An Unpopular Opinion: Rajon Rondo Is Not Making the Dallas Mavericks Worse
At one point not too long ago, Rajon Rondo may or may not have appeared to be the best player on an annual championship-contending Boston Celtics team that featured Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
With the Celtics, Rondo averaged at least 11.1 assists per game for three straight seasons: from 2010-11 to 2012-13. He seemed like the right type of point guard -- a good (yet possibly overly willing) passer and a good steals guy -- to work well with three future Hall of Famers.
But after an ACL tear and some time back on the floor in Boston, the Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and first suited up for them on December 20th. However, The Mavericks are trending the wrong way -- or, just as bad, not trending upward in the Western Conference -- since the trade.
Why is that?
Rondo's Advanced Stats
I can tell you that Rondo is averaging 9.3 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.5 rebounds with the Mavericks compared to 8.3 points, 10.8 assists, and 7.5 rebounds, but that only tells us so much about how Rondo is actually playing while on the floor.
If we check out the two versions of Rondo from this season in terms of some advanced stats and rate stats, then we can see a more specific version of the picture he's painting on the floor.
Rondo is seeing an uptick in both his True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages, but his rebound rates, assist rate, steal rate, Offensive Rating, and Defensive Rating are all on the decline in Dallas.
We might want to simplify the dip in Offensive Rating and rebounds by saying that, "Oh, he's shooting more threes in this Dallas offense and isn't driving to the hoop as much," but that's wrong, according to the numbers from Basketball-Reference.com.
Rondo's average shot distance in Boston this year was 11.7 feet. In Dallas, it's also 11.7 feet. In fact, 87.1 percent of Rondo's shots as a Maverick are two-point attempts (compared to 84.0 percent in Boston this year). Rondo's three-point attempt percentage has actually declined from 16.0 percent to 12.9 percent after making the switch. The biggest difference of all, perhaps, is that Rondo went from shooting 3.1 percent of his three-point attempts from the corner in Boston this year to 51.2 percent in Dallas. He's converting 38.1 percent of his corner threes with the Mavericks.
At numberFire, we have a metric called nERD. nERD is comparable to Win Shares, and it indicates how many wins above or below .500 a team could expect to be with a given player as a starter. Rondo's nERD right now is -5.6, which ranks 121st out of 135 qualified players. Yeesh.
In his career, Rondo has only ever had a nERD on the wrong side of zero twice in his career: his rookie season in 2006-07 (-2.6) and 2013-14 (-2.1). Additionally, Rondo's Win Shares (0.0) are the fewest in his career this season, his Real Plus-Minus of -1.58 ranks just 43rd among 80 point guards, and his Offensive Real Plus-Minus of -2.59 ranks 73rd.
It's no surprise, then, that the Mavs are struggling with Rondo. Right...?
Not Entirely to Blame?
With Rondo off the floor this year (in 2,311 minutes), the Mavericks have an Offensive Rating of 111.7. With him on the floor (in 887 minutes), their Offensive Rating is just 103.0.
But since his first game on December 20th, the Mavericks are posting a 107.2 Offensive Rating without him, according to NBAwowy.com, so the gap is narrower if we exclude the pre-Rondo numbers. The Mavs actually have a higher Effective Field Goal percentage (50.0) with Rondo than without him (49.3) and a very similar points per shot with him (1.059) than without him (1.054).
Rondo is also generating 5.4 points per 48 minutes on drives with the Mavericks, up from 4.3 with the Celtics this year. Also, with Rondo on the floor, the Mavericks are shooting 37.5 percent from three. With him off the floor since the trade, they're just 32.8 percent from beyond the arc.
There are also some people who assume that Rondo's inability to shoot has had a negative impact on other key pieces of the offense and that defenses can sag off of Rondo and hug the team's best offensive players. That doesn't really seem to be true. Here are the on-off splits since December 20th for Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, and Dirk Nowitzki.
The numbers just don't really seem to fit what feels like is going on in Dallas. Effective Field Goal percentages, True Shooting percentages, field goal percentages, three-point percentages, points per possession, and points per shot are up universally among the Mavs' trio while playing with Rondo.
I'm not saying that Rondo has had a tangible, positive impact on the Mavericks -- that's not it at all. In the 39 games since Rondo joined the team, the Mavericks are just 22-17, the ninth-highest win percentage in the Western Conference alone.
And, yes, the team's Offensive Rating is just 102.9 since the deal. Also, Dallas has a Defensive Rating of 101.2 and a Net Rating of 1.7 since December 20th. All of these are down significantly from their marks before the trade: 113.6 Offensive Rating, 105.1 Defensive Rating, and 8.5 Net Rating.
But simply looking at Rondo's on-court play doesn't really seem to fit the narrative that things aren't working out. Again, I'm not saying that Rondo is helping the Mavericks be better, but the Mavericks are slowing down even without Rondo on the court. If you want to buy into the idea that he's put a funk on the team's play on the floor, go ahead, but that still doesn't explain why Monta, Dirk, and Parsons are playing better with Rondo than without him.
Sure, it's easy to point the finger at Rondo for his confrontation with coach Rick Carlisle, and I don't know what Rondo is like off the court -- or really even on it -- as a teammate. Regardless, the Mavericks were playing offense at a historically unprecedented level earlier this season. Maybe regression is just setting in naturally, and maybe it's not all Rondo's fault.