The 2-10 record speaks for itself: this year’s Rajon Rondo-led Boston Celtics are not a good team. In fact, as far as win percentages go, they would be would be ranked dead last in the NBA, even behind the train wreck that is the Milwaukee Bucks.
For the ever-increasing number of pro-tanking fans, that record is music to their ears. If the season were to end today and the lottery was kind to the Cs, they would end up with the fourth overall pick in a draft class loaded with franchise-altering players. Despite this, the team’s troubles shouldn’t make anybody happy. Rondo’s return was supposed to be a game-changer for this club. He was projected to push this group as far as the eighth playoff seed. He was supposed to serve as their leader, their franchise player, their MVP.
Thus far, the team’s captain hasn’t been any of those things. He hasn’t looked awful for someone who missed almost a full year of action, but he also hasn’t looked like the fearless and fiery competitor he has been his whole career. Boston’s record with him in the lineup screams “Rondo can’t be a cornerstone”. Through his 12 appearances, the Kentucky product is a cumulative -27 in the +/- category, a mark far from ideal for a franchise player, especially for someone who is so strong on both ends of the floor.
Should the swelling loss column be a concern for Celtics fans? With Rondo at the helm, they were supposed to be winning games, at least at a higher rate than they are at the moment. So why aren’t they? Does this mean that Rondo incapable of leading the Celtics? Does it mean he can’t be the best player on a team?
Absolutely not. Rondo has been the best player on the Celtics for the past three seasons. The reason for the team’s lack of success this season can be attributed to the utter dearth of skill around him. Rondo is tough to build around because the best complimentary pieces to him are elite off-ball players. This season, Boston just doesn’t have that type of personnel.
There’s no Ray Allen or Jason Terry to spot up from deep, no Kevin Garnett to run pick-and-pops with, and no Paul Pierce to feed on a backdoor cut. Rondo’s new target from deep is Jeff Green, who shoots the three at just 35.4 percent. His best pick-and-pop option is Brandon Bass, who is a subpar screener despite being a great mid-range shooter. Avery Bradley is now the best cutter on the team, and he struggles to finish at the rim.
Rondo is one of the most unique players in the NBA, and because of this, he is one of the most difficult to build around. With a good group of guys around him that can play without the ball in their hands, the Celtics’ floor general can supercharge an offense by creating open looks for his teammates. At the same time, Rondo’s ball-dominating ways can serve as a hindrance to an offense that relies on frequent ball movement and/or isolation-type scorers.
In 2014, the team features multiple iso players as its primary scoring options in Green, Jerryd Bayless, Bass and even Jared Sullinger. The team has a completely different look than it did in the six years of the Big Three era, and lacks the same talent level it had in previous seasons. Rondo’s inability to adjust to these new circumstances isn’t a surprise.
The good news is that this is just the start of the rebuild, and Boston’s front office has plenty of time to create a team that fits the criteria previously described. When paired with the right group, Rondo has shown the ability to lead a team deep into the playoffs. It’s up to the Celtics’ management to give him that opportunity once more.