POSTED: Dec 20, 2014 5:36 PM ET
Can Rajon Rondo be effective in Dallas if he's not handling the ball as much as he was in Boston?
There was near universal praise for the Dallas Mavericks in the wake of their acquisition of Rajon Rondo Thursday night. But to believe that Rondo will make a positive impact with the Mavs, you have to assume that he'll be better than he's been for the last few years.
First, a review of the details. The Mavs sent Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder and Jameer Nelson, along with a first-round pick (likely to be used in 2016) and a second-round pick (2016), to Boston for Rondo and rookie Dwight Powell.
The Mavs have nowhere to go but down on offense. Through Thursday, they led the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, 10.1 more than the league average. That's the biggest differential since the league started counting turnovers in 1977.
|Largest differential, OffRtg vs. league average|
They weren't going to sustain that differential with the trade or without it. But it's fair to wonder if Rondo makes the Dallas offense better or worse.
Rondo is the only player that has averaged double-figure assists (11.0) over the last five seasons (since 2010-11). In the same time, he has twice as many triple-doubles (18) as any other player.
But the Celtics have had a below-average offense each of those five seasons. And in each of the last three seasons, the Celtics have been better offensively with Rondo off the floor than with him on it.
|Celtics' offense, last five seasons|
Let's get right to it: Rondo can't shoot. He has shot 30 percent (30-for-100) from outside the paint this season, a mark that ranks 178th among 191 players who have attempted at least 75 shots from the outside.
Nelson (33 percent) hasn't been that much better, but when you account for 3-pointers, his effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (48.4 percent) has been above the league average (46.3 percent), while Rondo's (34.0 percent) has been well below. Nelson has to be respected on the perimeter, while Rondo does not.
If Rondo has the ball in his hands as the Mavs' distributor, his inability to shoot or space the floor won't matter as much. But Rondo won't have the ball in his hands as much with Dallas, because the offense typically runs through Monta Ellis.
Ellis leads the Mavs and ranks 11th in the league in usage rate. He's been the ball handler on about a third of Dallas' ball screens.
Rondo, meanwhile, has been the ball-handler on about 44 percent of Boston's ball screens. Putting the ball in his hands will take it out of Ellis' hands somewhat. And like Rondo, Ellis isn't exactly a catch-and-shoot guy. He has shot 45 percent on pull-up jumpers and only 31 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Among 64 players who have attempted at least 50 of each, only Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson has a bigger discrepancy.
So if either Ellis or Rondo is running a pick-and-roll, the Mavs' spacing will be compromised by the presence of the other on the floor.
Rondo is a fantastic passer. Now that Jason Kidd is retired and Steve Nash has likely played his last game, there may not be a point guard in the league with better vision. Rondo sees angles and openings that other players don't.
Rondo has at times passed on good shots in order to build his assist numbers, or to avoid a trip to the free throw line (where he's shot a brutal 12-for-36 this season). And over the last five seasons, 33 percent of his assists have come on inefficient mid-range jumpers, a mark well above the league average of 24 percent.
But the Celtics have been a mid-range shooting team in general, lacking a pick-and-roll big man like Tyson Chandler (or Wright, for that matter).
We can't overlook the loss of Wright, who leads the league in field goal percentage. His offensive skills are limited, but you don't need to be a post-up guy or shooter to be an effective offensive center.
Wright not only finished well at the rim, but the attention he drew with his rolls to the basket created more space for his teammates. He's a big reason why the pick-and-roll efficiency numbers for J.J. Barea and Devin Harris (see table above) are so strong.
Chandler is a great finisher too, but Wright will be missed in the 18-20 minutes (less now, probably) that he served as Chandler's backup. Dallas will certainly be in the market for a reserve center, but for now, Wright is being replaced by either Greg Smith or Powell. Smith isn't nearly as long as Wright, and Powell has played nine career minutes.
A drop-off in offensive efficiency won't be a problem if the Mavs can improve defensively, where they rank 20th through Thursday. That's the more important end of the floor and, assuming Oklahoma City replaces New Orleans in the West's top eight, the Mavs are set to have the worst defense among West playoff teams for the second straight year.
Inside The NBA: Rajon Rondo
Shaq, Kenny, Ernie, and Grant discuss the move of Rajon Rondo to Dallas.
Rondo has the instincts and physical skills to be a better defender than Nelson, but he hasn't necessarily been that recently. Still, he can help Dallas in one important category.
Dallas ranks 29th in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing less than 72 percent of available defensive boards. Rondo leads all guards with a defensive rebounding percentage (21.8 percent) that's more than twice that of Nelson (9.3 percent).
But some of that is Rondo taking rebounds away from his teammates. As a team, the Celtics have grabbed the same percentage of defensive rebounds (76.6 percent) with Rondo off the floor as they have with him on the floor.
When the Celtics were good, Rondo had some brilliant performances on the league's biggest stage. It was only 2½ years ago that he averaged 20.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists in the (seven-game) conference finals against the eventual champion Miami Heat.
GameTime: Rondo Trade
Charles Barkley checks in from Chicago to talk about the Rajon Rondo trade.
But he's had ACL surgery since then and really hasn't run a good regular-season offense since the year before that series. And recent evidence doesn't support the idea that he's an impact defender either.
So, to believe that the Mavs have definitely improved with this trade is to put more faith in the reputation Rondo has built in big moments than in his impact on the Celtics' numbers over the course of the last few seasons.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.