Hollinger: Life without Rondo
Based on a preliminary view of the stats, the Celtics are in a tight spot without Rondo, both because of his own brilliance and the fact that the Celtics don't have a great replacement in store. Rondo was one of the few offensive positives for Boston in Game 1, slashing to the rim and even hitting a few jump shots to help them get back in the game; his season stats reflect that importance as well. Boston scored 9.01 points per 100 possessions more with Rondo on the court, although the Celtics also gave up 3.80 points more. All of these numbers, however, are distorted by his usage with the other Boston starters. The four Celtics, who started most of the year (Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass), all have very positive plus/minus numbers that more or less match Rondo's, so it's difficult to separate his impact from that of his teammates.
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Let's dig a big deeper, then. What we care about is the impact with the current group of players the Celtics will be using. In the backcourt, that means the Rondo-Avery Bradley combination, and a quick glance using NBA.com's stats tool shows how he might be missed. The Celtics outscore opponents by 11.0 points per 48 minutes when Rondo and Bradley play together, but are outscored by 0.5 when Bradley plays without Rondo.
This is because Bradley isn't very good at running the offense, forcing Pierce into a more primary ballhandling role; look for Atlanta to turn up the ball pressure with Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich as a response.
Digging deeper, we discover that the biggest impact is likely to come when Boston goes to its bench. The likely starting five of Bradley, Mickael Pietrus, Pierce, Bass and Garnett was pretty good together, posting a plus-14 in 58 minutes of court time. And if we just focus on the perimeter trio, Bradley-Pietrus-Pierce is a plus-36 in 188 minutes.
But with the second unit, it gets ugly fast. Replacing Bradley with Keyon Dooling (who is now the backup point guard) or one of the wings with Sasha Pavlovic. Dooling and Pavlovic played 138 minutes together and Boston was outscored by 38 points in that time; granted, most of that time came without the benefit of Pierce or Garnett alongside them, but that's not encouraging.
Similar breakdowns afflict the other three-man combos. Dooling-Pietrus-Pierce is minus-27 in just 35 minutes; with Bradley at the point and either Dooling or Pavlovic subbing in for Pietrus or Pierce, the Celtics are a combined minus-28 in 228 minutes. That's about 5.9 points per 48.
Based on all the data, it looks like Boston's starting five may be able to stay afloat, but that things will go off the rails when the bench players start taking the court. The oft-quoted wisdom in the NBA is that the impact of an injury isn't the sub replacing the starter, but rather the next sub who has to move up the food chain, and the impact of Rondo's absence appears to be an example of that maxim.
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