Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.
RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE
Since last we evaluated Rondo’s status this season, the Celtics have won just once in five attempts, and that victory came against the winless 76ers. Because they play in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (4-10) remain only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed through 14 games, but their 1-9 record against teams with winning records isn’t too encouraging for those holding out hope for the C’s playoff prospects.
Over the past five games, Rondo has averaged 8.8 assists, 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, so his overall numbers have dipped, even if he’s still the only NBA player currently averaging at least seven points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He remains the league’s leader in assists, passes and assist opportunities per game as well as points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats.
The Celtics point guard has always been a different breed of basketball player, capable of controlling games as a facilitator, but at what point does his inability to score become a problem? His current status as the worst free-throw shooting guard in NBA history has been well documented, but Rondo’s offensive woes go well beyond the charity stripe. He has attempted more field goals than he’s scored points in seven of his 12 appearances, netting single digits on eight occasions and scoring six or fewer points four times this season. Meanwhile, the C’s dropped from a top-five offense through two weeks of 2014-15 to 17th in offensive rating (106.1 points per 100 possessions) a month into the season.
When you combine Rondo’s 13.7 points scored per 48 minutes (PTS/48) and 36.1 points created by assists per 48 minutes (PTSC/48), the four-time All-Star is still generating 49.8 total points per 48 minutes (PTSG/48). If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. Of the league’s 30 starting point guards, 20 have generated more than 40 points per 48 minutes, and Rondo ranks ninth among that group. Obviously, a player’s points created by assists depend on his teammates, but the list shakes out how you might expect.
Russell Westbrook (3 games): 53.0 PTS/48 + 25.4 PTS/48 = 78.4 PTSG/48
Stephen Curry (16 games): 35.2 PTS/48 + 26.1 PTS/48 = 61.3 PTSG/48
Ricky Rubio (5 games): 15.6 PTS/48 + 39.8 PTS/48 = 55.4 PTSG/48
John Wall (16 games): 24.6 PTS/48 + 29.8 PTS/48 = 54.4 PTSG/48
Chris Paul (17 games): 24.7 PTS/48 + 29.6 PTS/48 = 54.3 PTSG/48
Ty Lawson: 21.7 PTS/48 + 32.0 PTS/48 = 53.7 PTSG/48
Jeff Teague (15 games): 26.9 PTS/48 + 25.7 PTS/48 = 52.6 PTSG/48
Derrick Rose (9 games): 30.5 PTS/48 + 19.6 PTS/48 = 50.1 PTSG/48
Rajon Rondo: 13.7 PTS/48 + 36.1 PTS/48 = 49.8
Kyle Lowry (17 games): 27.2 PTS/48 + 22.0 PTS/48 = 49.2 PTSG/48
Damian Lillard (17 games): 27.3 PTS/48 + 21.6 PTS/48 = 48.9 PTSG/48
Brandon Jennings (14 games): 26.8 PTS/48 + 21.5 PTS/48 = 48.3 PTSG/48
Tony Parker (16 games): 25.5 PTS/48 + 20.6 PTS/48 = 46.1 PTSG/48
Michael Carter-Williams (10 games): 24.6 PTS/48 + 21.5 PTS/48 = 46.1 PTSG/48
Mike Conley (17 games): 24.2 PTS/48 + 20.5 PTS/48 = 44.7 PTSG/48
Brandon Knight (18 games): 25.0 PTS/48 + 19.3 PTS/48 = 44.3 PTSG/48
Deron Williams (15 games): 23.0 PTS/48 + 19.3 PTS/48 = 42.3 PTSG/48
Jrue Holiday (15 games): 21.9 PTS/48 + 19.8 PTS/48 = 41.7 PTSG/48
Kyrie Irving (15 games): 27.0 PTS/48 + 14.4 PTS/48 = 41.4 PTSG/48
Darren Collison (14 games): 21.5 PTS/48 + 19.1 PTS/48 = 40.6 PTSG/48
That’s about where Rondo should fall on the NBA’s point guard rankings this season. You’d probably take Rondo over a couple who have generated more points per 48 minutes this season (Rubio, Teague), but you might also consider a handful who rank below him on this list. Lowry, Lillard and Parker are a few that come to mind. Of course, offense isn’t the only factor in rating a point guard, but defense hasn’t helped Rondo’s cause, either. The Celtics rank 27th in defensive rating this season, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions, and that number is slightly worse with Rondo on the court (110.9), according to Basketball Reference.
Based on his production this season, the overall conversation about the Celtics captain is shifting from, “Is Rondo a top-five point guard?” to, “Is Rondo a top-10 point guard?” And that’s a concern.
It’s time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.
RAJON RONDO TRADE IDEA
If the Celtics were interested in trading Rondo, team president Danny Ainge might look to the 10 teams with a point guard generating more than 40 points per 48 minutes for a deal: the Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Magic, Suns and Jazz. Among that group, Houston probably has the most to gain from adding a former All-NBA distributor.
Currently in possession of the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed despite the absences of Dwight Howard (knee), Terrence Jones (leg) and Patrick Beverly (hamstring) for a combined 30 games, the Rockets have started either Isaiah Canaan or Jason Terry and relied upon James Harden to do most of the facilitating. Rondo’s pass-first instincts could potentially pair well with Harden’s scoring load, Howard’s interior presence and Trevor Ariza’s spot-up shooting stroke, creating a title contender in Houston.
In the absence of Jones, European imports Donatas Motiejunas (8.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25.2 minutes a night) and Kostas Papanikolaou (6.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 25.5 minutes a night) have proven productive players. Rockets GM Daryl Morey also has New Orleans’ 2015 first-round pick (so long as it falls between 4-19), his own first-round selections the following few seasons, his top pick this past June — 20-year-old Swiss center Clint Capela — and an $8.4 million trade exception.
While a package of Beverley, Papanikolaou, Jason Terry‘s expiring contract and a couple first-round picks is the kind of four-quarters-for-a-dollar trade the Celtics front office detests, both Morey and Ainge are creative enough to get other teams involved. Beverley, for example, might be attractive to a third team in need of All-Defensive help in the backcourt.
Idea: Not the brightest
RAJON RONDO TRADE ODDS
If we realize Rondo ranks on the lower end of the league’s top-10 point guards, and the difference between him and the NBA’s best floor general is greater than the split between him and the No. 20 distributor on that list, then we must consider the Celtics star will command nowhere near a maximum contract this summer. That understanding could benefit the C’s should they re-sign him.
It could also benefit any potential trade partners, since any team acquiring Rondo may not have to carve out as much cap space to keep him beyond the remainder of this season. Still, the realization that two-thirds of the league already features a point guard capable of creating better than 80 percent of Rondo’s offense severely limits the market for his services. In some respects, Rondo’s fall from the current list of top-five NBA point guards might actually mean there’s a better chance he stays in Boston.