When the NBA’s 66-game schedule was first released, a lot of people thought a shortened schedule would largely benefit the older teams. With fewer games, players would have less wear-and-tear to deal with. What they failed to take into account was how crammed these games would be, and how much of an impact that would have teams like the Boston Celtics.
Back during training camp week, a lot of people interpreted the Celtics’ complaints about the rushed training camp as bitter whining. But they may have had a point. This condensed schedule does not favor the older teams, like the Celtics, who are having enough trouble competing this season even with their full lineup on the court.
Old age is definitely starting to catch up with the Celtics. Paul Pierce has been Boston’s most consistent player this season, leading the team in scoring with 17 points a game (which is definitely not All-Star worthy, but still good). But from there, the rest of the Big Three and Rondo have been entirely inconsistent. Just when Kevin Garnett was starting to pick up his play from the beginning of the season, injury took him off the court. Ray Allen hasn’t quite been a disappearing act, but his numbers are definitely down. And Brandon Bass, the Celtics’ most valuable bench player who had been getting quality minutes to give KG a breather, was also bitten by the injury bug, leaving the Celtics in desperate need of some scoring contribution.
And then you’ve got Rajon Rondo, who seems to have become the team’s anchor lately. But is he really? People keep saying Rondo is keeping the Celtics relevant in the East right now, but if you take a closer look at the stats, you find something interesting. I got into a debate last night with a few friends about who is the best point guard in the game right now and someone threw out Rondo’s name for consideration, claiming he’s the most vital to his team’s success. My response was “Absolutely not.” Why?
Just look at these facts: 1) Without Rondo on the floor, the Celtics are 6-3, a product of better defense (Avery Bradley is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the league). Sure it’s a small sample size, but before Rondo was out for that 8-game stretch, the Celtics were 5-8. And even with him increasing his offensive production in the last few games, Boston has still lost six of their last seven. 2) Defenses are catching on to how to guard Rondo: play a few feet off him, keep him out of the paint and make him shoot jumpers, the weakest area of his game. This completely stops the Celtics’ offense and is a big reason why the Celtics haven’t reached 100 points in their last 10 games. 3) Despite being such a smart player on the court, his temper sometimes gets the best of him and affects his play. He is currently serving his two-game suspension being ejected for throwing the ball at the referee. The Celtics suffered a beatdown from the Mavs yesterday, largely because Rondo was on the bench (KG and Bass were missed too).
No one is dumb enough to say that the Celtics would be better off with Bradley at the point, but Boston might want to look into trading Rondo for some new pieces as KG, Pierce and Allen continue to age. In his defense, Rondo had stepped up his scoring to the highest average of his career after learning he didn’t make the All-Star team, but that number is still only 14 points per game. Rondo has never been a prolific scorer because he doesn’t always need to score to be effective, but with Allen and KG also only averaging 14 points a game, someone needs to help Paul Pierce and the Celtics put some numbers up. Even though Boston’s stingy defense usually means they’re competitive in most games, Rondo will have to step his scoring up even more if the Celtics are going to stay relevant, as Pierce, KG and Allen are all producing their lowest scoring averages since their rookie seasons.
The Celtics got off to an extremely poor start this season before picking things up again. For a short stretch, they even looked like the resilient and talented Boston team fans cheered for in the NBA Finals just a few years ago. But unfortunately for Boston fans, it looks like that window for success may be closing on the aging Celtics.