Tag Archives: Rajon Rondo

Hi! How Was Your Summer? Boston Celtics

Photo: Helen Thorn/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 41-40

New Faces: Brad Stevens (Head coach); Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Donte Green and Gerald Wallace

New Places: Doc Rivers (Head coach, Clippers); Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White (Brooklyn); Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams, and Kris Joseph (Waived); Fab Melo

Draft: Kelly Olynyk (via Dallas)

Whether or not Danny Ainge will admit it, this summer marks the end of an era for the Celtics. It’s hard to sell a rebuild to any fanbase, especially be the Celtics’, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck…it probably is a duck.  So, I understand why Ainge or anyone in Boston is trying to avoid publicly calling it one. But it’s pretty obvious, and you can’t fault them for looking to the future at this point.

Gone are championship team fixtures Pierce and Garnett, and Terry as well. In come Humphries (The face of  the 2013-’14 Celtics for half a season?), Brooks, Bogans, and Wallace’s bloated contract. More evidence of a rebuild: Boston received up to four 1st round picks in the Pierce/Garnett deal from Brooklyn in 2014, 2016 and 2018, with the option to swap picks in 2017.

The Celtics also made a great move toward the future in acquiring Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk on draft. Terrific in the half-court, Olynyk works well in the pick ‘n roll, which should make Rajon Rondo happy when he returns. He also shot 70 percent at the rim during his senior season in college which, if that ability translates, should make everyone happy. Paired with Humphries’ ability to rebound (when healthy), the Celtics could potentially have a nice frontcourt pairing by season’s end.

Boston’s offseason has set them up well for the future. Aside from the picks, they will have some cap flexibility down the road. Humphries’ contract comes off of the books after this season; the last two years of Bogans’ deal are unguaranteed, saving them up to $10 million after this season; and with the expiring contract of Brandon Bass and Brooks’ team option after 2015, the Celtics could have an extra $7 million for Rajon Rondo as he will be simultaneously due for a new extension then as well.

It may not be a fun prospect to face being just five years removed from raising a championship banner, but the Celtics will likely be able to return to contention sooner than if they chose not rebuild and decided to make another run for the sixth seed instead. They’ll have Rondo, Avery Bradley, and some other decent pieces, but they will be terrible. Yet, if you’re going to be terrible you may as well do it just in time for the revered 2014 draft. Sometimes rebuilding isn’t so bad.

Electron Microscope: The Fine Line Between Chaos and Creation

Electron Microscope is a weekly column in which I’ll be choosing one thing that I love about the NBA, dissecting it and then magnifying it to lavish proportions. Here’s the first edition:

Basketball, in its most sublime form, challenges and shatters the periphery of its definition as a sport. On occasion, the NBA grants us moments which are either so grand in magnitude or impossibility that the act of putting a ball into a basket transforms into something much greater: high art. The regularity with which our favourite players deliver the impalpable serves as a double-edged sword. We witness greatness so often that, unless it’s shoved in our faces, we no longer recognize it. And the most compelling form of greatness is quite possibly the kind that stems from intrepidity. A risky play is ephemeral by nature, walking the line between life and death with such glory that its demise feels like an inevitable byproduct of its heroism.

This brings me to my personal form of basketball porn: the art of penetrating and dishing in the paint. When performed successfully, it’s touted as aggressive, decisive and marvellous. The execution requires a certain mastery of discombobulating ones opponent, or at least the sheer ability to overpower him. When that bullet pass morphs into a turnover, it’s considered more reckless than valiant, characterized as a microcosm for the combination of inexperience and potential. The NBA’s most tantalizing passers have sung this same ballad time and time again. Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio and Andre Miller come to mind but none of these particular players encapsulate the life-or-death nature of living in the paint the way that Jeremy Lin, the Rockets’ tried and true embodiment of orchestrated chaos, does.

Lin, of course, has a unique story. Just a year ago, his survival in the league was predicated on his aggressiveness. A relentless attack was the engine that fuelled Linsanity and its success has manifested itself once again in Houston. In his short stint with the Knicks, 3.4 of Lin’s 6.1 assists were at the rim, according to HoopData.com. This season, 3.2 of his 6 assists came at the rim.

The beauty of this play, one that Lin has made countless times, is established in the abandonment with which he performs it. Any other guard in the league — save for Rondo, who led the league in assists at the rim with 4.3 per game — would be subdued by Oklahoma’s seemingly perfect defense on this play. Lin had other things in mind. Lin has captivatingly trademarked the act of faking a layup attempt mid-air, only to dump it off in less than a seconds notice. Lin wasn’t the first to do it and he won’t be the last but the deliberate ambivalence with which he makes decisions while four feet above the ground is both thrilling and endearing. However, the dangerous style that makes Lin so effective is the same thing that makes him human, and prone to turning the ball over as the ratio of his assists to turnovers is 2.09, slightly below the league average for point guards.

***

Rondo’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.83 is not only nominally better than Lin’s, it’s far more impressive when you consider the sheer number of dimes he picked up per game (11.8). But even Rondo, nor any other guard in the league, comes close to doing anything like this: over 50 percent of Lin’s assists come from the rim. Of course, his point guard counterparts notch more assists than him, but none of them share ball-handling duties with James Harden. In fact, Lin’s usage rate of 20.36 ranks 24th out of the 29 point guards to play over 30 minutes per game this season. Nonetheless, Rondo headlines the passing creativity of his generation’s point guards, passing just as effectively in the paint if not more electrifyingly.

Where Lin tends to drop the pass off right in his teammates hands, Rondo is a master at leading the ball — and his teammates — where he thinks it should go. It’s the kind of mastery that takes an infinite understanding of the opposing defense, personnel and above all, years of experience playing with the same teammates.

It’s the kind of mastery you know is coming every time, you know exactly what it’s going to look like and you’ll know it’s about to happen right before it does. Still, it’s worth sitting through a game for. Best (and for now, worst) of all, it’s the kind of mastery that makes us pine for the announcer to scream “from Rondo… to KG” while the TD Garden emphatically cheers in unison. Come on, Danny Ainge. Make the same mistake one more time. If for nothing else, do it for my basketball watching pleasure.

***

There’s also Andre Miller, whose role as a key cog for the strongest second-unit in the league has garnered him the most assists at the rim per 40 minutes over the past two seasons. Miller may be a few miles removed from living in a world where nothing matters except for LaMarcus Aldridge’s proximity to the rim but he’s found a new alley to his oop in the seven-foot tall bundle of joy that is JaVale McGee. Miller’s expertise’ in the alley-oop department is admirable, but that’s not what compels fans towards him.

Dre is an inscrutable player. He’s a trusted floor general with an unquestionable feel for the game but he also actively covets moments in which he can throw caution to the wind and generate plays that effectively reestablish the connection between our eyes and our brains. Like the one above, for example. Not many players would be willing to throw a bounce pass across the paint between three different defenders. The success of the play makes it memorable, but the readiness with which Miller fires the pass is what fascinates.

***

Finally, enter Ricky Rubio. Rubio’s passing prowess, much like the games of most international players, is another thing altogether. The sophomore sensation reads the defense in a completely different language from his counterparts because he was raised in a completely different basketball environment. That alone makes him tantalizing to the NBA fan.

He teaches us new ways of seeing the game while mocking us at the same time. The plays that perplex us, that boggle our minds and coerce a collective response of “OMG” are the same ones that Ricky considers child’s play. Rubio isn’t as reckless as he is foreign but his unique style makes him one of the NBA’s toughest covers.

***

All of this brings me back to Lin. Not because he’s an equivocally better passer than any of the aforementioned players but because he’s maddening. His technique is moulded by the obstinate commitment to risk that gave birth to Linsanity and it’s the same commitment that stymies his potential as a star. For Jeremy Lin, the artist and the basketball player will likely never be in true harmony… but maybe that’s the point.

Statistical support for this story provided by HoopData.com 


Statistical Anomaly: Celtics @ Cavaliers

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Celtics last second win over the Cavaliers.

Since Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, Paul Pierce has assumed the distributing role while continuing to be a viable scoring option. He recorded eight dimes and seven made baskets against Cleveland, increasing his percentage of games with at least as many AST as FGM to 59.3% since the Rondo injury. While he has made a strong effort to get his teammates involved, he has still managed to average over 15 points in those games. His ability to score opens up driving lanes for Jeff Green and mid range jump shots for Brandon Bass, two players who have emerged since Boston lost their floor general. In fact, they have scored at least 99 points in a winning effort more time (12) in less games (33) played without Rondo than they did with him (11 in 38). The Celtics are much more talented with Rondo in the lineup, but the playmaking ability combined with the scoring capabilities of Pierce has made them a more efficient team since January 25th.

Brandon Bass missed only his second free throw of the month and his first misfire in 12 games (335 minutes played). Oddly enough, the Celtics are 6-2 since January 17th when Bass misses at least one free throw but have lost three games in the past eight days when he makes all of his attempts (minimum one attempt). With Kevin Garnett’s health issues, the emergence of Bass has come at the most opportune of times. In March, Bass has been remarkably efficient, averaging 1.37 points per FGA (Garnett is averaging 1.18 points per FGA this season). The Celtics are a team no one wants to play this year, but I contend that the end of the KG/Pierce era will not signify the end of the Celtics competitive teams. Rondo (27 years old) and Avery Bradley (22) can hold their own against any backcourt and Jordan Crawford (24) provides a strong scoring punch. In the front court, Jeff Green (26) and Bass (27) have versatile styles that are tough to matchup against. They aren’t an old basketball team, it is simply the household names that are aging. The names won’t be the same, but the win totals aren’t going to change much as the Celtics roster turns over.

Celtics

Each quarter in this game was decided by at least five points. The Celtics won the first and fourth quarter by a total of 13 points (they are outscored by an average of 0.2 points in those two quarters) while the Cavs won the second and third quart by a total of 12 points (they are outscored by an average of 2.2 points in those two quarters). The strong late game performance by Boston is a welcomed site, as they are currently set up for a date with the Knicks in the postseason (the NBA’s second best fourth quarter team in terms of point differential). The subtraction of Rondo helps a bit in this category as well, taking a FT liability out of the game in favor of a player like Jason Terry (86%), Courtney Lee (85%), or Jordan Crawford (79%).

For his career, Daniel Gibson averages 4.2 points per assist, but against the Celtics since December of 2010, Gibson has the exact same number of assists as points. Gibson’s career trajectory has been trending downward ever since LeBron James left town. His percentage of games started, three point percentage, free throw percentage, points, and assists have decreased every single season since The Decision. Don’t be surprised if Gibson, as a unrestricted free agent, isn’t a Cavalier next season, as they’ve got five guards that are his age or younger (Kyrie Irving, Wayne Ellington, Dion Waiters, CJ Miles, and Shaun Livingston) that they seem to like more.

Tristan Thompson, however, is a player that is in the future plans of Cleveland. The 22 year old undersized forward grabbed nine rebounds, his 19th straight game with at least seven rebounds. He has produced seven double doubles over that stretch. The numbers are nice, but the fact that three of his double doubles this month have come against strong teams in the paint (Pacers, Grizzlies, and Jazz) is encouraging. He isn’t the ideal size for a NBA PF (227 pounds), but he is good around the basket and has a nose for the basketball. His statistics are up across the board from his rookie campaign, a trend that should continue as the young Cavs continue to improve.

When The Candle Went Out For Boston

Photo by lilcrabbygal via Flickr

Photo by lilcrabbygal via Flickr

Be it a flaw in the human condition or a knowing nod to the value of beauty, it hurts a little more than normal when we lose the elite. Loss brings its traveling companion, remorse, but the removal of a star from our universe lends itself to anguished gnashing of teeth and dejected despondency. Sadly, on Sunday, we found out that Rajon Rondo’s knee went supernova.

Torn right ACL. Season done. No more “National TV Rondo,” with the aces-over-kings probability of a triple-double. No more Rondo/Avery Bradley backcourt, a frenzied blur of razor-sharp elbows and interminable persistence that we only recently got back into our lives. No more KG-on-Rondo half-hug, half-noogie, all-”big brother/little brother” love. No more passing up easy layups to get an assist and twitter going apoplectic. No more “Rondo is a better pure point guard than Chris Paul” debates.

To call Rondo a star undersells his value to this team and this fanbase. He’s really the last candle for a home experiencing rolling blackouts. Sure, the lights come back on every once in a while and you beat the Miami Heat. When you look at the standings and see how fragile your grasp on a playoff berth is, though, it starts to get pretty damned dark. And as great as Kevin Garnett continues to be, as spectacular in moments as Paul Pierce is, everyone scurries to Rondo when the lights go out. He’s the future of this team, but more importantly, he’s the present. Or he was.

The only solace I can offer fans is that the true beauty of a candle is in the snuffing. The flame is nice; it leaps and dances as it wishes, casting light to the darkest corners and providing warmth and comfort. But the flame cannot aspire to the heights of the smoke that lingers once the light flickers out. The fire was bound to the candle, its dreams restricted by its source. The smoke does as it pleases, dependent only on the breeze. Most of all, the smoke reminds us of the flame after it’s gone. To snuff the candle is to give life to its memory.

Boston will undoubtedly honor its flame. If ever a team were going to rally around a fallen comrade, it’s certainly these Celtics.* KG will double down on his involvement on both ends of the court, possibly asexually reproducing 4 identical versions of himself in a new process that future biologists will recognize as “rage-based immediate reproductive adaptation.” Pierce will continue his descent into old age, while still somehow hitting key shots that I know are pure coincidence but still seem to have tiny leprechauns dancing on the rim as they go in. Captain Barbosa will score 20 points in a couple of games; in a couple others, he’ll probably go 1-for-11. Jared Sullinger will salivate at the sight of every missed basket — in fact, Doc will actually have to remind Sully at some point that he can’t get a rebound on the first miss of two free throw attempts. Jason Terry will become the team airplane while still participating in card games on long flights. And regardless of everything that happens, both good and bad, it’ll all remind us of Rondo. Every missed assist, every failed alley oop, every KG stanchion-headbutt. It’s all just smoke from a flame cut short by an angry basketball god with an oversized snuffer.

*And that’s coming from someone who usually thinks those kind of chemistry-based intangibles are overstated to some extent. Any team with Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers heavily involved is a general exception to that rule, mostly because I’d basically do whatever KG told me to do if he were yelling at me.

There’s still that smoke, though. It’s going to be beautiful.

Synergy Sessions: Synergy Compliments Rajon Rondo’s Defense

Since you don’t have mySynergySports and we do, we won’t rub it in too hard and we’ll even field a few questions for you.

Courtesy BasketballReference:

If we went by the electoral college coaches vote, your Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, isn’t even close to being the DPoY. Maybe Synergy will say better for Tyson. All Best and Worst Points-Per-Possession ratings are for a minimum 10% of play type. The leader for each category is bold.

Tony Allen Overall Rank 108, 0.80 PPP – Best, P&R Ball Handler Rank 23, 0.63 PPP – Worst,  Spot-Up Rank 260, 1.01 PPP

Dwight Howard Overall Rank 48, 0.75 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 25, 0.61 PPP – Worst, P&R Roll Man Rank 44, 0.84 PPP

Serge Ibaka Overall Rank 280, 0.88 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 147, 0.77 – Worst, Spot-Up Rank 217, 0.96 PPP

LeBron James Overall Rank 166, 0.83 PPP – Best, P&R Ball Handler Rank 34, 0.66 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up Rank 268, 1.02 PPP

Chris Paul Overall Rank 108, 0.80 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 62, 0.67 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up Rank 118, 0.89 PPP

__

Kobe Bryant Overall Rank 166, 0.83 PPP – Best, P&R Ball Handler Rank 42, 0.68 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up (37.9% of time) Rank 251, 1.00 PPP

Tyson Chandler Overall Rank 108, 0.80 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 17, 0.59 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up (30%) Rank 322, 1.08 PPP

Luol Deng Overall Rank 108, 0.80 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 84, 0.70 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up Rank 173, 0.93 PPP

Kevin Garnett Overall Rank 108, 0.80 PPP – Best, P&R Roll Man Rank 8, 0.69 PPP – Worst, Isolation Rank 270, 0.93

Rajon Rondo Overall Rank 40, 0.74 PPP – Best, Isolation Rank 14, 0.58 PPP – Worst, Spot-Up Rank 110, 0.88 PPP

By the Synergy numbers, your DPoY is at best T-3 among the coaches candidates, with your real winner emerging from the cellar of the 2nd Team. Your 2011-12 SynergySports Defensive Player of the Year is *drum roll* Rajon Rondo.

Skype that.

Channing Frye is a true stretch 4, and Michael Beasley’s been gravitating further out in the last couple of seasons.

From sister site HoopData:

The Synergy offensive numbers:

Beasley certainly has the potential yet to become an all-around offensive force, unlike Frye who prefers to be primarily a deep threat as shown by his Spot-Up numbers. Beasley was actually more efficient from range than Frye in about half the tries, as both their HoopData and Synergy numbers show. Frye was actually quite a bit better in the Post than I’d expected, an area Beas clearly still needs a back-to-the-basket game in.

In short, while Beasley isn’t going to “awe” you with his threes, Mr. McAwesome, he’s quite capable of making them at a Frye Guy clip, at least in a couple less pops a game. In time he may develop a rep as someone who can’t be left alone on the arc, but in the meantime I hope you’re a fan of hero-ball, cause that seems to be Beasley’s specialty until further notice.

Mitchell clarified his tweet to say how will Randy Foye, now a Jazzman, complement the guys he’ll be playing with. Here’s the Jazz’s current depth chart courtesy the mothership (Logjam? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?).

The logjam on the Jazz isn’t where we keep hearing it is, but on the wing where Alec Burks will do his best to demand minutes every second of playing time he gets. Hayward played the third-most minutes on the team last year so it wouldn’t surprise to see Burks get those minutes at the 2 while Foye slides over to spell Mo Williams at the 1.

At media day, after Foye made one of the oddest analogies ever where he compared Utah to a PBS program with “lions hunting Gisele,” he said this:

Foye: “I’m a combo guard so I’m guessin’ I’ll be playing both.”

David Locke: “You’d rather play 2 than 1?”

Foye: “I would rather play 2 than 1.”

-David Locke with Randy Foye

Synergy actually likes Foye at either spot — his PPP numbers from last year, where he was primarily a 2, and his numbers from 2009-10, where he was primarily a 1, are very similar with an almost directly inverse proportion of percentage in his two most-used offensive play types.

2009-10 Foye was the P&R Ball Handler 43.8% of the time, connecting on 0.88 PPP, ranked 52 and took Spot-Ups 19.1% of the time, hitting a solid 1.06 PPP, ranked 84.

2011-12 Foye was the P&R Ball Handler 18.8% of the time, connecting on 0.82 PPP, ranked 59 and took Spot-Ups 40.6% of the time hitting on 1.03 PPP, ranked 88.

Whatever capacity Ty Corbin chooses to use him in he should be about equally effective, and if Hayward is out there at the 3 facilitating, defenses won’t be able to leave the .366 career 3-shooter Foye floating which should open up some paint space for young guns Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to operate more effectively than last season when Utah had no consistent perimeter threat.

With a career 19.5 AST% Foye is a good fit for Utah who will help bring a measure of patience, balance, and order to a young second unit.

Devil In Detail

Margarita Night

This time, between the end of summer league and the beginning of training camp is the doldrums of the NBA off-season. There is no notable NBA news, which ironically makes everything about the NBA newsworthy. One of the “monster stories” during this cycle of malaise was Dwyane Wade publicly assessing his mid-range jumpshot, acknowledging it needed to be fixed, but specifying that the work needed to be done on the catch. I won’t pretend to have the requisite knowledge to critique the mechanics of Wade’s jumpshot, nor quibble with his assessment of what needs to be fixed.

The mid-range jumpshot is a curious animal. Every NBA player takes them. Some make them, some don’t. But the identity of a few players is so intertwined with their mid-range jumpshots that it’s almost impossible to separate the player from the action. Wade is certainly a member of that genus. In his public statements he characterized himself as one of the best mid-range shooters in the league. For him, that particular shot is obviously a big part of how he sees himself as a basketball player. I agree that Wade’s mid-range jumper is a huge component of his on-court identity. However, on this side of the table things don’t look quite as rosy.

In the piece I linked to above Matt Moore pointed out that, despite his claims to the contrary, Wade has not been one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA. In fact he has been one of the least consistent at his position. Even more damning is the way his struggles to regularly make outside shots are held in stark contrast to his incredible ability to finish at the rim. Among those with an identity tied strongly to that mid-range jumpshot, Wade is one of an even smaller number of players who’s outside shooting looks much worse, because the alternative is so incredibly effective. The trade off in value between a Wade layup and a Wade jumper is visually enormous, but how does it shake out statistically?

With a little support from NBA.com I calculated Wade’s points per shot average on attempts in the paint. I also did the same for all his attempts, including three-pointers, that came outside the paint. I even incorporated free throws, eyeballing it a little and splitting them 95%/5% for my inside and outside the paint calculations. When all the numbers were crunched I found that Wade averaged 1.295 points per shot inside the paint, and 0.805 points per shot outside the paint. That’s a difference of 0.490 points per shot, meaning every jumpshot Wade takes costs his team roughly half a point. Averaging 7.08 jumpshots per game, Wade had his hand in the offensive cash register and slipped out with just over 3.5 points a night.

Especially troubling for the Miami Heat is the fact that his teammate, LeBron James, suffers from an equally dramatic split. His points per shot inside the paint is a robust 1.429, outside the paint it’s 0.923. Although that makes him a much more efficient outside shooter than Wade (and slightly above average compared to the rest of the league), each of his jumpshots costs the Heat 0.506 points. With 9.5 attempts per game, LeBron’s willingness to shoot from the outside takes another 5 points per game from the kitty.

Of course, I’ve just set up and knocked down a straw man of epically silly proportions. Saying that a jumpshot by either player “costs” the Heat points by comparing to them a layup is playing fast and loose with both language and logic. Every shot that Wade, LeBron, or any other NBA player takes is not an even choice between layups and jumpers. Circumstance play a heavy hand in shots that are available. It may seem like both players can get to the rim at will but that is an illusion; an illusion created by absurd athleticism, but obscuring off-balance and ill-suited defenders, empty space created by teammates, and poor defensive rotations. A decision to force the ball to the rim on every possession would leave a slew of additional turnovers, miscues and general ugliness in it’s wake. The outside shot has to be part of their offensive game because the shots they excel at simply can’t be taken 25 times a night.

However, that line of thinking assumes this is a situation with only two possible outcomes, a shot inside or outside the paint. There is a third option – no shot at all.

LeBron and Wade are both splendid passers and generous teammates, more than willing to use their offensive acumen to create opportunities for their teammates. When I suggest that they pass up shots, I’m not trumpeting a grand scheme to quash ball-hogism. I’m suggesting a hypothetical experiment where two of the game’s best players simply refuse to engage with the weakest parts of their skill set.

The top of every team’s defensive game plan for the Heat is – make Wade and LeBron shoot jumpers. “Make” strikes me as a much stronger verb than is a necessary since both players seem more than happy to oblige. Using the same method as before, I calculated that the rest of the Heat averaged a solid 1.004 points per shot, inside or outside. Obviously some of that efficiency comes from the defensive attention drawn by Wade and LeBron, but can we really say that taking bad jumpers opens opportunities for their teammates? I have yet to read an NBA Playbook post illustrating how driving lanes were opened, or corner threes created, by the threat of Wade or LeBron hoisting a shot from 16ft.

Although his reluctance to take shots of any kind means he is working with slightly different variables, Rajon Rondo is already six years into a no-jumpshot experiment. His almost pathological refusal to attempt outside shots hasn’t seemed to affect his ability to get into the paint at will, create shots for his teammates or lead a fully functioning NBA offense. Obviously the system would need to look different, but how much worse would the Miami Heat offense be if one of their basic tenets was that LeBron and Wade don’t take jumpshots? What if they refused to take the shots that every NBA defense wants them to take? What if it was layups, free throws or nothing for two of the league’s best penetrators?

I’m sure this experiment will never be initiated, and my questions may never be answered. Perhaps I’m just grasping at straws, trying to entertain myself for the 40 odd days until meaningful NBA basketball is played again, wandering down dark and twisted trails that weren’t meant to be explored. Still, I can’t shake the revolutionary idea that maybe the best way to fix a broken jumpshot is to stop taking so many of them.

Celebrate The Blues: A 2011-12 Boston Celtics Retrospective

Zimoun, 2009.

The season is over for the Boston Celtics. It was over when Miami’s Big 3 decided to make its triumphant return just as the Celtics’ legs (and miracles) began to wear out. It was over when the team had a 15-17 record heading into the All-Star break and threatened to miss the playoffs entirely. The season was over before it even began when the team found out Jeff Green would miss the entirety of the 2011-12 season due to an aortic aneurysm, or when the Celtics lost convincingly to the Heat in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Life hasn’t been easy for the Celtics. Cheating death—or cheating the many deaths since their 2008 title in this case—isn’t easy. It’s a low-down dirty shame, life is. The Celtics have been singing the blues for years now, but it was never as apparent as this season, and there was no iteration of this era’s Celtics that have stood as bare.

Albert Murray has written at length about the blues as a musical form and as a fundamental metaphor for the human experience. While the blues is rooted in African American struggle, its message, Murray suggests, is about heroic action and fairy tales; universal concepts. Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison stated that, “as a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.” Singing the blues is affirming the existence of a problem and not shying away from it. Murray’s basis for the blues idiom is the ability to be the hero who finds ways to deal with a dragon that refuses to die, to continually readjust to the entropy of life.

All season, the Celtics tempted entropy. Their offense (frequently referred to as “random”) encircled it, as if to be charmed by it. It would certainly explain Rajon Rondo’s almost-expected botched layup attempts. Often, games against the Celtics are determined by gamesmanship, forcing opponents to wade in the same mire the Celtics inhabited. The team’s old legs were able to maintain an elite defense, but the offense became increasingly erratic. Rondo’s brilliant passes—relatively few and far between—were a necessary respite from entire quarters of forced jump shots. But if struggle results from the constant and random changing of events, then the Celtics repurposed struggle as a tool of survival. They combated both the opposing team and their own internal misfortunes by becoming one with the nature of randomness itself. Fighting fire with fire isn’t normally a key to success, but it perplexes and frustrates opponents, opening a window for improbability to crawl in.

Despite having four franchise cornerstones the Celtics place a great deal of weight in the unlikely performances from their marginal players: a defensive shutdown from Keyon Dooling, an offensive explosion from Brandon Bass, an entire game from Mickael Pietrus devoid of boneheaded plays. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce don’t take over games like they used to. Their importance is seen throughout the game, neutralizing and negating the advances of the opponent, creating situations where pawns become essential. It was the recipe for some of the most dumbfounding Celtics victories this season, victories that affirmed the team’s faith and spirit in the face of adversity.

The Celtics transcended statistical norms and boggled the minds of those looking to divert the discourse away from the heroic narrative.  But the Celtics and narrative are inseparable, partially because the Celtics play a game metrics can’t fully quantify. Statistical norms are set up as categorical structures that aim to explain patterns. When they no longer explain what they’re supposed to explain, the structures are revised or scrapped, and that process repeats. The poetic narrative, as Murray suggests, doesn’t need to be revised. It’s fluid, taking into account the inherent randomness of life and acknowledging it rather than disposing of the outlying data. The Celtics are discussed in myths and symbols because it’s what makes the most sense.

Beyond the harrowing lyrics, the blues is celebration music. Despite all the troubles that befall a bluesman, there are still reasons to rejoice, to stay alive. Broadly speaking, these Celtics may be thought of in the future as the progenitors of the modern “Big 3” era, but their five-year run was truly defined by re-adaptation and finding the humor of struggle. Rondo’s ritualistic unorthodoxy after every won tip-off sets a tone for the rest of the game. As grueling as the Celtics’ double-edged-sword style of play can be, Rondo’s antics are a reminder of the inherent joys of basketball. The reality of key injuries and the uphill battle against age isn’t exactly life-affirming, but the opportunities within the game to rise above nature’s limitations are. Dwelling on the absurd injustices of nature is missing the point of the blues altogether. Life is random and absurd. The reaction to it all—in song, dance, laughter—is the tool for survival. In one of his many published essays, Ellison suggested that the allure of the blues is “that they at once express both the agony of life and the possibility of conquering it through sheer toughness of spirit.” The Celtics came close. But dealing with the blues is a daily affair, and you can’t win them all.

Don’t weep for these Celtics. Their era may be nearing an unavoidable death, but life goes on. Indeed, if anything, that was their essential message.

Rajon Rondo And Life On Mars

A team of scientists based at the Carnegie Institution for Science, based in Washington DC, found “reduced carbon” in the meteorites and says it was created by volcanic activity on Mars.

Reduced carbon is carbon that is chemically bonded to hydrogen or itself.

They argue this is evidence “that Mars has been undertaking organic chemistry for most of its history.”

via Mars ‘has life’s building blocks’ | Mark Mardell, BBC | 5/24/12

We still don’t know if Mars has fostered life or whether it ever got that far, but we do know it has one fundamental element to do so.

Thinking about life beyond our world is intoxicating, because we don’t know enough. Finding answers in the cosmos will only bring back more questions, and where would we be if our innate curiosity wasn’t endlessly spurred on?

We didn’t find life in the Martian meteorites, we found possibility. The bounty of questions that the finding holds will be enough to keep us busy until we discover more about what lies outside our event horizon.

We don’t always have to look to the sky to learn about our universe, though.

When Rajon Rondo is on the floor, the Boston Celtics play in “random”, an abstract, structureless offensive game plan that relies on the maddening genius of Rajon Rondo to open up the court on the fly. It’s a style of play that functions and collapses on Rondo’s whim. On a team of aging veterans, Rondo is the director, the architect, and the salesman. But what makes Rondo so maddening is how often it seems his mind is lost in another dimension. From his unique perspective, everything is open and possible. But he’s prone to lofting the ball into traffic, which is when his brilliant vision fails him. Rondo saunters on the line between possibility and probability. It’s often only a matter of possessions before he lands on the wrong side.

It’s what we saw from Rondo for most of Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. He was listless, throwing passes without conviction and missing open layups like he so often does. I wish there was a simple explanation for the bunnies he misses. At 10:17 in the first quarter, Rondo splits two defenders on a fast break with one of his patented ball fakes and flips the ball right off of the backboard. At first, I wanted to believe he thought Kevin Garnett, who had trailed the play, was going to follow it up. But when you’re that open and you’re already at the rim, that shouldn’t be anywhere close to your thoughts. Evidently from the botched possession Garnett figured the play was a done deal, but assumptions don’t mesh well with Rondo. The detachment that Rondo often plays with is the worst kind of confounding.

But then this happened:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/HPbasketball/statuses/206588650144792577"]

In the final four minutes of the game, Rondo was pitch perfect. He embodied everything he is and isn’t at the same damn time. We can talk about how his nationally televised performances have constructed an interesting perception of his season as a whole. Or we can talk about how, for four minutes, statistical probability melted into meaningless garble.

We don’t have to talk about either.

The game was awful. As close as it was at times, the momentum generated by the Sixers was intent on devouring itself before any sustainable lead could occur. What we got from Rondo to seal the game was a special display, one that should be celebrated precisely because it was so peculiar. Celebrating anomalies is what got us into basketball in the first place, no?

We still don’t know if there is, or ever was, life on Mars, but now we know there is a possibility. That’s enough for our world’s scientists to work with, and it’s enough for Rondo to work with. The mystery of Rajon Rondo is endless. The more we try to piece together, the more he confounds. The mystery has become mythology, but is it mythology or cosmography? Whatever it is, Rondo’s Game 7 performance is proof that the universe is as it should be: operating in “random.”


Lion Face/Lemon Face 12/25/11: The Return Of Lion Face/Lemon Face

It’s baaaaack… Fellow Paroxite James Herbert and I will be working on our facial expressions. And in the spirit of Christmas, which by the time you read this will be long gone, we’ll be determining who was naughty and who was nice. It’s what Santa would have wanted.  

Take it away, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rngjZ10yUyA&feature=player_embedded]

Lion Face: Carmelo Anthony

Okay, maybe not the most pristine performance as a point forward (some bad reads and passes), but it didn’t matter. This was one of Melo’s finest performances period. 37 points on 17 shots. He took and made almost as many free throws (13-15) as his number of attempted field goals. Open shots, step-through three-pointers, contested fadeaways. Again: 37 points on 17 shots, which should be totally sustainable. But seriously, it’s  great to see New York basketball back. And as one of the many Melo detractors on the interwebs, I really wouldn’t mind seeing more performances like this in the near future. – Danny Chau

Lemon Face: Toney Douglas

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVl2QfGR16k]

I’m starting to hate this meme. Because he doesn’t do good. He shoots everything and anything. He bricks threes. He vastly overrates the touch on his runners and floaters. What he doesn’t do (because he doesn’t really know how) is run a team. And you can’t expect someone to do something he doesn’t know how to do. Douglas led the Knicks in field goal attempts with 19. That’s two more than Melo, who scored 18 more points. The Knicks need a point guard in the worst way, but they officially do not have a single capable soul on the roster. Iman Shumpert, their pet project (whose problems are very much similar to Douglas’s) has gone down with a knee injury, and Mike Bibby is not capable of anything. So this means more of Douglas doing what he do. Have fun, New York. And hope to every deity in the universe and beyond that Melo figures out this “point forward” thing. -DC

Lion Face: Rajon Rondo

He made jump shots. Plural. Oh, and, 31 points (on 19 shots!), 13 assists, 5 boards, 5 steals, OH NO I’M BECOMING MR. BOXSCORE. Okay, Rondo was responsible for pretty much anything positive the Celtics’ did on offense. His shot looked smoother at the free throw line and on J’s. In the third quarter alone, he had 10 points and six assists. The Knicks in that quarter? One assist. I’m mad the Celtics dropped this and it’s not because I’m anti-Knick. I just hate that Boston wasted his performance. Also, I’m glad nobody heard the noise I made when this happened:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOfqfyc5e3w]

I missed that so much.  -James Herbert

Lemon Face: Shump Shump Sprained Sprained His Knee Knee

Don’t act like you’re too cool to like Iman Shumpert. Yeah, some Knicks fans have ridiculously high expectations and yeah, dude shot 3-13 and a lot of them were easy shots. But hey, a lot of them were easy shots! Shump’s mistakes were endearing to me — he’d make a nice move, then he’d flub a layup and I’d be like, “Awww, Shump Shump! You’ll finish it next time.” After colliding with Chris Wilcox, next time won’t be for another 2-4 weeks. This might actually mean 2-4 weeks of Mike Bibby. I thought we were past that, NBA. -JH

Lion Face: Miami Heat Offense / DOUBLE ALLEY-OOP

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul9iPU2pQVQ]

Wade in the post. LeBron in the post. Neither settled for wily, contested three-pointers because there was very little need to do so. If this is a preview of what’s to come, the league should be petrified. Sure, Dallas looked awfully out of sync, but the Heat are finally in their element thanks to Erik Spoelstra’s willingness to loosen the reins a bit. Oh, and about that alley-oop. This team has a knack for making the spectacular seem ordinary. LeBron turned a potentially bad situation (a blown dunk or a steal by Marion) into an easy two points with a play that was both loud and understated at the same time. The game is really easy for the Heat right now. It’s incredible/frightening. – DC

Lemon Face: Vince Carter and Lamar Odom

It’s almost unfair to single out one Maverick, so I picked two. While failing against Miami was a TEAM effort, these two recent acquisitions stood out. VC missed the Mavs’ first two shots of the game and finished 2-6 from the floor. He was benched at the start of the second half in favor of Delonte West. Odom went 1-6, got himself ejected halfway through the third, and kept showing up in reality show commercials all damn day. -JH

Lion Face: Andris Biedrins

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/BeckleyMason/statuses/151148294339444736"]

I love the version of Biedrins that enjoys basketball! I keep reminding myself it’s just one game, but he looked engaged and confident and this is exciting, dammit. Good Andris Biedrins protected the basket and had a weird knack for getting rebounds in traffic when people really should be outmuscling him. He also finished at an incredibly high rate. I’ve no idea where he went for two years, but Good Andris Biedrins showed up. Is it just that he’s finally healthy? Has Mark Jackson fixed him? Was it just a Christmas miracle? -JH

Lemon Face: Chauncey Billups

It’s one thing to be a fun-suck by making safe and ordinary decisions (which are probably for the best). It’s another to disrupt the flow of the game with ill-advised shots. Billups went 6-19 from the field, so yeah, even Toney Douglas shot better than him from the field. Most of his misses came from threes that he was just so confident he’d make. Open, contested, it didn’t matter — though this has been the case for years now. Problem is, he’s playing alongside the best point guard of this generation and the most promising young big man in the game. He shouldn’t be taking the most shots in the game, especially when he’s missing more than twice as many as he’s made. Billups, I get it. You didn’t want to get pushed around by teams. But you’re in a good opportunity right now. Stop trying to sabotage it.

Of course, the performance would’ve been a lot more worrisome if the Clippers lost. Winning is a spray-on band-aid. - DC

Lion Face: DeAndre Jordan

Eight blocks, and a thousand other altered shots while only committing two fouls. This is noteworthy, since DeAndre had three or more fouls in 72.5% of the games he played last season. DeAndre was impressive on defense last night to say the least. His effort on surely mask his woes at the free throw line. Speaking of which… - DC

Lemon Face: Mark Jackson’s Hack-A-DeAndre Tactic

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah3eg8bBPaM&start=001&end=007] - DC

Lion Face: Ryan Anderson’s Fantasy Basketball Value 

Ryan Anderson is sitting by himself in a dining hall at an elongated dinner table feasting. The Magic, as currently constructed, don’t have a clear-cut second or third option, and all signs seem to point to Anderson to fill those spots on some nights. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to camp out behind the three point line as shown by his 6-12 shooting from three last night. It’ll be unreasonable to expect a double-double every night, but Anderson is a capable rebounder who should be able to get six or seven a night. If Anderson improves his rebounding numbers, he could be what Troy Murphy was for fantasy basketball a few years ago, except a much more prolific outside threat. Pick him up in the late rounds and shock your friends with your competence. – DC

Lemon Face: Metta World Peace

I’m not ready for MWP to be this bad. I felt like something terrible was about to happen every time he touched the ball and, most of the time, I was right. And when did he get so slow? -JH

Lion Face: Derrick Rose’s Threes

The story is his game-winner over Pau Gasol, but what I’m really excited about is his stroke. Rose made four of his six three point attempts. This one time I wrote about how working on his post game shouldn’t come at the expense of becoming a more consistent shooter. It’s just one game, but man, those shots looked effortless. -JH

Lemon Face: Derrick Rose’s Free Throws

There were none. He went 0-0. We’ve been saying it forever: this shouldn’t happen to the point guard version of LeBron. -JH

Lion Face: The Bulls’ Last Second Stop

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNvmLnvsIdw]

It took me a few replays to realize it was Deng who blocked it. How beautiful is that, everyone converging, no one coming close to fouling him? -JH

Lemon Face: Luol Deng’s Haircut

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J43xQ4dTAxY] – DC


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Point Guard Defense

 

Author Illustration

From the Magrathean Archives:

Fook: “Oh, Deep Thought. We want you to tell us the answer.”

Deep Thought: “The answer to what?”

Lunkwill: “The answer to…everything. We’d really like an answer. Something simple.”

Deep Thought: “Hmm, have to think about that… Return to this place in exactly seven-and-a-half million years.”

HoopSpeak’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss asks, does point guard defense matter? It might surprise you to find Deron Williams isn’t a very good defender by this measure, though not so much if you’re a Utah Jazz fan. With a relative lack of definitive defensive stats to draw upon, the eyeball is largely relied on to make a conscious determination on the matter. Point guards of significant stature, intensity, and athleticism, like Williams,  can easily play tricks with your mind’s eye, fooling you into believing they’re making an impact on the defensive end of the floor.

Similarly, small, quick gamblers like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook can present a mirage when examined solely through the myopic-scope of standard statistical analysis, such as posting impressive steals numbers. While Ethan’s opinion may simply be tainted by being forced to cover one Monta Ellis –who picks pockets more often than Manu flops even as not a rational soul in the basketball world would ever claim he resembles anything approaching a good defender– we do have a few other resources to draw upon in attempting to compose a more complete picture. (If you didn’t click on the TrueHoop link at the top of this paragraph, please do so now.)

Ford Prefect: “Is it finished?”

Zaphod Bebblebrox: “No, no, no, there’s more, there’s more. They go back.”

Arthur Dent: “What, seven-and-a-half million years later?!”

Zaphod Bebblebrox: “That’s right. They do.” [presses play]

Fook: “Deep Thought, do you have…”

Deep Thought: “…an answer for you? Yes. But you’re not gonna like it.”

Fook: “It doesn’t matter, we must know it.”

Deep Thought: “Alright, the answer…is…”

“Only when you know the question will you know what the answer means,” and I’m not convinced we’ve asked the right question in this case. But lucky for you, you won’t have to wait around for 10 million years to find out.

Who leaps to mind in today’s NBA when you think “defensive point guards?” We’ve already ruled out Chris Paul and Deron Williams (by any measure outside of an iso post-up situation, just trust me on this –you won’t find anything to support otherwise), so we’re left with whom? Certainly Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo. Maybe Andre Miller and Kirk Hinrich. I’d add anything-Philadelphia, but that’s about it.

The proper question might not be does point guard defense matter, but rather, is point guard defense being played? Because if it’s not, by and large, then it’s difficult to make a case that it does, indeed, matter.

It wasn’t always the way of today with PG D, and it’s only due partially to the “no-hands” era (which I examined more closely here). Offense is sexy. Defense is dirty work no one wants to do anymore. In an effort to understand how we got here I charted the last 25 years of O/D-rating and Points-Per-Game and set it to a timeline of points-past that were well known for their defensive prowess.

Note and disclaimer: Offensive and Defensive ratings are per BasketballReference.com, and are an accurate measure of points scored and allowed. As every action has an opposite and equal reaction, league-wide O and D-Rtgs will always be equal in the summary

I realize that big men have a much larger impact on defense than the little guys, but I believe perimeter players, specifically point guards,  give in far too easily today, playing more with their hands than feet

We used to regularly see point guards on the NBA’s All-Defensive 1st Team –Dennis Johnson and/or Mo Cheeks were there for nine straight years– as well as multiple PGs on it (count ‘em, four times, past) and even the lone Defensive Player of the Year-as-a-point, The Glove, but no more. In the last nine years we’ve had four total appearances, one of which was the aforementioned Chris Paul, and two accounted for by Rondo.

On HoopSpeakLive Ethan notes (4:38 mark), “For all the talk of Rajon Rondo and his defense I don’t think point guard defense matters that much. It does have an impact, but it’s the least important of all the positions [defensively]…it’s not clear he’s having a huge impact.”

Certainly point guard defense matters. Your point is not only your your first line of defense, he’s also supposed to be controlling the game, and not just on the offensive end of things. A point should be doing everything he can to dictate where the opposition goes with the ball, thereby increasing his team’s chance to get a stop.

Most of today’s point guards will all-too-easily take a half-hearted swipe as the ball goes by, leaving their big men exposed in the paint to try and mop up after ‘em, which is just about the worst-case scenario for these guys considering the athleticism and ability of players nowadays, as Ethan notes. Once the ball gets in the paint, the vast majority of the time it will end in points.

If you checked the “no-hands era” link above you noticed that there are more guards on the NBA’s .500 field goal percentage list these days –indeed, three of em made it this year and Steve Nash was right there til the end.  Among point guards, Tony Parker led all in FG% last season, and two other poor 3-point shooters, Rajon Rondo and Andre Miller also find themselves in the top ten of PF FG%. Why? Because point guards don’t defend each other worth a damn, instead relying on help D to bail ‘em out.

Free throw attempts leaders in 2010-11 by position shake out thus: PGs 11, SGs 7, SFs 7, PFs 11, Cs 4. Point guards have found that if the pick-and-roll with their power forward isn’t there they can easily drive the paint now where one of three things generally happens: 1) They score 2) They find an open ‘mate when defenses are forced to collapse to help, or 3) They end up at the line.

According to HoopData stats last season, of the 14 point guard FG% leaders 63% of shots were made “at the rim,” compared to 41% for everything from 3-23 feet. Of the ten leading point guard free throw attempt’ers, 59% of shots were either at the rim or from 16 feet out to beyond the 3-line, compared to just 12% from 3′-9′ and a paltry 9% from 10′-15′ out. If PGs aren’t driving the paint they’re likely popping 3s or near-3s. Chicks dig scars, and chicks dig the long ball, right? Anything in between is no-real-man’s land.

The 3-ball is more prominent now than ever before in the NBA, and high-usage point guards are fond of trying to ring in from range. The 14 best FG-shooting points average out to make about one in three tries, 34%, last season, while 3s comprise about one in every four of their FGAs. An interesting thing happened when I charted in the 3-point percentage to the above graph.

We might expect that 3s would more closely follow along with PPG, while instead we find that over the last 20-plus years it instead appears more closely tied to D-ratings. It took less than a decade –the 3 was first adopted by the NBA in the 1979-80 season– for the 3-ball to integrate itself as a permanent weapon in the arsenals of offensive players and it’s effects have been attached to defenses ever since.

As the perimeter is the domain of point guards first and foremost, as heads egos butt initially from here on in to the paint, on the majority of possessions in most systems, defensively and offensively, this is an area of the game their impact should be felt. Yet we’re experiencing a high,  sustained rate of made 3-pointers. Granted, not all of them come from point guards, but PGs all too often readily let a man fly and hope for the best, waiting with extended hands for a chance to answer at the other end rather than make an attempt to quell a momentum-swinging play in the first place.

Back in the day, one of the most tenacious and annoying defenders in the league, John Stockton, would reportedly terrorize his opponent early in every game by “accidentally” driving his knee as hard as he could into his opposition’s thigh, thereby setting a tone of toughness that seems to be lacking in these “entitled” times of little-to-no real defense. A cursory search of PGs then and now readily shows a separation of several feet on the D end of things for most perimeter players.

Perimeter point guard defense has seemingly said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

_____

More pieces to the puzzle

Defensive Pace Factor, helping explain why Chris Paul gets so many steals; he gets more chances

Sebastian Pruiti’s recent look at How Top Point Guards Are Defended

Zach and Ethan touch on system on HoopSpeakLive. Deron Williams and Devin Harris show it in their numbers before/after 2011 trade

Baron Davis plays weird defense, or at least he used to (Video)