There’s been a lot of concern and criticism of Rajon Rondo and how his presence has affected the Dallas Mavericks offensive flow. Many have questioned if he’s the right fit for this Mavs team, well those critics are about to see how a Rondo-less Mavs team holds up without him.
Rondo suffered fractures to his nose and left orbital bone Saturday night against the Orlando Magic and early indications are he may be out for a few weeks. Say what you will about Rondo’s jump shot and free throw shooting, his vision on offense and defensive presence is impeccable to this team. With Rondo on the floor they’ve improved over 5 points in their defensive rating for an impressive 98.7 points per 100 possession) with Rondo on the floor.
Now we’ve seen what life before Rondo is with the Mavericks firing on all cylinders but failing to stop anybody on the defensive end. The Mavs were simply outplayed and at times dominated by opposing potential Western Conference playoff teams. The defense was abysmal and guards were able to attack the paint at will with little resistance from any type of perimeter defense.
Life with Rondo hasn’t been perfect by any means with their struggles against the West’s best teams continuing with the exception of their win over the Grizzlies on MLK day. In that game we saw the potential this Mavs team has when they’re on their A game with all their starters intact. Rebounding and turnovers have credited for the Mavs recent 4 game winning streak and some of that can be credited to Rondo but there’s no question he helps this team more than anything especially on defense, the numbers prove it.
It’s uncertain how long Rondo will be out but let us say worse-case scenario Rondo misses 6 weeks which I’ve heard may be possible if he has to undergo surgery with a possible return date of March 13 or 16 against the Clippers/Thunder. Let’s go with the Clippers game as a Rondo return is he has to have surgery, the Mavs play 16 games between now and then with 11 of those 16 against teams with winning records and 7 of those against teams in the current top 8 in the Western standings. That doesn’t include games against the Thunder, Pelicans, Hawks and Cavaliers who all have been getting healthier and playing better as of late.
It’s a tough stretch for any team to go through healthy much less a Mavs team without their starting point guard whom have already had their struggles against elite teams. It’s easy to see a scenario where the Mavs stay at their current 6 spot in the conference standings with them even possibly fighting to just stay in the top 8 with the Spurs right on their heels and the Suns 5 games behind. Dallas could easily go 8-8 through such a tough stretch as they haven’t shown consistency going up against some of the top teams, especially those with elite point guard play.
Now if Rondo is somehow able to return after the All-Star break then we’re looking at February 19th against the Thunder as a possible return about 2 1/2 weeks out on the calendar. That would mean Rondo would have only missed a total of 5 games (Warriors, Kings, Trailblazers, Clippers and Jazz) and you’d have to think the Mavs could survive such a stretch without Rondo. If he was to miss the rest of the month of February he would miss a total of 11 games with 7 of those games coming against +.500 teams.
However you slice it Rondo’s absence will be felt for a Mavs team that has no one on their roster that can solely fill the gap of his absence on the court. It’ll have to be a player by committee approach, even more so if Devin Harris’ is forced to miss a couple of games after the foot injury he suffered against the T-Wolves late in the game.
So to answer the question can the Mavs weather the storm without Rondo, well it really depends how you define weathering the storm. Can the Mavs move up the standings without Rondo? To put it simply, no, I don’t think this team is capable of moving up the standings without Rondo. The best the Mavs can hope for is to not drop anymore in the standings and hold their ground until Rondo returns. The Mavs schedule pre-Rondo was very friendly and it allowed them to get away with their high potent offense against sub par teams but with the schedule toughening up that style of play may not work so well against better teams.
The Mavs haven’t given a reason to believe they can go toe-to-toe with the elite teams just yet. Best case scenario is Rondo returns no later than after the All-Star break, if not the Mavs will face their toughest challenge of the season without their floor general.