Game 4: Tony Allen?

1212679756On the eve of the NBA Finals I had a conversation with David Berri, one of the authors of The Wages of Wins. Berri is a professor of economics at Cal State Bakersfield and one of a growing number of interested observers who are trying to do for basketball what Bill James has done for baseball. In the course of our conversation, Berri casually asked me, “Do people in Boston know how good Rajon Rondo really is?”

My answer was, I think they do. Certainly, Rondo has been criticized for his lack of a reliable jump shot, but there is a growing appreciation for his array of skills, and the Lakers found out in the first two games of the series that he is, in fact, faster than Tony Parker and Deron Williams. A fact that was confirmed by their ingenious switch of defensive assignments that put Kobe Bryant on Rondo to start Game 3.

The one glaring hole in the Celtics lineup is the lack of a reliable backup point guard which makes Rondo essentially irreplaceable. Which, naturally, leads us to Doc Rivers’ suggestion yesterday that if Rondo can’t go at full speed tonight, he may turn to (gulp) Tony Allen. Yikes.

Allen is one of the few survivors from last year’s debacle, but unlike Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, he was unable to carve out a niche on this year’s team. Some of that is related to his knee injury that he suffered last year. The fact that he sustained said knee injury by going up for a meaningless showboat dunk after the whistle had stopped play has only fed a negative perception about him.

When healthy, Allen is capable of being a strong defensive guard with the ability to get to the basket and finish the play. Never elegant, even in the best of health, the idea of him handling point guard duties is worrisome at best.

Back to Rondo. Perkins put it best yesterday:

“When he’s out of the game, we don’t have no kind of offensive rhythm,” said Perkins. “We’re so off-key when Rondo is not in the game.”

True that. When Rondo has been out, the Celtics have looked less like the best team in the league and more like a McDonald’s All-American team. There is no flow, no direction, and really no semblance of an offensive structure.

Rondo, who says he expects to play tonight, has been providing updates on his blog, which will certainly help his page views. If he’s not at full speed, we may have a definitive answer to Professor Berri’s question.