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

14 Comments

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.

Report: Turkish government issues arrest warrant for Enes Kanter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The current, authoritarian government in Turkey is not big on dissent (they have beaten protestors of the Turkish regime at a march in this country). Or human rights.

So what’s real trouble for them is opposition and dissent from a famous, well-known person.

Which brings us to Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter. He is a native of Turkey, and he has been outspoken in his opposition to that country’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Last week the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was traveling the globe promoting his charity. He barely got out of Indonesia and was able to get to Romania, where he was detained for a stretch before getting to return to the United States via London.

Now, the Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Kanter, reports the Agence France-Presse.

Turkey issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, accusing him of being a member of a “terror group”, a pro-government newspaper reported.

A judge issued the arrest warrant after an Istanbul prosecutor opened an investigation into Kanter’s alleged “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”, Sabah daily reported.

He is in no danger of being extradited by the United States because of this. If anything, it strengthens his case for U.S. citizenship based on asylum.

Kanter is a supporter of the Gülen movement in that country, which is led by the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania. That movement has opposed Erdogan (who recently won a disputed election in that country that gives him sweeping, almost dictatorial powers). Erdogan blamed Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, one with members of the military involved (after that attempt members of the Gulen movement have been swept up by the government all over Turkey. This has come at a cost for Kanter, who has been disavowed by his own family because of his political beliefs.

Kanter is not about to back down from his position. Which means it may be a long time before he gets to visit his homeland again.

Report: Duke guard Frank Jackson undergoes foot surgery before NBA draft

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
1 Comment

Duke guard Frank Jackson declared for the 2017 NBA draft with an outside shot of going in the first round and a likelihood of getting picked in the second-round.

This won’t help his stock.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Duke’s Frank Jackson, a well-regarded point guard in the 2017 NBA draft class, underwent right foot surgery and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

When Jackson recovers will determine whether he plays in summer league, and that can affect transition to the pros as a rookie.

The bigger questions: Will this hinder his athleticism long-term? Does this put him at greater injury risk?

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard, relies on a strong first step to attack the basket and high elevation on his jumper.

Report: 76ers, with No. 3 pick in NBA draft, like PGs De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
3 Comments

If there’s consensus on the top prospects in the 2017 NBA draft, it’s:

1. Markelle Fultz

2. Lonzo Ball

3. Josh Jackson

That squares nicely with the Celtics picking Fultz No. 1 and the Lakers taking Ball No. 2.

But what about the 76ers, who pick No. 3? They already have a playmaking forward with a shaky jumper in Ben Simmons. Jackson isn’t the cleanest fit. Even if they plan to deploy Simmons at point guard, they could still use a traditional point guard for support/insurance.

Enter De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

https://twitter.com/SBondyNYDN/status/867526157184491521

The 76ers could also get a workout with Ball. There will be point guard options.

I’m just unsure any of them, assuming Ball is off the board, trump Jackson.

Philadelphia’s starting small forward is Robert Covington – a nice player, but not someone who should influence draft decisions. We can lightly pencil Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into the 76ers’ starting lineup the next time the team gets good, but the rest of the lineup is open. Pondering Jackson’s fit into a half-blank canvass is overthinking. Embiid is an excellent outside shooter for a center, and Philadelphia’s eventual guards (or shooting guard and power forward if Simmons plays point guard) could be good shooters.

The 76ers’ should draft the best prospect available. If that’s Jackson, so be it. They should consider Fox’s and Smith’s fit only if those point guards are in the same tier as Jackson.

That said, don’t rule out the possibility of Fox and Smith working their way into that level. They’re intriguing players.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
2 Comments

When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.