MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 27: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat and Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics fight for a loose ball during a game at American Airlines Arena on December 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Rajon Rondo's continued development on offense, as well as his progression in all phases of the game, is key for the Boston Celtics in the 2011-12 season.
The Boston Celtics have two games under their belt in this highly compressed season, and while while it's dangerous to draw any definitive conclusions from those two games, one thing that is clear is that the Celtics offense has become Rajon Rondo centric.
It obviously bares mentioning that the team played both games without longtime franchise scoring machine Paul Pierce thanks to a bruised heel, but based on what we've seen thus far and in past instances in which the more celebrated members of the starting five have been absent, things probably wouldn't have looked any different from an execution standpoint.
During the four previous seasons in which Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have been teamed with Pierce and Rondo, coach Doc Rivers' offense has been an equal opportunity endeavor. The principles of ball movement, cutting away from the ball, and interior passing allowed for the Celtics to take advantage of the outrageous amount of talent on the floor. Often times, that talent, coupled with the high basketball IQ would simply overwhelm opponents.
Over the last two seasons though, Pierce, Allen, and in particular, Garnett have aged to the point that their talent no longer overwhelms teams, particularly those with younger and more athletic wing players. As a result, their offensive efficiency has sharply declined to the point that by the end of last season, they were considered nothing better than a pedestrian offensive team.
Rivers has shown terrific ability to adjust things within the team to try and maximize the remaining ability in his core veterans, and he's done so again in this situation. Rather than focusing on ball movement and equal opportunity scoring, the Celtics offense in the first two games has looked more like that of the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose or the New Orleans Hornets with Chris Paul.
For those that haven't had a chance to the Bulls play the last two seasons or didn't get a chance to see CP3 drag the Hornets into the playoffs last season with a dearth of surrounding talent that would have even made the 2006 Celtics seem all star-ish, the point guard is more or less a do it all , engine that drives the car, primary option. Essentially, Rondo has been given the freedom to break off a play and try and get a shot at the rim whenever he chooses.
Thus far, the results have been electric. Without really increasing the pace of their offense, the Celtics have put up 104 and 107 points respectively against New York and Miami. That, coupled with the fact that they shot 51% from the field in both games, represents a quantum leap forward for an offense that really struggled to generate points as last year wore on.
The reason that the apparent change in offensive philosophy has worked this well (and again, it's very early to say that this will continue) is because of Rondo's maturity as an all around player. With his constant forays into the lane, defenses have had to collapse a lot harder on him in the paint which has freed up the plethora of jump shooters around him (Allen, Brandon Bass, KG, and Keyon Dooling) to do what they do well. To his credit, Rondo hasn't gotten drunk on his new found responsibility, and has continued to dish out assists at a high rate (13 in the opener, 12 against Miami). In addition, Rondo has flashed an improved jumpshot to keep defenses from sagging too far into the lane and has shown a willingness, if not a dramatic improvement, to get to the line and convert. Rondo shot more than 10 free throws in each of the two games.
It will be interesting to see how or if things will change over the next few weeks once the advance scouting report gets out on Rondo and his improved all around game. Will the C's stick with this new style and make adjustments of their own? Or will they move back more toward their more established star players and what has been comfortable for them in the past few seasons?
It was thought that next season would begin the painful transition from the "New Big 3 Era", but it looks like Doc Rivers is getting a head start on that this season by putting the keys to the offense entirely into his young point guards hands. Even when the Captain returns sometime next week, it might be more pertinent to stick with the new style of offense that has been so effective in the early stages of the year and deal with whatever bruised egos may emerge. Because, for the first time in two seasons, the Celtics look like they can actually put points on the board at an efficient rate again. Assuming their defense (which has been unfathomably poor), which has been the backbone of the team since 2007, comes around, they could morph into a pretty potent all around team and give themselves at least a punchers chance when the playoffs roll around.