After watching the Celtics throw turnover after turnover in the season’s first two games, on the heels of three straight seasons of turnover disgust, Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe (formerly of Celtics Hub) investigated the issue’s main cause. He found that the Celtics cough up transition opportunities better (worse?) than any other team except the Minnesota Timberwolves, so Lowe did exactly what Lowe does: he dug deeper.
Lowe watched each of Boston’s 197 transition turnovers from last year (which I can only imagine would be like listening to this guy sing for 36 straight hours), and came to what he deemed “an inescapable conclusion: It is largely Rajon Rondo’s fault.”
Rondo, according to Lowe’s diagnosis, was responsible for 86 of Boston’s 197 transition turnovers (44%). That percentage makes sense even if Rondo wasn’t more transition turnover-prone than the average point guard: in transition, Rondo almost always has the ball. It’s the number, rather than the percentage, that causes concern. 86 turnovers in transition over the course of an 82-game season mean that Rondo throws away more than one possession per game. Transition offense, obviously, should lead to good looks. Throwing away one good look per game could make a difference. Throwing away 2.4 good looks (the amount of transition TOs the Celtics had as a team each game) certainly does.
… And here’s where my post kind of falls apart. I’ve got to be honest: I’m struggling with this one. I’m struggling so bad I almost feel like Jermaine O’Neal (sorry, Jermaine). Why am I searching for words that aren’t coming? A couple reasons.
1) I have no context for these numbers. Okay, Rondo is accountable for 44% of his team’s transition turnovers. So what? How many percent of his team’s transition turnovers is Steve Nash accountable for? Okay, so Rondo had 86 turnovers in transition last season. So what? How many did Deron Williams have?
I’m sure it would be easy to hop on Synergy and find those numbers… but I’m a blogger, folks. I can’t afford that ish.
2) According to Hoop Data, the Celtics turned the ball over 1,219 times last year. I know Lowe pinpointed where the Celtics picked up more turnovers than the average team and then examined that area, but investigating 197 out of 1,219 turnovers might not be the best way to assess the team’s problem. I would suggest that Lowe, or anybody else, watch each of the 1,219 turnovers… but I don’t want to be the reason anyone commits suicide.
3) And lastly but probably most importantly, Lowe only watched the turnovers. That’s kind of like trying to find out why the New York Knicks weren’t a good rebounding team last year, watching only the rebounds they didn’t grab, and then coming to the conclusion that David Lee was the problem because he wasn’t in the right place at the right time. No, Lee’s actually a great rebounder. He just doesn’t look like one when you only watch the rebounds he doesn’t grab. If that makes any sense at all.
Everyone looks bad when they throw the ball to the wrong team, right? I’m sure if you watched all of Chauncey Billups’s turnovers (and I use him because his turnover rate’s very low), you’d come to the conclusion that he has some serious flaws. But he actually takes great care of the ball. Rondo might be great in transition at avoiding turnovers when other point guards would normally throw them, but he certainly looks really bad when he actually turns the ball over.
I don’t at all mean to nitpick Lowe’s terrific investigative work, but it probably comes off like I am. I actually enjoyed his piece and found it to be highly enlightening. I always thought Rondo made pretty good decisions in transition, but maybe he’s not as impressive as I believed.