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Mailbag: Got any answers?

3/27/2014

After the Rajon Rondo/Jared Sullinger combination nearly helped the Boston Celtics rally from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors, Rondo noted how he's told coach Brad Stevens of his desire to share the floor more often with Sullinger.

"I like playing on the court with Sully," explained Rondo. "I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible, not as a knock to any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn't show up in the stat sheet is he's probably the best outlet passer we have."

Let's be honest, if we're identifying the two best all-around players on the Celtics at the moment, that list is probably topped with Rondo and Sullinger. What's more, while those two could bubble in trade whispers this summer, it's more likely that they'll comprise 40 percent of the team's starting lineup next season.

Rondo's comments only got mailbaggers thinking more about the future and the players on this roster who could be building blocks for the next iteration of a contender.

So the Rondo/Sullinger combination is where we start this edition of the Celtics Mailbag:

Q: Rondo asked Stevens to be on the court with Sullinger as much as possible. What does this mean for the future? -- @JohnnyBarlow (via Twitter)

A: Let's start with the now, and the surprising fact that the Rondo/Sullinger combo hasn't put up particularly glossy numbers this season. Even on Wednesday night, the Celtics were minus-6 in differential during their 19 minutes of shared floor time. What gives?

The Celtics have struggled defensively with that pairing on the court, owning a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 108.1, which is nearly four points above the team's season average. For the 10 games and 177 minutes of floor time shared in March, the defensive rating is up at 110.8. A true rim protector could shore up some of those struggles, while allowing Sullinger to play in his more natural power forward position.

But none of those struggles should discourage the Celtics from exploring more of the Rondo/Sullinger combo over the final 11 games. Increased reps will allow Sullinger to get a better idea of where Rondo will typically be after defensive stops and those outlet passes can become second nature to both players.

It's worth noting that during the 2012-13 season, when there was Kevin Garnett to protect the rim and more individual talent, the Rondo/Sullinger combo was far more successful than we've seen this season. In 24 appearances in December and January (before both Rondo and Sullinger suffered season-ending injuries), the combo owned a defensive rating of 97 and was a plus-5.3 in net rating (compared with minus-9.3 this season).

What the Celtics need to find is the right players to complement the Rondo/Sullinger combo. Sullinger can ignite the break with the outlet and, with a developing 3-pointer, can be a threat behind the play (or as an offensive rebounder with the opposing team scrambled defensively). Boston needs wings and a center capable of running the floor with Rondo and creating transition opportunities off those defensive stops.

(Read full Celtics Mailbag)