Let’s Be Real About Rondo

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Published: October 5, 2018

Some have characterized Rondo going to the Lakers as a “big loss” for the Pelicans. They cite his stats, his relationship with AD, and his intangibles as things that the Pelicans will find it hard to replace. He allowed Jrue to play off the ball, they will say. He was a great guard for the Gentry, uptempo offense, they say. He helps the team at the end of games, where the Pelicans would often fumble the game away – that’s another popular narrative. And who can forget “Playoff Rondo?” He is a mythical creature, unstoppable when games matter most.

I have heard all the narratives. I just don’t really believe them.

What I think has happened is simple: Human beings have recency bias, and Rondo was terrific in the series against Portland. It was a fantastic matchup for him, as Portland has perhaps the softest perimeter defense amongst the Western Conference playoff teams. On defense, they could hide him on Aminu or Turner. Or put him on a shorter two-guard like McCollum, who can’t just shoot over Rondo like Klay could (and did) in the next series.

Rondo had a terrific series against Portland and nobody should take that away from him. He got Anthony Davis his first playoff series win, and in convincing fashion. No way the Pelicans win that series without Rondo. They were a terrible offense when he was off the court (102.2 rating) and fantastic when he was on (110). But if the Pelicans play somebody else in round one, do the Pelicans or their fans want him back. Well, let’s look at the Pelicans +/- when Rondo was on the court in the regular season against the other possible opponents

Minny -32.1
Utah -14.3
Houston -6.1
OKC: -2.7

Denver played him off the court as well. The only teams that the Pels could keep him on the court against were Portland and San Antonio. In fact, the Pelicans played 50 close games in the regular season last year. They were good, going 30-20 overall. Rondo only played at the end of 22 of those games, and 5 of those games were for a minute or less. Basically, he was brought in to inbound a pass late in some games. But he wasn’t a finishing player for the Pelicans. E’twaun Moore, Ian Clark, and Darius Miller all played more games in clutch situations. And you know who was really good in clutch situations last season, even without Rondo? Jrue Holiday.

Holiday played in 49 of those games and had a Net Rating of +11.6. His usage was high (27%) and his assist to turnover ratio was good (2.5 to 1). Pels were really good in the clutch with E’twaun on too – 113.9 offensive rating and 100.5 defensive. Did AD suffer without Rondo? Nope. And the Pelicans clutch net rating with AD on and Rondo off? +20.9. That’s elite.

Long story short, the Pelicans didn’t need Rondo in the clutch to win games. Their offense went to another level (112 in clutch without Rondo, 107 with Rondo) and their defense was MUCH better with him off as well.

And if the 50 games are too small of a sample size, how about a full season? The Pelicans offensive rating was higher with Rondo off, and their defensive rating was better with him off as well. Their net rating with Rondo on the court was +0.4 – basically, they were a 41 win team. With him off the court, it was +2.8. Making them a 48-51 win team. And there are no metrics you can point to that show he made Jrue or AD much better players. Their numbers were almost the same with Rondo as without.

Narratives are not the same as facts. I am aware of all the narratives regarding Rondo and how he helped the Pelicans last year. What I am not as clear on is: When did those narratives start? Because I don’t remember hearing how essential he was in February or March. Instead, I heard about his calming influence and immense value to the team right around Game 2 or 3 of the Portland series. And again, he was great in that series. But what if they had played Utah instead?

There is a universe out there where the Pelicans don’t face Portland in round one, and instead they miss the playoffs or are one and done, with Rondo having a subpar series (like he did against Golden State by the way). In that universe, Rondo is gone and fans/media view Payton or some other guy they add as an upgrade. But that Portland series is preventing our minds from being able to acknowledge this as fact, despite the data.

And while many can still point to the intangibles Rondo brings as the true loss that New Orleans will experience, that was always just a band aid for the franchise. Your 5th or 6th best player, who doesn’t even finish games, can not be your leader. That role has to belong to AD and/or Jrue Holiday. Those are their best players, and their most highly paid players. It’s time for them to take over that role, and if the team “needs” someone like Rondo to do that, they are already lost anyway.

Rondo was necessary for the culture last season and for a single playoff series as well. He helped them get over a very specific hump, but there are several reasons to believe that the Pelicans can be significantly better on the court now that Rondo is gone. Forget narratives. Those are the facts.

2 Comments

  1. Chuckie

    October 5, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    Hope it’s a good year for the Pel’s

  2. Bourbon street Baller

    October 7, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    Rondo loss really hurts the Pels … i see them regressing to the 9 seed this year …. just not enough intangibles on this team

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