Is Rajon Rondo's Absence Actually a Big Deal for the Bulls Against the Celtics?
Take yourself back to mid January when the Chicago Bulls were the talk of the NBA -- in a bad way.
Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler were critical of the team's young players, and Rajon Rondo took to Instagram to voice his thoughts on what veteran leaders should do instead of calling out young players in the media.
The team was 23-24 after a fourth-quarter collapse to the Atlanta Hawks and looked ready to unravel. Rondo couldn't get on the court. Then Butler's name was shrouded in trade rumors. It was not a great time to be a Bulls fan.
But imagine telling your January self that the Bulls would not only make the playoffs but keep Butler, rely on Rondo, and have a 2-0 lead on the Eastern Conference's 1 seed.
The massive probability swing could prove the deciding factor, as Rondo has been declared out indefinitely because of a fractured thumb.
What does it mean for the series?
A New Rondo
During the regular season, Rondo had plenty of problems in terms of efficiency. He played with the efficiency of a player who was worth -3.2 wins for a .500 team, based on our nERD metric.
Unsurprisingly, the Bulls played better without him than with him, per Basketball-Reference.
|On/Off Splits Regular Season||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Rondo On Court||106.9||109.1||-2.2|
|Rondo Off Court||107.9||105.7||2.2|
The offense was slightly better, and the defense was better. That's been entirely different in the playoffs so far.
|On/Off Splits Playoffs||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|Rondo On Court||116.0||101.5||14.5|
|Rondo Off Court||114.0||114.3||-0.3|
The team is playing stellar offense with or without Rondo, but the defense is really where Rondo's presence has been felt. You can credit the fact that he has played a majority of his minutes with Butler and Wade and that those two-man combinations have defensive ratings below 96, which is stellar.
But Rondo has been a real on-court catalyst defensively for this team, as The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor has detailed.
It's true that the absence of Butler (-14.7 net rating in 12 minutes without Butler) and Wade (-7.9 in 30 minutes) have had bigger impacts on the team than Rondo (-5.4 in 29 minutes), but those are the only three players whose absence drops the team's net rating to negative in the series.
The Bulls have a few options.
The most obvious is feeding Butler and Wade higher usage rates and workloads.
The only problem there is that Butler has played 87% of the possible minutes (42.0 per game) in this series, so he can't really go up from there. He does have just a 27.7% usage rate, though, and that leaves plenty of room for more possessions ending with Butler.
Wade has played 33.0 minutes per game (69% of the minutes) and commanded just 21.1% of the team's possessions.
That's the good news for the Bulls. Even without extra minutes, Butler and Wade could take on bigger workloads without Rondo's 19.6% usage rate through two games.
Grant has a net rating of -9.7 in 27 minutes, and Carter-Williams has played just 4 total minutes in the series. That's not ideal by any means, but Chicago shouldn't be forced to put the ball in their hands much.
Butler has been playing big minutes, but there's room for him to take more shots and distribute more, as his usage rate of 27.7% is barely above his season-long rate of 26.5%.
The same goes for Wade. His playoff usage rate is, again, just 21.1%, and his regular-season rate was 29.6%.
Even if his minutes don't climb significantly, the Bulls can turn to Wade rather than Grant and Carter-Williams to make plays.
And avoiding Rondo doesn't solve Boston's rebounding issues. Their defensive rebounding rate of 62.2% is easily worst among playoff teams (only one other team is below 71.7%).
On paper, the Bulls have been better without Rondo during a large regular-season sample, and they still have a huge edge on the glass.
On the court, Rondo's veteran presence will be missed, but his knowledge regarding Boston's playbook can translate even if he's not soaking up minutes and disrupting plays himself.
Per numberFire Live, the Bulls are still 55% likely to win Game 3 and command a nearly insurmountable lead -- even without Rondo.
The Celtics are still in big trouble.