best offensive team in the league, but more offense will obviously be needed over the long haul.