Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics: Assisted Living

Thomas HalzackAnalyst IDecember 10, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 03:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wachovia Center on November 3, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Assisted living means one thing to a 70-something year-old.

I know what you’re thinking.

But to the Celtics’ 30-somethings, it’s a bit different. And they’re not quite ready for that kind of assisted living.

This team’s offense is solidly built around the assist, and it is led by an energetic 23-year-old point guard who was born with the passing gene.

I’m sure that the fact that Doc Rivers was a point guard himself, also made it easy to decide on what kind of offensive philosophy he wanted for this team.

Without getting stat crazy, here is the simple picture…

2009-10: Celtic assisted field goals .647 (2nd)
2008-09: Celtic assisted field goals .607 (3rd in the NBA)

The Celtics are currently second in the league in total assists per game with 24.5.
2008-09: 22.7 assists
2007-08: 22.4 assists (Championship season)

Credit that increase to Rajon Rondo ’s influence on the offense and perhaps a return to ubuntu. Rondo gets one more assist on one more total made basket compared to last season. Is it really that simple? Partially.

While usage numbers won’t really illustrate, Rondo’s ability to direct the offense is getting locked in. He generally gets the team into its offense quicker in shot the clock.

He definitely knows what he is doing more on his drives now. He almost always has an open shooter in mind as he starts his drive. That wasn’t always true before and drives could be unpredictable adventures with unknown endings.

In fact, now you may become frustrated with him passing up open lay ups to kick it all the way back out for open three-pointers at times. Paul Pierce has done the same. That seems just crazy. But hey, I guess it’s working with a 17-4 record.

But Rondo’s not the only assist man on the team. Both solid passers, Ray Allen’ s assists are up slightly, as are Paul Pierce’s. Kevin Garnett’ s remains about the same as last season. But his alertness will hurt any team that doubles him.

As we know, lovable hard-working Kendrick Perkins depends on teammates finding him open around the paint to get his points. His scoring is up 3.5 points to 11.9 on the season.

He is currently leading the league with a 65.6 FG percentage   on one more shot per game than last year, and just as important, two more foul shots this season.

Kevin Garnett is just in such a shooter’s zone right now. And his shots are even more dependent on the pass than last season. From 82games.com:

Jump shot:

09-10: 80% (assisted)
08-09: 71%

Close shot:

09-10: 80% (assisted)
08-09: 74%


09-10: 100% (assisted)
08-09: 93%

Garnett is hitting at a career high 55.9% . But he has gone ozone layer in the last 6 games at 77% on 50 of 65 shots. That includes a number of long jump shots, which makes the streak that much more mind boggling.

I can’t remember when I’ve seen such a reliable long range jump shooter, let alone from someone who is 7 feet tall. And I felt that way before this streak. He is just an incredible treat to watch shoot.

Besides Rondo alley-oops and drive-and-kicks, Paul Pierce and KG have developed a pick-and-roll rhythm that is tantamount to basketball music.

With 13 symphonic assists, the Bucks game is as good an example as you will find to see how far Rondo has come. And he added his scoring at the most important time, with a few made jump shots, and made foul shots, both of which have been absent for most of the season.

That it happened against a rookie point guard and a team that isn’t known for strong inside players, I’ll grant you. But without a special defensive strategy devised to just to stop Rondo, he will get into the interior defenses of any team.

Yes, he will have some trouble against talented interior length. The good thing is that Rajon isn’t the only willing passer on the team.

The team relies more and more on Rajon Rondo’s ability to conduct the offense. But Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett are all good facilitators in the offense, too.  It’s an ubuntu world.

Instead of rocking chairs and passes at nurse’s aides, they’re rocking the house with passes to the open man. And we who love a team game, love it.

Rajon Rondo gives the phrase ‘assisted living’ a whole new meaning to a veteran (read that: aging) team. That Doc Rivers has built the team’s offensive philosophy around passing is obvious to even the casual observer. There is a good reason for it. Most of the successful teams try to play that way.

Most of the top assisting teams are over .500 (6 of top 8) while most of lowest assisting teams are under it (8 of bottom 10).

But is that the only way to win? No.

Four very successful teams are in that middle 10 group: Orlando, Denver, Cleveland, and Atlanta. They all use the isolation play with great success.

Could Doc Rivers have gone with another offensive philosophy that would produce wins? Yes. He has the kind of talent to do that. In fact, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett all worked far more isos, and had the ball in their individual hands more, before coming together on one team.

Right now, the offensive ball movement on the Celtics is pretty close to ideal. Like the oft invoked illustration of a hot potato, it moves around the court to the right shooter. Probably too often, they even pass up good shots, looking for a better one.

Often, the three-second calls they get, are from making one more pass, after someone sets up for a rebound. Sometimes the turnovers are from over-passing. But mostly it is a thing of beauty.

So… what form of basketball would you rather watch?

Doc Rivers has a team, a philosophy, and a point guard that believes in assisting others.

Solo acts? The Celtics will pass, thank you.

Tom Halzack (aka tenaciousT) writes for Celticsblog.com and is co-creator and author of Celtics Central on the CTNews.com website. CTNews.com is the base site for 8 southern Connecticut newspapers owned by the Hearst Corp.

This article first appeared on Celtics Central.

Agree or disagree? Let Tom know.


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