For anyone who watched more than a few Boston Celtics games in 2011-12, it wasn't hard to figure out one of their fatal flaws.
The Celtics offense, with Rajon Rondo on the sidelines, came to a screeching halt.
Boston's offense as a whole was ranked No. 26 in the league in 2011-12, with Rondo off the court, according to Basketball Value, The Celtics' offensive rating dipped about nine points.
The backup point guards on the team had a lot of flaws. Avery Bradley just wasn't experienced enough to run the Celtics offense. On top of having a sloppy handle, his knowledge of where and when teammates would be open hadn't yet developed. Bradley posted a 1.4/1.2 assist/turnover ratio in 2011-12.
Keyon Dooling has never been much of a point guard, and he was much better suited to be the off-guard coming off the bench. In his one season in Boston, Dooling attempted to play a decent amount of point guard but, like Bradley, didn't have a firm enough grasp of running this offense.
Boston wound up having to use Paul Pierce as a sort of hybrid point forward to run the offense in certain spots due to the lack of a legitimate backup for Rondo. While this was probably their safest option in terms of ball control and continuing to put points on the board, it is dangerous in its own right. Pierce, with the ball in his hands too much, is trouble. It is one of the reasons Boston was mired in losing seasons prior to 2007.
With Dooling's retirement and the current injury to Bradley, Boston was left once again without a legitimate threat behind Rondo. Bradley's injury has not allowed him to take the time in training camp to work on his ball handling and distribution, rendering him a poor option behind Rondo again.
Courtney Lee is about as pure a shooting guard as you can get, so he won't be seeing time at the 1. Jason Terry was a likely option, but running an offense for chunks of a game seems like a lot to ask from a 35-year-old jump-shooter who just transferred teams for the first time in eight years.
The Lee move may be the one that winds up burning the Celtics. During the 2012 draft, Boston could have used their second-round pick on a backup point guard. There were moves that could have been made for them to grab a Tyshawn Taylor or Scott Machado, both of whom will be quality NBA backups this season.
At the time, however, the Celtics still had E'Twaun Moore with the potential for fill that role, and Dooling was thought to be returning as well. The Lee deal, which took place nearly a month after the draft, sent Moore away and possibly played into Dooling's decision as well.
After releasing two of their non-guaranteed roster invitees, the Celtics signed Leandro Barbosa. The one-time Steve Nash backup in Phoenix finished in Indiana last season but was a free agent with no suitors until Boston came knocking.
This was the Celtics' answer to the hole developing behind Rondo. But let's hold the phone on that. Barbosa's abilities when in charge of an offense are largely unproven. Another combo-guard off the bench isn't totally what the doctor ordered to cure that cellar-dwelling offense the Celtics employed last season.
The benefit here is that the Celtics' second unit will not often be running a half-court offense. The plan for Boston's reserves is to be a fast-paced unit that runs and guns, much like the Mike D'Antoni offense in which Barbosa thrived.
However, being a late addition to the squad, and according to ESPN's Chris Forsberg, his visa issues aren't helping, Barbosa is short on time to grab some preseason experience with his new teammates.
In Indiana, Barbosa struggled to produce more than a single assist a night, even granted 20 minutes of playing time with a good offense. While his role is still undefined in Boston, he is expected to produce more than that.
More than the offensive mishmash that was the Rondo-less Celtics in 2011-12, taking their starting point guard off the floor also removes a great defender. A member of four All-NBA Defensive Teams in his career, Rondo has swiped two steals a game during his six years. While I wouldn't consider Barbosa a big liability on that end, there is a noticeable drop-off.
The Pacers were forced to severely limit his time against Miami in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. After earning north of 20 minutes per game all season, he had to be hidden against the Heat. He played just eight minutes in the series-deciding game, but he still turned the ball over three times.
Something that gets largely ignored when talking about the point guard situation in Boston is Rondo's injury history. In recent years, this has become an increasing problem and will only prove more important as Rondo becomes the Celtics' leader.
Boston's star was absent 13 times in 2011-12 and missed 14 games the year before. While he does have a few 77-plus game seasons on his record, the recent woes are worrisome. Rondo takes a beating every time he is on the court. That, in itself, is a double-edged sword too. The more you play Rondo because of your situation behind him, the greater his potential for injury. Then Boston is likely stuck starting two shooting guards.
Would Boston trust Barbosa to start, given Rondo was unavailable? Probably not. The more likely move would be to start Jason Terry and Courtney Lee/Avery Bradley or go big by sliding Pierce into the shooting guard role and starting Jeff Green. The latter is something Doc Rivers has experimented with in the preseason, but not something a winning basketball team should be doing in the regular season.
It isn't just that the ball stops moving when Rondo isn't out there whipping it around. Boston as a team comes to a standstill. Passing and assist totals are nice to look at, but they are a fraction of what the Celtics lose with Rondo on the bench. His vision and leadership are the biggest takeaways here.
Rondo is constantly barking orders and controlling his teammates' movements with subtleties developed over time. A head-nod here or an eye-roll there go unnoticed by television cameras because they are already shooting the slam dunk that the command facilitated. No one else on this Celtics roster can do these things, and maybe no one has the potential to, which is a scary thought.
The Celtics assembled a very good second unit, but if no one is out there to take the driver's seat, it could crash and burn on the NBA freeway.
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