The NBA allows its players to define themselves in a way that is far different from the NFL, MLB, NHL or any other league. Basketball has a certain flow to it that seems to encourage its players to develop their own style and attitude on the court.
There is nothing quite like watching a Dirk Nowitzki jump shot and its high arc as Nowitzki fades away on one leg regardless of whether he's covered or not. We all know the feeling of anticipation as some poor guy goes for what he thinks is an easy layup, only to have it blocked against the backboard by LeBron James, who purposely hangs behind a step to make the swat. And in Boston, fans yearn for that moment when Rajon Rondo fakes a layup and sends his defender jumping up, grasping at the air, only for Rondo to spin for an easy two.
But the NBA also allows for a style not shown in a player's skills. Unlike uniforms of other sports, basketball players can be characterized by their look. When you hear the name Chris "Birdman" Anderson, the first thing that pops in your head is his crazy tattoos and mohawk.
Rondo is no different in showing his style, but he's had some trouble with his choices over the past few years. For the majority of the first few seasons since he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns (and subsequently traded to the Celtics) in 2006, Rondo wore an upside-down headband. It seemed like every time the Celtics played, an inverted Jerry West could be seen on the point guard's forehead. But then the league banned Rondo (and the rest of the league) from flipping the headband in 2010, leading Rondo to lose the the accessory altogether. The All-Star began wearing it again this season against the Nets, but he doesn't wear one every game, as he did before.
It's no secret that Rondo has been on a tear thus far in the 2012 NBA playoffs. In 10 postseason games, Rondo has averaged 15.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and an insane 13.2 assists per game. In the first two rounds, he has led the Celtics with two triple-doubles and a 3.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. What has changed, however, is when Rondo is sporting a headband in those contests.
In those 10 games, Rondo has worn a headband three times: Game 4 against the Hawks, and Game 2 and Game 4 against the 76ers. In those contests, the Celtics are 1-2. But let's look a little closer at the numbers.
Rondo With Headband Rondo Without Headband
Points Per Game: 14.3 16.1
Shooting Percentage: 51% 46%
Assists Per Game: 14.7 12.6
Turnovers Per Game: 2.0 4.0
Assist-to-Turnover Ratio: 7.3 to 1 3.1 to 1
Rebounds Per Game: 4.7 6.7
These five statistical categories are what define Rondo's most important contributions to the Celtics. His chief role as a facilitator has expanded since Boston's championship in the 2007-08 season, with increased point production and his knack for rebounding as the main reason he seems to frequently post triple-doubles.
So far in the 2012 playoffs, Rondo has been a significantly better distributor when wearing a headband. He is averaging two more assists per game and two less turnovers per game. This may seem insignificant at first, but that adds up to four possesions per game. In the Celtics' two playoff series, the average margin of victory has been 8.27 points. With the likes of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett shooting the ball, those four possessions could add up to the 8 to 12 points Boston needs to win.
Rondo's assist-to-turnover ratio has been off the charts, a whopping 7.1 to 1 with a headband, compared to 3.1 to 1 without one. The two points per game Rondo loses without the Jerry West logo on his head are easily doubled by the two assists he gains when he does have a headband. Rondo seems to be more efficient with the ball, distributing better and shooting 5% better from the field.
So what does this mean for the three-time NBA All-Star? Should he always wear a headband? Maybe. The sample size of the 2012 NBA playoffs has been pretty small, so it would be a stretch to definitively say anything of the data.
But maybe it makes sense. Maybe Rondo is more comfortable on the floor with his headband, as he showed when he led the Celtics to their title in 2008. Maybe the band keeps the sweat out of his eyes a little bit more, just enough so he can see the court clearer and shoot the ball better. Maybe it's all just coincidence and it doesn't make a difference. And maybe, just maybe, it doesn't matter whether he wears one or not on his trip to a second NBA championship.