The big number from the underlying cacophony of next-level NBA statistics is this: 4.5. That's how many points the Boston Celtics have been better this season per 100 possessions without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo on the court. Just what are we to make of that?
The effect is evident both ends of the floor. Boston is 3.2 points better on offense and 1.3 points better on defense without Rondo. Part of it is certainly due to improved backcourt depth. Last season, Boston had just two guards with winning percentages better than replacement level -- Rondo and Ray Allen. This season, there have been four -- Rondo, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, plus the combination of Leandro Barbosa and Jordan Crawford, who were traded for each other.
This factor is exactly why the raw plus-minus statistic has as many critics as advocates, at least when it's used to compare players instead of lineups. When you look at the 4.5 difference, it's a kind of portal; you're surprised. Then you ask why. After all, the more sophisticated versions of plus-minus (RAPM) have generally been more kind to Rondo. RAPM, which uses multiple seasons of data, had Rondo at plus-3.6 in RAPM last season, plus-3.3 in 2010-11 and plus-2.5 in 2009-10. (The 2012-13 figure is not currently available.)
Yet, says one scout, "Rondo's absence has come as a positive on both ends of the court. Offensively, the ball is moving a lot quicker, reducing the amount of time it stays stuck with one player. Defensively, Bradley's solid defensive principles represent a marked upgrade over Rondo's constant gambling in the passing lanes."