|Will Rajon Rondo's knee injury hurt the Celtics more than Derrick Rose's hurt the Bulls? (Elise Amendola/AP)|
BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among three of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.
This week's question: Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, just as Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose begins taking full contact in practice after suffering a similar injury in April. Both are premier players at their position, but whose injury affects their team more?
Derrick Rose is clearly the better scorer and probably best of the two, but Rajon Rondo's injury will affect the Celtics more than Rose's injury will the Bulls because of two factors: age and style of play. The age factor is pretty obvious in the fact that Boston's best players, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are in their mid-30s and past their prime (although credit them for still playing at an outstanding level for veterans their age). The less obvious but more important factor with the age is that Rondo's injury takes a huge chunk of the little time remaining for this group. Rose's supporting cast will probably have an average of four or five years left in the league or with the Bulls, which still gives him plenty of time to get healthy and make a run at a title with a group that has proven it can get close. No one can be certain Garnett and Pierce will still be around when Rondo returns, if the injury takes him out into next season. This was looking like a final run for this aging Celtics group and Rondo may return to a rebuilding process instead of an Eastern Conference contender.
Rondo also is more crucial to his offense and makes the players around him better than any other point guard (or player) in the league. The C's point guard can make highlights out of broken plays and get everyone on the court involved. Rondo is like an effective quarterback who may not have the strongest arm (or best shot) but makes creative plays and his performance on the court makes the players around him better. The Bulls had to adjust to replacing a great scorer in Rose, but there are five other guys on the court that can help with that. Rondo has more than three assists, two rebounds and one steal per game this season than Rose did last year. Those aren't as impressive as points per game, but they still are difficult stats to replace. No one else on the Celtics roster can pass and run the offense like Rondo, and that's why he will be sorely missed while recovering from this injury.
Derrick Rose’s ACL tear happened at one of the worst possible times for the Chicago Bulls — in the waning minutes of game one of a first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. The game was already in hand for the Bulls and Rose was just getting over a nagging ankle injury when he landed awkwardly and crumpled to the floor. Although the Bulls won the series, they failed to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were supposed to challenge the Miami Heat for a trip to the championship round. Chicago signed Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson in the offseason to make up for Rose’s extended absence and both have performed admirably as the Bulls have locked down on defense (the fourth best in the NBA), often looking like the best team in the Association and likely securing a top-four playoff seed.
The Boston Celtics are not going to be as fortunate as Rajon Rondo recovers from his torn ACL. Where the Bulls have Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, the Celtics have Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. There’s nothing inherently bad about this — quite the contrary, actually, as they’re both performing at a high level — but age was already a factor in Boston, and losing the franchise’s youngest star to injury brings even more speculation to how long this core should be kept intact. There were questions about whether or not Luol Deng should be traded before and after Rose’s injury, but he also led England’s Olympic team this summer and still hasn’t hit 30 years old, let alone Pierce’s 35 or Garnett’s 36.
Rose often looked like a one-man show before being confined to the sidelines; Rondo, for all his ball-handling mastery-bordering-on-sorcery, did not. Neither relied on a jump shot to get his points, but Rondo consciously looked for his teammates, which led him to 37 consecutive games with double-digit assists. He also racked up triple-doubles like it was nothing when playing on national television.
The Bulls had a youthful group to rely on even before Carlos Boozer decided to be a good basketball player again. The Celtics’ roster was already questionable outside of its three biggest names, and things will get even more indistinct with the undisputed leader out for the foreseeable future. Whether that means Garnett and Pierce become trade bait while Boston can still get value back for them or the Celtics have to make a panic move in an attempt to hold onto eighth place in the East, the Chicago Bulls will be in the playoffs after playing most — or all — of the season without their star. If this is the beginning of a downhill slide for the Celtics, one of the most historically successful franchises in NBA history may be headed underground.
As a Bulls fan, I’m itching to say the loss of Derrick Rose impacts the Bulls more than the loss of Rajon Rondo impacts the Celtics. I’d love to say Rose is more important to his team than Rondo. However, the unbiased sports writer in me won’t allow for a homer pick. The answer is unequivocally Rondo. The records are the big indicator for me. Even with Rondo, the Celtics are sitting below .500 this season. The Bulls haven’t had Rose from the beginning of the season and are first in the Central division in the Eastern Conference. The combination of Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson has held down the fort in the backcourt for the Bulls. Richard Hamilton is healthy. While none of these options are spectacular, collectively, they make up a solid group that has done as good of a job as any Bulls fan could have hoped for without Rose. The Bulls have played good defense and have a well-rounded team that produces enough offense with great ball movement to win the Central division, even without a playmaker.
Now, when you look at the Celtics, the individual numbers of the backcourt surrounding Rondo are comparable to those of the Bulls. However, those numbers are largely due to Rondo’s ability as a playmaker and a passer. Without Rondo, the Celtics don’t have another creator that can break down a defender, draw the defense to him and make a perfect pass to a cutting teammate or to a spot-up shooter. The supporting cast of Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Courtney Lee is a good one, if there is someone who can create opportunities for them. Lee can’t break down the elite defenders off the dribble. Barbosa is past his prime and not the scorer he once was. Terry is the best of the bunch and while he can handle the point, he’s much better coming off screens, spotting up around the three-point arc, or taking a couple of dribbles to his right before pulling up from 15 feet. He doesn’t have the ability to take a game over like Rondo. This team doesn’t play good defense anyway, and when you remove its best defender, it’s only going to get worse. This team is built around Rondo and without him this team will fall even further than it already has.
The key to all of this is the system that each of these teams play in. Chicago has a much more team-oriented style of play that accentuates the strengths of its players. Hinrich doesn’t have to score; he just has to play defense and handle the ball. Robinson doesn’t have to start; he can come off the bench and spot up around the three point line. Belinelli and Hamilton are getting more opportunities to score without Rose, but neither one is expected to take over a game. While their points per game are good, neither Paul Pierce nor Kevin Garnett is as effective as they appear on paper without Rondo on the floor. The supporting backcourt of the Bulls is based on defense and accentuating its strengths. The Celtics’ backcourt is based around Rondo’s ability to create. Defensively, the Bulls are good enough to survive without Rose. The Celtics are not without Rondo. Overall, no matter how you look at it, the loss of Rondo affects the Celtics far more than the Bulls losing Rose.
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