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The Rondo Trade, 15 Games In

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Mavs fans have enjoyed a lot of wins since the arrival of Rajon Rondo. Since he played his first game as a Maverick on December 20th, the Mavs are 10-5, and if you forget about their 1-2 record in their first three Rondo games, the numbers look a lot better. Not only are they on an 8-3 run, one of these losses came in a game (against Denver) in which everyone important took the night off.

But, there are some justifiable concerns. You’ll never convince me that losing someone shooting as poorly as Jameer Nelson was hurt the Mavs’ spacing in any important way–in theoretical, but not actual ways, perhaps–but there’s little doubt the Mavericks have struggled to get things going, at times, with Rondo on the floor.

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And then there’s his shooting. A major issue which almost bit them pretty hard in their striking win against OKC a few weeks ago is that Rondo is literally a 24% free throw shooter as a Maverick.

In that game, with 9 seconds left, clinging to a 5 point lead, the Mavericks had Rondo inbounds the ball on a crucial possession to keep him from going to the line, but go he did, and clanked two. They came out with the win, but of course that’s the only way to lose that game.

The Mavs are lucky in that they have Monta to handle the ball in late-game situations, but what’s the point of having Rondo out there if he’s not bringing it up? It’s not like you need him for his three-point shooting.

If anyone’s wondering, Shaq’s worst season as a free throw shooter was 42%, which Rondo is poised to obliterate. For Dwight Howard, it is 49%. But I digress.

The encouraging news for the Mavericks is that while the offense has, statistically, taken a step back since Rondo’s arrival, the point differentials they’re turning up, historically a good measure of a team’s quality, are roughly the same.

In the 8 games prior to the Rondo trade, the Mavs scored about 109.5 points and gave up about 105.5. In the 15 games since Rondo has shown up, they’re only scoring 105 but they’re only giving up 101.5.

If there’s better news for the Mavericks it’s that the decline in scoring isn’t as easy to blame on Rondo as it may seem. The major difference between December and January, for the Mavericks, is Chandler Parsons, and for the most part, Parsons only.

That is, while Monta is scoring slightly less and at a slightly less efficient clip in January than in December (43% to 46%), he’s shooting much better from three (30% to 40%). Dirk’s numbers are up across the board, from 17.8 points on 43.5% shooting and 28% from three, to 18.7, 44% from the field and 43.5% from three. Tyson Chandler is scoring 11 points, compared to 10, with comparable percentages (66% to 65%).

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Even bench scoring, surprisingly, is roughly the same. While the top five off-the-bench scorers in December, Harris, Charlie V, Wright, Barea, and Jefferson were chipping in 35.4 a game, this month’s top five, Harris, Barea, Jefferson, Charlie V, and Dwight Powell are chipping in 32.9.

Unfortunately, Chandler Parsons has gone from averaging 18.2 points on 52% shooting to 12.9 points on 40% shooting, including a decline from 44% from three to 26% from three. It’s clear he and Rondo don’t have a lot of chemistry yet, but there’s also no reason to think that Parsons was going to be a 52% shooter or a 45% shooter from the arc over the course of a full season.

His best year, last year, he was a 47% shooter and 37% from the arc. Those are reasonable numbers to see him return to, and he was probably due for a decline regardless of who was passing to him.

Meanwhile, the defensive improvement is real and explicable and a possibly positive consequence of trading away Brandan Wright, as dearly beloved as he is, is that the Mavs have just begun to explore what their bench can offer. Dwight Powell had perhaps his worst game of the season against the Grizzlies, missing both his shots, grabbing only one board, and committing 5 fouls in 17 minutes. But he was also +6, joining Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, and Devin Harris in the + column, and he made several hustle plays.

Charlie V hasn’t played much lately, but in the loss to Denver he chipped in 11 points and 4 boards. Richard Jefferson is getting steady playing time, including some important minutes, and has settled down as the Mavs’ best three point shooter, hitting 48% in December and 46% in January. And J.J. Barea hasn’t had a good game in a while, but you know JJ. It comes and goes.

And then there’s Aminu and Smith, guys who don’t play a whole lot but who are a lot better than what you might find at the end of most other benches.

So whether Rondo has really hurt the Mavs’ offense is harder to say than it seems, while it’s perfectly clear that his defense is having an impact. Anyone who watched Ty Lawson in the back to back Denver games knows that, as anyone who watched him against Russ Westbrook or Mike Conley. But it’s also showing up in the stats. And honestly, any kind of resistance up top makes it that much easier for Tyson to do his job.

Long story short, the Mavs’ big trade has already had the predictable effects, and there’s no reason to think that both offense and defense shouldn’t improve as the guys get more comfortable with each other.

Next: Game Grades for Win in Memphis

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