The Boston Celtics seem to be slipping back into their 2009-10 form as of late. They dropped what should have been a “gimme” game in New Jersey Tuesday night and have now lost three of their last four to some mediocre teams (New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers).
Some have begun to question the Kendrick Perkins trade in terms of defensive production. Zach Lowe of SI.com does a good job of explaining the numbers in terms of the Celtics’ defensive woes since Perkins was traded. As Zach stated, the Perkins trade has hurt Boston a little bit but nothing is for sure due to all of the external factors.
One of those factors has been the obvious struggles of Rajon Rondo. For the season, Rondo has been the catalyst of the Boston Celtics, sparking them on both ends of the floor with averages of 10.5 points, 11.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 49% shooting. However, since the Kendrick Perkins trade, his averages have dropped to 8.2 points, 9.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and a deplorable 39.7% shooting. If we look at his numbers of the last four games, it’s even worse (7.3 points, 6.5 assists and 29% shooting). Rondo’s struggles are a hindrance to the team and some have questioned if the trade of his best friend, Kendrick Perkins, has some how dampened his production this season.
Perhaps there is a bit of a psychological factor at play here but Rajon himself has always been a terrible player in March. If we look at the historic figures, Rondo has always seen a dip in production going into March and has usually experienced a rejuvenation in April as well as strong numbers in the playoffs. Let’s have a look at how Rondo has faired in different statistical categories over the past four seasons and how that has affected the Celtics by wins and losses.
*Note: All October figures have been rolled up into November to make charting easier and cleaner. Also, April of 2011 has not yet been played, so this data set will be missing from all charts.
Points Per Game: Rondo typically starts off every season slow but his production usually peaks some time around February. This season, he had a good start to the year with a few declining months to follow, but true to form, he peaked in February. For the season, he has averaged 10.5 points per game, but in March, his numbers fell off a cliff, dropping to a season low of 8.1 points per game.
Assists Per Game: Rondo has slowly developed into one of the best floor generals in the NBA. His court vision and his ability to get players the ball in both a position that they are comfortable and with the highest likely hood of scoring is uncanny. Rondo’s ball distribution has been one of the largest factors in the Celtics’ continued success despite an aging roster of Hall of Famers. His precision passing helps alleviate the pressure of having to create a shot from the shoulders of Boston’s best shot makers. This has been Rondo’s strong suit over the last four seasons and that is reflected in the overall healthy increase in assists on a season-to-season standpoint.
Like his PPG production, Rondo’s assist numbers usually ramp up through each season, peaking in February then declining sharply in March. However, this year was an atypical start. Rondo came out of the gates on fire, averaging 14.1 assists per record and on pace to shatter John Stockton’s 1988-89 record of 13.5 assists per game. No one, except for Rondo, thought that he could keep those numbers up and sure enough, we’ve seen his APG averages drop month-over-month with March’s averages of 9.3 being the lowest number of assists per game for the season. That number still would rank Rondo in the Top 5 for the season but it is a steep fall of from his season average of 11.7.
Field Goal Percentage: Rondo is normally consistent in scoring efficiency. While he has his ups and downs, he will finish out seasons at around 50% FG%, but March is usually a low point for him. This season, Rondo started out as always then climbed to career highs in December before gradually coming back down and bottoming out in March. In fact, his 37.4% FG% in March represents the lowest monthly average he’s had in the last four seasons. It’s well below his second worst month (Jan ’07-’08 – 41.7%) and uncharacteristically below his season average of 49% from the field.
Rajon’s Activity Levels: Just watching Rondo play you can see that he is disengaged from the game. His overall activity has slumped, and with it, he has dragged down the Celtics’ offense and defense. “Activity” itself is not a stat that is kept in the box score or even a metric that one can easily measure. The eyeball test tells me that Rondo is either lazy or tired or both. To account for this, I looked at the simple box score stats that in my mind measure how active a player is. I took a sum of Rondo’s Steals Per Game, Assists Per Game, Rebounds Per Game and Free Throw Attempts Per Game. To me, this helps measure how active he is in the passing lanes or on defense, how willing he is to crash the boards, how engaged he is on running the teams offense and how willing he is to drive to the rim (or if he’s just standing around).
As the charts indicates, Rondo started off this season as active as he has ever been, recording a sum of 23.6 assists, rebounds, steals and free throw attempts. Even when his numbers returned back to Earth in December, January and February, he was still producing at or above his career numbers. In March we saw his number fall again to a sum of 17.0 assists, rebounds, steals and free throw attempts. Not only does this represent a monthly low for this season, it is his lowest output since March of 2008-09. Clearly Rondo has become stagnant on both ends of the floor and that is costing the Celtics in the standings.
Celtics Winning Percentage: With his struggles, the Celtics have also been afflicted in the win column. Over the last four seasons, the Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA. Their pre-January record has been 101-23 for a mind-blowing 81.5% winning percentage. Over the same months in the last three seasons, Boston has registered 75 wins and just 20 losses. However, their record in March over the last three seasons has been their downfall. They have won just 61% of their games, going 23-15 in the span.
In all of these charts, one theme is common: Rondo’s worst month is almost always March. Likewise, the Celtics have historically labored to win games in that month. It’s hard to pin the entire team’s winning woes on just one player, but Rondo has been labeled by many fans and media members as the motor of this team. There might not be any real causation here, but it’s easy for one to correlate Rondo’s declines in production with the Celtics’ decline in wins.
No one can truly tell us what’s going on with Rondo’s game or psyche except for Rondo himself. It’s hard to fully dismiss the idea that the Perkins trade had a negative impact on Rondo, but the numbers tell us that historically, Rondo has always declined in March, even when his best friend, Kendrick was still on the roster. We don’t know for certain whether Rondo is experiencing some serious fatigue from carrying the team over the past 60+ games or if he is just stuck in an apathetic state before the playoffs start. Or perhaps it’s an external factor all together (BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH!!!).
Either way, Celtic fans shouldn’t be too worried; there are only 15 days left in until the end of March and with that the struggles of Rondo and the Celtics should come to an end. Hopefully.
Shane is a contributor to Larry Brown Sports, NBAoffseason.com and Stacheketball.com. You can find him babbling about basketball all over the net or tune in as he tweets nonsense on twitter @Suga_Shane.Google+