Rajon Rondo

The Extra Pass: How the Celtics can survive without Rajon Rondo

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the Celtics without Rajon Rondo. 

When the official word came down that Rajon Rondo had torn his ACL, it felt like a death knell for the Celtics. The natural reaction, and it might be the correct one, is that it’s time for the Celtics to move on to a new era. Maybe it would be different if they were rolling through the Eastern Conference, but even with Rondo, the Celtics were a struggling team under .500.

Given their history, however, it’s still worth wondering whether or not the Celtics can make one final playoff run without the services of their All-Star point guard.

Without Rondo this year

It only tells one small part of the whole story, but Plus/Minus numbers can at least give you an indication of what the Celtics might look like without Rondo.

The Celtics have played 744 minutes without Rondo on the floor this season. In those minutes, they have been better offensively (100.4 Offensive Rating to 99.2 with Rondo) and slightly better defensively (100.0 defensive rating to 100.5). There are a lot of factors at play here, but it is interesting that the Celtics haven’t suffered a drop-off with Rondo on the bench this season. The question is though, why not?

Slow down

The Celtics have given Rondo a few more toys to play with in transition, but this is still a team that’s largely conflicted when it comes to running. No one would describe the Celtics as fast — they’re 20th in the league in pace — but they seriously grind to a halt once Rondo leaves the floor. According to NBA.com and HoopData, the Celtics pace factor is 90.5 when Rondo sits, a number that would make them the second slowest team in the league next to New Orleans.

If that trend continues, the slower pace could help the Celtics survive the loss of Rondo in a few ways. While Boston has been dreadful offensively this year (27th in offensive rating), they’ve been particularly bad at scoring in transition, as they’re just 25th in the league in Points Per Play in that setting, according to Synergy Sports.

For years and years, the Celtics have avoided crashing the offensive boards as a strategy, and that’s why they’re 29th in offensive rebounding percentage this year. While that plan is supposed to limit easy buckets on the other end, Boston surprisingly has the league’s worst transition defense (points per play) this year according to Synergy.

What’s all that mean? Although it’s hard to imagine the Celtics will be better in the halfcourt offensively without Rondo, slowing things down to a crawl could be beneficial. Limiting possessions is a tried and true underdog strategy, and without Rondo, that’s exactly what the Celtics will be.

Point guard by committee 

Let’s set aside whether the Celtics need to make an outside move for now and evaluate the roster as is. Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Avery Bradley are far from “true” point guards, but there is some positive evidence that together they can handle the duties.

Boston’s third most used lineup this season is the group of Lee/Terry/Green/Sullinger/Garnett, and they’ve absolutely killed it in 95 minutes together. That unit has posted an offensive rating of 115.8 and a defensive rating of 90.9 for a net rating of +24.8. To put that in better context, no lineup in the NBA that has played at least 95 minutes has a better plus/minus per 48 minutes than that group.

An awful lot of that has to do with Jared Sullinger playing next to Kevin Garnett, as they are the Celtics’ best regularly used two-man pairing by a large margin. Playing Sullinger and Garnett may not be a direct remedy, but it can help in the grand scheme of things.

But back to Rondo’s potential replacements. Jason Terry’s overall numbers are down across the board, but he’s using the least amount of possessions he has in his entire career by a large margin with just a 17 percent usage rate. A very underrated pick-and-roll player, Terry is 15th in the league in points per play as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and his spot-up and off screen numbers are both in the top 35. It sounds simple, but Terry’s numbers suggest that he’ll benefit from having the ball in his hands more often.

With Lee, Bradley, Barbosa and even Paul Pierce open to taking some of the point guard duties, it’s still Terry who seems like the best bet for point production with the ball, mainly because the others do their most efficient work away from it. Lee is a year removed from being the most effective corner 3 shooter in the league, Bradley is at his best when he’s cutting around the baseline, and Pierce is a guy who could use more true post-up opportunities. None of those skill-sets lend particularly well to point guard play, and Barbosa hasn’t exactly wowed in his minutes at the point this year.

Call on Doc

Ultimately, losing Rondo shifts a lot of the responsibility to head coach Doc Rivers. Without Rondo’s freelancing or creativity, Rivers will have to run a heavily scripted halfcourt offense to generate results. While Rivers and the Celtics are capable of doing that, the looks are undoubtedly going to get tougher for Garnett and Pierce no matter how good the sets are. You just don’t lose the league leader in assists and not feel it offensively. However, if there’s a saving grace, the Celtics couldn’t really get much worse offensively anyway.

The defense, however, can still be elite and in a weak Eastern Conference, that can certainly be enough. The Pacers have the 29th ranked offense, but they play to their stingy D with a plodding pace that milks the shot clock, and they’re 26-18 because of it.

The Celtics are 9th in defensive efficiency, which means there is room for improvement. Losing a steal magnet and defensive rebounder like Rondo wouldn’t seem to help the defense directly, but backups like Lee and Bradley are two of the game’s most ferocious individual defenders. It’s plausible that with a slower pace and with more minutes for Lee and Bradley, the Celtics could very well improve on the defensive end — and that’s the true path to survival. Just ask Chicago.

Stats from Synergy Sports and NBA.com were used in this article.

Jakob Poeltl with huge poster dunk for Raptors. Yes, Jakob Poeltl. (VIDEO)

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The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.

But we didn’t expect this.

During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.

Hassan Whiteside: “Portland was my second option”

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 28: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on October 28, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Entering free agency last July, Hassan Whiteside said his first choice was to stay in Miami — then Pat Riley gave him 98 million reasons to stick around. While the Heat have been up and down this season, Whiteside has thrived as the franchise player in Miami.

Last July he also met with Dallas, but it turns out that was not his second choice. Here is what Whiteside told Erik Gunderson of the Miami Herald before his team fell to the Blazers on Saturday.

“Portland was my second option,” Whiteside said at the team’s Saturday shootaround in Portland. “I would have came here.”

Interesting. There were reports the Blazers chased Whiteside, but it didn’t seem that serious. Apparently, it was. If The Blazers got Whiteside, would they still have spent $70 million on Evan Turner? Probably not. And suddenly a lot of things look better in Portland.

For Blazers fans, watching their team try to outscore opponents while playing terrible defense this season — in part because of a lack of rim protection behind their undersized guards — it’s easy to imagine how much Whiteside would have changed the picture in the Northwest. But at this point, that’s just fan fiction.

JaVale McGee tries to inbound ball for wrong team, Warriors bench cracks up (VIDEO)

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JaVale McGree has become a solid contributor for the Warriors off the bench, giving them a needed shot blocking presence. He’s not getting a ton of run (seven minutes a night), but he’s efficient when he’s out there.

Still, there is his reputation as the guy most likely to end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool. He hasn’t done anything like that for a while… until Saturday night, when after a made free throw he tried to inbound the ball for the Suns for a second.

The Warriors bench was laughing under their shirts and towels.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves battle back to top Hornets 125-120 in OT

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, looks to pass around Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. Minnesota won 125-120. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Perhaps this was the type of win the talented and young Minnesota Timberwolves needed to get on a roll.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves showed late-game poise by erasing a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Southeast Division-leading Charlotte Hornets 125-120 in overtime on Saturday night.

“The more close games you’re in and the more you win, the better you get,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Repetition builds habits. When you see things happen in a game, it slows everything down.”

Zack LaVine added 17 points and Ricky Rubio had nine points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided being swept by the Hornets for the third straight season.

“We came back and really made some really winning plays down the stretch,” LaVine said. “That’s what happens when you keep fighting. We’ve been fighting the last four or five games and been in those positions but we got over that hump. It feels good. Now we need to keep it going.”

Towns, a dominant force on the glass all night, had six points in overtime, including a backbreaking follow off a missed shot with 21 seconds left to put the Timberwolves up by six. Towns sealed the victory with two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Charlotte appeared on its way to its fourth win in five games, leading 104-97 with less than one minute to play.

But Minnesota battled back to tie the game in regulation with LaVine, Rubio and Wiggins all hitting 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds. Wiggins’ pull-up from 31 feet in transition with 8.9 seconds tied the game at 106.

The Hornets had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Kemba Walker missed everything on a step-back 18-footer at the buzzer.

“There were a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and we gave up some big baskets,” Walker said. “We missed some rotations and we have to be better down the stretch.”

Walker led Charlotte with 22 points and eight assists. Frank Kaminsky had 21 points and Nic Batum had 15 points and 12 assists.

TIP-INS:

Timberwolves: Wiggins and Towns were a combined 22 of 42 from the field. … Blocked 10 shots.

Hornets: The Hornets have given up an average of 16.5 points per game in the first quarter in the last two games, compared to a season average of 27.1 points. … Cody Zeller had four blocks.

STRONG OT START

The Timberwolves took advantage of the momentum they had built at the end of regulation, opening overtime with a 7-0 run.

“You know, it always looks better when the ball is going in,” Thibodeau said. “When we’re getting the right shots and sharing the ball, everything looks a lot better. Obviously, playing from a lead is important and we haven’t been doing that.”

NOT PHYSICAL ENOUGH

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he was “especially disappointed” with this loss because the team had emphasized getting its defense set and physicality in terms of blocking out.

“They crushed us with the block outs in the fourth quarter,” Clifford said. “They had at least four that might have led to nine points. That can’t happen. It’s been discussed and we’ve watched it and the reality is we either going to become a more physical group or we’re not going to win – at least not every night.”

TOWNS PASSES GARNETT

Towns established a new Timberwolves record with his 27th straight game with at least one blocked shot. He had two blocks against the Hornets.