Both are also in a position to stay with the team for a very long time and help co-create another era of excellence for the franchise that has more history than any other.
In that way they are partners. The captain and the coach. Their relationship is crucial to leading Boston through a choppy roster renovation and back on the right track.
They’re both capable of looking at the game in a different way, and it’s important they use all they absorb to complement each other’s knowledge.
So far Stevens has allowed Rondo to ease back into the swing of things with some schematic decisions that will eventually have to change.
Most notably, he's given Rondo the freedom to take threes and quick shots in secondary transition. The sample is small, but so far Rondo has missed all four of his three-pointers, including two somewhat questionable pull-up shots late in close contests against the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
He's also pushed the ball up the court after giving up a made basket, then launched a jumper without making a single pass.
On defense, Rondo is uncharacteristically switching on side screen-and-rolls. This is something the Celtics have done all season, but it isn’t an ideal long-term strategy. For now, though, frantically chasing point guards over screens isn’t the absolute best use of Rondo's energy.
Here’s one example against the Miami Heat, where Rondo and Gerald Wallace switch on a side screen-and-roll involving Norris Cole and Michael Beasley. The situation could have turned ugly had Miami spaced the floor properly and attacked their mismatch in the post.
Instead they go away from it and are forced to settle for a long two as the shot clock is expiring. Boston switches in a situation where they could have "iced" Cole into the corner along the sideline. They instead settled, for Rondo's sake.
On offense, Stevens has already found some nifty ways to get Rondo easy baskets. Most of it’s off the ball in the post, where he hasn’t had much time to shine but is actually quite an efficient player.
Here’s an easy play where three Celtics clear out on the weak side and Kelly Olynyk draws his man out on the perimeter before lobbing a perfect pass into Rondo for the layup. All these are very small examples more designed to get Rondo comfortable than have him thrive as the All-Star he is.
A point guard is a coach’s proxy on the floor. He makes pertinent decisions. Stevens hasn't had that figure yet since he came to Boston.
The Celtics have been near the bottom of the league in assists all season long. Right now they rank 28th, averaging just 19.7 per game. (Only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns are worse.) They also end 16 percent of their possessions with a turnover, the seventh-highest rate in the league (subscription required).
It's no coincidence when you factor in those two numbers that the Celtics have a bottom-10 offense and are ranked 24th in team True Shooting percentage.
Rondo will help Stevens improve those numbers by limiting the amount of wasted passes Boston now makes on most of their possessions. The Celtics usually turn it over whenever they try to run a play of substance. Their offense, sans Rondo, is centered around post-ups, chaos sprung from offensive rebounds, disorganized drives to the hoop and quick pick-and-roll action.
According to mySynergySports (subscription required), Boston turns it over on 17.2 percent of their post-ups, which is 13.2 percent of the time—a decent chunk and not a good sign at all.
The addition of Rondo will allow Stevens to get more creative with his playbook. The Celtics will be able to adapt to their opponent on a nightly basis, either running functional plays in the half court or going up and down the floor faster than before (they're currently averaging 95.83 possessions per 48 minutes, good for 12th slowest the league).
Rondo and Stevens will help each other in the long haul. Both are patient, calculated individuals who want to win. For now, though, the Celtics aren't a very good team, and there's only so much one player and a coach can do as a pair to turn the ship around.
The Celtics will struggle until general manager Danny Ainge brings in more talent to help them out. But they're incredible foundational pieces that any organization would love to have over the next five years. It's a good thing they've already started to help each other out.
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