This past week, the Boston Celtics finally executed a Rajon Rondo trade – to the Mavericks in exchange for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, and Brandan Wright. The Mavs were identified early as possible partners for the trade, but weren’t the classic trade partner – even with Jameer Nelson’s underwhelming year so far (7.3 points per game, 4.1 assists per game).

For the Mavs, it’s an interesting choice. Thus far this year, the Mavs have had the NBA’s highest offensive rating – averaging over 113 points per 100 possessions (a good 3.6 points more than the second place Toronto Raptors). For a team that’s 11th in the league in pace (possessions per game), this is a pretty amazing feat – and highlights the Mavs efficiency this year.

Tracking stats (courtesy stats.nba.com) can tell us even more though. 51% of the teams shots came with no dribbles by the shooting player. While that’s not the highest (Golden State, with the best record in the league, has a very similar 50.2% for example) there are many “title” teams who are less. For illustration purposes, we’ll use the Cavs. They score after 0 dribbles on only 46.9% of the time. The Cavs also shoot with a defender inside 2 feet 20.5% of the time, while the Mavs average that tough shot only 15.8%.

15646820250_c60510891c_bSo what that tells us is that The Mavs are readily able to get open shots. By watching them, you see that their offense relies on passing and moving the ball aggressively around to find the open player. It’s the classic “motion” offense, only they have very high IQ players who look for openings and exploit them through passes – as opposed to teams like Cleveland who look for those opportunities and exploit them through shots or drives to the basket.

It’s quite possible that this is dictated by the personnel of team:

  • Dirk Nowitzki, the teams aging star, is not a drive to the basket guy – he’s the prototype stretch 4 who can shoot threes (he won the 3-point shooting contest in 2006) and back you down in the post. He’s more likely (especially in his aging state) to take a 2-3 dribble drive to make space then shoot a jump shot than go to the basket.
  • Tyson Chandler is a lock-down center who loves cleaning up alley-oops but prefers a strong defensive role and setting screens, focusing on rebounds over points in the offensive set.
  • Chandler Parsons, while a threat to drive, is also more of a spot up shooter (at least in this offense). He excels in the fast-break, but otherwise plays a nice wing.
  • Monta Ellis may be the exception to the rule, and so far this year it’s been a break out year for him. While he’s dangerous as a long range shooter, he also likes to mix it up and drive (although often that’s to set up others).

So in Rondo, the Mavs have decided to add a “pass-first” (almost aggressively) point guard who adds a lot in terms of assists and rebounds, but is unlikely to score in any large numbers.

For the Mavs, it’s a curious choice. They already have one of the best passing offenses in the league, and while a “score-first” point guard might have stunted the growth of Ellis, there are other candidates who might have been a better fit.

Take, for instance, Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets. In 25 games this season, Deron is averaging 15.6 points and 6.8 assists – compared to 8.3 points and 10.8 assists for Rondo though 22 games in Boston. Devon is also (according to reports throughout the league) available. Perhaps the deciding factor is salary, where Rondo is $12.9 Million this year, and Deron is 19.7 Million. That makes sense, except that one of the main factors in the trade is that Rondo will re-sign next year – presumably for the max (so something over $20 Million per year for sure). Starting next year, Rondo will likely be FAR more expensive than D Will.

In Saturday night’s game against the Spurs, the Mavs showed off their new acquisition in a 99-93 over a star-absent Spurs team coming off of a  3OT loss last night. A couple of immediate take aways:

  • Rondo had 6 points with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. In many ways, this was the perfect game for him – one in which he controls the pace of the game, doesn’t eat up points, and gets assists and rebounds to help the team. This will only get better as he gets to know his teammates.
  • Monta Ellis had 38 points on 15-23, including 5-6 from 3 pt. Considering that Ellis averages 21.3 points per game, we immediately see a jump in his points. He was able to position himself and be the permitter-based scorer he is best suited for. The best indication of this change is in assists – where he had one in this game, versus a season average of 4.6. Ellis is allowed to be the scorer, and doesn’t have to think about setting up other shooters.
  • Ellis’ great night meant that others could better fill their roles. Tyson Chandler had 14 rebounds (including 5 offensive rebounds), Dirk and Chandler Parsons both had bad shooting nights, but were able to get free for open shots on a regular basis.

While it’s too early to draw conclusions, the mix of Rondo into the team appears to have started well. The Mavs will have to rely on several role players to fill the 2nd-string inside hole left by the trade, but if everyone can settle into their role on this team, the Mavs have a chance to go deep into the Western Conference playoffs.