Late on the night of August 24th, Rajon Rondo withdrew his name from consideration for a roster spot on Team USA. Had he not withdrawn, it appears that he would have been cut from the team after a receiving a Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision on August 22nd.
His departure leaves Team USA with the following guard rotation, which includes each player’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] and Wins Produced from the 2009-2010 NBA season:
- Derrick Rose: 5.9 Wins Produced, 0.099 WP48
- Chauncey Billups: 10.1 Wins Produced, 0.194 WP48
- Russell Westbrook: 8.8 Wins Produced, 0.150 WP48
- Stephen Curry: 8.8 Wins Produced, 0.146 WP48
- Eric Gordon: 1.9 Wins Produced, 0.040 WP48
Rajon Rondo produced 17.2 Wins Produced with a 0.278 WP48. So through the lens of Wins Produced, Rajon Rondo was clearly the most productive player in this group, and frankly, it wasn’t close. Yet, Coach Mike Krzyzewski – widely regarded as one of the greatest NCAA men’s basketball coaches of all time – had this to say about Rondo,
“It’s not so much what Rajon has to show, it’s what our team needs. We’ve found a good lineup, and the international game is so different from the NBA game, you can ask any of these guys […] Part of it is to make sure that we try not to have two nonshooters out on the court, and there’s the physicality, too.”
In sum, Rondo doesn’t fit a team need relative to the international game, and he’s not a good enough shooter.
No disrespect to Coach K. (for the record, I’m a huge Coach K. fan), I couldn’t disagree more. While it certainly is true that Rondo is not know for his jump shooting prowess, Rondo would be an excellent fit, given the rest of the roster.
When we turn to the complete roster for Team USA, we see something all too familiar – the overwhelming majority of players that have been selected take a lot of shots, and as a result, these players score a lot of points. The following table indicates the number of field goal attempts and points per 48 minutes for each member of Team USA in 2009-2010:
Coach K. indicated that the international game is different from the NBA, and that may very well be true. I’ve never been involved in international basketball other than as a casual observer, so I have to plead ignorance. But, international basketball is still basketball. It stands to reason that the things that lead to wins in the NBA – avoiding turnovers, grabbing rebounds, using possessions efficiently, etc. – should translate from the NBA to the international game. Perhaps the strategies and tactics that would produce these outcomes would vary based on different rules or different styles of play, but even if they do, there’s still only one basketball, and there is a finite number of possessions in any given basketball game.
The implications of those facts for Team USA seem almost too obvious: several players won’t get to take as many shots as they’re accustomed to, and as a result won’t score as many points. Given that several of these players rely heavily on scoring to contribute, they will either have to step up their production in other facets of the game or be relatively unproductive.
By contrast, Rajon Rondo is a remarkably productive player precisely because he does much more than score. Thanks to basketball-reference.com, we can easily compare Rondo to the players who will likely log minutes at point guard for Team USA. Although Rondo did score the fewest points per game of these four players, he led the quartet in assists and steals and was second in rebounding. And in spite of his reputation for being a poor jump shooter, his true shooting percentage is second only to Billups.
In November of last year, Rondo signed a five-year extension with the Celtics worth at least $55 million. At the time, the following observation was made by Dave Berri:
“If Rondo averaged about 15 points per game – which he could if he simply took about three more shots per game (or less than one per quarter) – then Rondo’s pay would match what he should get according to the logic of the NBA’s free agent market […]Rondo will continue to produce more than he is paid. Because he does not rely on scoring to produce wins, the NBA player market will continue to undervalue Rondo’s services.”
Given the surplus of scorers on Team USA, it would seem that a highly productive, non-scoring point guard – who has demonstrated his ability to facilitate an offense with the Big Three in Boston for several years – would be the perfect fit for this team. Unfortunately for Rondo – and in my opinion for Team USA as well – scoring has once again dominated player evaluation, and as a result, Rondo will be watching from the sidelines with the rest of us.
- Ben Gulker
Ben Gulker is a Program Director for a statewide AmeriCorps program in his home state of Michigan, where he was born and raised. He’s a lifelong Pistons fan that grew up during the Bad Boy era, suffered through the “Teal” era, and spends his current fan time reading up on top 10 draft picks, thanks to the recent demise of his beloved team. If you ever want to talk Pistons, you can find him among other Piston die-hards over at Detroit Bad Boys.