Just because Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo are remarkable individual talents doesn’t necessarily mean the duo can work together successfully.
Sure, Green made an impressive case to be an NBA All-Star last season and Rondo is a former NBA champion. However, neither accomplished their respective feats with the other one present on the court.
That’s going to have to change if the Boston Celtics hope to put together their seventh straight winning season.
It will be up to Green and Rondo to right the ship.
For Green, he’ll go from one of the first reserves off the bench to a key player in the starting lineup. On the other hand, Rondo will go from a leader on an old, aging roster to the leader on a young, rebuilding squad.
But is Boston too small of an environment for both to succeed in?
Jelling With Rondo
While he is arguably one of the best point guards in the league, Rondo’s playing style isn’t suitable for everyone. In fact, over the years, several Celtics have actually fared better statistically when the 27-year-old was off the court—a list that includes Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger.
However, don’t count Kevin Garnett among them.
Last season, with Rondo on the floor, Garnett shot 67.5 percent on attempts from within five feet and 50 percent on attempts from 15-19 feet. Those numbers dropped to 61.2 and 45 percent, respectively, with the All-Star point guard on the bench.
The 2011-12 campaign brought much of the same. Garnett shot 64.2 percent on attempts from within five feet and 51.7 percent on attempts from 15-19 feet with Rondo on the court. Without him, Garnett’s field-goal percentages decreased to 57.1 and 47.1, respectively.
The duo’s ability to run successful pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops is largely responsible for that improvement.
When coming off picks, Rondo’s versatility gives the opposing defenses nightmares. Inside the paint, he usually draws two, sometimes three defenders. That opens up a player like Garnett for either a wide-open jump shot or an easy bucket inside the paint.
Another player that has reaped the benefits in the past is former Boston sharpshooter Ray Allen.
During his last season with the team (2010-11), Allen shot 53.5 percent from corner threes and 65.2 percent from the restricted area with Rondo on the floor. Those numbers dropped to 39.1 and 58 percent, respectively, without him. Not to mention, Allen also got more looks from the corner (17.6 percent of his total field-goal attempts) with Rondo as compared to without him (9.4 percent).
That's not to say Allen's movement wasn't just as good without Rondo. But it's likely that without Rondo on the court, Allen was the defense's top priority, thus limiting his opportunities.
But aside from his terrific court vision, Rondo’s knack for rebounding has helped benefit his teammates as well.
When a point guard can rebound well—Rondo led all point guards with 4.4 defensive rebounds per game—it gives his team the advantage on the fast break. That’s because there’s no need for an outlet pass to get the ball into the hands of the best playmaker on the court. This saves time and gives the offense a chance to catch the defense napping.
Rondo has always done a good job of that.
As you can see, the Celtics’ fast break has been a whole lot more formidable with the former Kentucky standout running things. It’s especially an incredible asset when you consider Boston has a team full of young legs and players eager to contribute.
How Does Green Fit In?
Right now, it’s hard to tell.
Sure, the 27-year-old has been with the Celtics since the second half of the 2011-12 season. However, he’s only played alongside Rondo in 43 games.
That doesn’t even include the tear Green went on during the tail end of last year.
Last season, with Rondo on the court, Green averaged 13.3 points per 36 minutes. He also shot just 38.2 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from beyond the arc.
On the other hand, without Rondo, Green averaged 17.4 points per 36 minutes. He also shot 49 percent from the floor and 41.5 percent from three-point range.
The 2010-11 season was another story.
With Rondo on the court, Green averaged 13.9 points per 36 minutes on 51.4 percent shooting from the field (33.3 from downtown). Without Rondo, Green averaged 15.7 points per 36 minutes on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor (30.3 from beyond the arc).
Next, there’s the usage rate of both players.
Last year, Rondo had a usage rate of 20.8 percent. Through Jan. 26—before Rondo was sidelined for the remainder of the year—Green’s usage rate was just 10.9.
That number jumped to 16.7 percent after Jan. 26. It increased to 19.3 over the aforementioned final 16 games of the regular season and to 21.5 during Boston’s first-round playoff series.
Can two players who need the ball to go through them so much coexist on a rebuilding team? Sure, it’s possible.
That’s before you consider Green’s success came mostly with the ball in his hands.
Last year, with Rondo on the court, 65.4 percent of Green’s two-point shots made were assisted along with 72.7 percent of his total field goals made. Those numbers dropped to just 46.5 and 55.2, respectively, without Rondo.
In 2010-11, with Rondo on the court, 71.1 percent of Green’s two-point shots made were assisted along with 75.7 percent of his total field goals made. Without Rondo, those numbers dropped to 44.1 percent and 45.9 percent.
For the first half of the year, Green often looked hesitant with the ball in his hands and didn’t have too much success as a spot-up shooter. However, once he started putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shots, good things happened.
With Rondo back in the lineup, it will be interesting to see how Green readjusts.
Summing It All Up
So are Green and Rondo compatible? Going off recent history, the answer is no.
However, the sample size is pretty small to offer up a definitive answer.
Given that both players will be receiving a larger role than the previous year, it’s quite possible they will come out with an intensity to match. It could result in the two becoming one of the best one-two punches in the league.
At the same time, it could be the complete opposite.
But that’s the beauty of a rebuild. You never know what kind of team will come running out of the gates.
For the Celtics’ sake, let’s hope at least Green and Rondo will be on the same page.
All stats are courtesy of NBA.com’s Media Central (subscription required)