With the start of December I can not help but turn my thoughts to when Rajon Rondo is going to return to the court and what it will mean for this Celtics team. For a while it has been projected that Rondo may return sometime later this month, which I think is the most likely at the end of the month.
After a frentic November the Celts find themselves a win or two over the otherwise lowly Bucks away from respectabiliy, sitting at 7- 12 for a .368 winning percentage. Whether or not the team wants to make the playoffs they are a game and a half out in the underwhelming Eastern conference and a half game out of the Atlantic division.
There are, I think, a couple of different questions we need to answer to estimate what Rondo's return might be for the team. For the purpose of this post I will be assuming a healthy return for Rondo allowing him to play at a comparable level to his preinjury production, which is, I think, likely but certainly not guaranteed. We also have to look at how good Rondo is, whose minutes he takes, and any affect he may have on his teammates and the line ups used.
Before the season started I had a post that used some of the advanced one number player metrics to evaluate the Celtics roster and settled on comparing the wins above replacement each player would be worth assuming the player played 36 minutes a game for every game. The idea wasn't that I assumed any of the players would do that, just to scale their expected production on the same level. Rondo was projected to have the highest wins above replacement per 36 of any player on the Celtic roster.
The before season projection used five different metrics to project player production, Wins Produced, ASPM, EZPM, xRAPM and Win Shares. Rondo's median projection was 10.5 wins above starting a replacement level Point Guard for 36 minutes a night. Of course, part of that equation is the production of a replacement level guard. So we need to look at exactly whose minutes a returning Rondo is taking and how productive they have been.
For the most part one would expect Rondo's return will affect the guard rotation for the Celtics. The primary player taking the roll of Point Guard over the last fifteen games has been Jordan Crawford, but there will almost certainly be a knock on effect, with Crawford sliding into some of the minutes from other guards. Below I have a table with the production of each Celtic guard by the advanced metrics, including a column with the projected number to start the season and, on the right the median of the metrics:
|Name||POS||Median Projected Wins Over Replace per 36|
One of the issues for Boston is that all of the player metrics agree that the guy Rondo is going to replace in the line up, Jordan Crawford, has been their best guard to date, and, in fact, probably their best player. Interestingly those same metrics projected Crawford at below replacement level before the season started, which leads to the question of how sustainable Crawford's current production is going forward.
In those terms, in Crawford's favor are his relative youth, the change in position that seems to better focus his talents and the change in coaches as most playing statistics are less stable when they change teams. Below are Crawford's career stats by year from Basketball Reference showing a steady progression to date:
Notably, Crawford's usage has declined each year while his true shooting percentage and assist percentage have gone up each year. Though, in the shooting area, in particular, we should expect to see some regression, Crawford has proven that he deserves some time after Rondo comes back.
The question is how to accomplish that and what backcourt combos to use to maximize production. That leads me to Courtney Lee, the Celtics Guard with the second most efficient production so far this year who has played the third most minutes. Lee has been close to what was expected of him with even better three point shooting, an important point in a backcourt that lacks stretch shooters.
So far this year Brad Stevens has yet to start Courtney Lee, starting Jeff Green out of position and Avery Bradley instead. Bradley is a difficult player to value because of the disconnect between his defensive reputation and his offensive production. He has played better since being moved to his more natural Shooting Guard position, with a somewhat better TS% and fewer turn overs. But, Bradley does not have a starting NBA Shooting Guard shot and lacks consistent three point range. It is also not clear that he has the defensive impact of a Tony Allen and occasionally seems wear down.
When Rondo comes back floor spacing in the starting backcourt will be even more of an issue. Rondo is a career 24% three point shooter and has only shot over thirty percent once in his career.(Even though I have an irrational belief that Rondo is going to come back with new found three point range based a vague memory of a report that he was working on them in rehab). Either Crawford or Lee should be on the court for the bulk of the time with Rondo to help with spacing.
Given that a significant chunk of Crawford's newfound value is based on his increased assist percentage and more selfless play, he should take on the sixth man/back up point guard roll and Lee starts, if not necessarily finishes. Until Bradley finds a consitent jump shot he needs to be moved to the bench as a defensive energy guy.