Celtics deal with pointed question

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The post-Rajon Rondo world for the 2012-13 Boston Celtics isn't necessarily as uncharted as you might think.

It's still difficult to predict how the team will perform moving forward without its best player, but the contingency plan for a Rondo-less world that's about to be adopted by the whole team isn't one that coach Doc Rivers scrambled to put together between Sunday's victory over the Miami Heat and Tuesday's practice.

The plan, which calls for an offense essentially without a point guard, actually has been in place for much of the season, with Boston's second unit. There never was a true backup point guard behind Rondo, which left the likes of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa to share the ball-handling duties in what amounted to a simplified offense compared to what the starters relied on with Rondo calling the shots.

That simplification will now be thrust on the team as a whole, as multiple players will bring the ball up and initiate half-court offensive sets that will consist of more dribble handoffs and floor spacing than before.

"We were already doing it a lot with the second unit," Rivers said of the new offense. "The first unit was watching what we were doing with the ball movement, the no-point-guard system with that unit. That unit was becoming very successful, and now it's just the entire team does that. We did it once so far against Miami, and so now we've just got to get better at it."

Rivers downplayed the idea of the new system being a significant adjustment for his team.

"I don't think it's that big. I really don't," Rivers said. "I think we've worked on it. The one thing with the second unit, they play against the first unit every day. The first unit works on what the second unit works on and the second unit works on the first unit. So the difference is they'll just do it full-time now.

"There will be games where I anticipate someone will pressure us and someone else will have to bring the ball up. Those are the things we have to work on -- more getting the ball up the floor in a quick manner. I think those are the things we'll work on more."

The Celtics are almost banking on opposing teams applying more full-court pressure with Rondo out of the picture, and Rivers doesn't want some of his better reserve scorers -- namely Terry and Barbosa -- to be saddled with getting the ball across half court, meaning even versatile players such as Jeff Green could shoulder some of that load.

"We have a lot of guards, we just don't have a lot of point guards," Rivers said. "[When Barbosa and Terry play together] actually Jeff handles the ball. He was the guy, if you watch the Miami game; we told him to bring it up because I wanted LB and Jet to be scorers and I thought that helped them. But I think it's going to go game-to-game in that way. That's the adjustment, if anything.

"If LB has a guy that's pressuring him, I don't want him bringing the ball up," Rivers continued. "If we're playing a team that has two guards that can pressure both guys, I don't want either one of them bringing the ball up. And you don't know that until each game starts. Before it didn't matter, you gave that no thought. Rondo was bringing the ball up. Now, we have to really be focused on where their pressure is coming from."

The Celtics' offense wasn't exactly seamless with Rondo in the mix, as they currently rank 21st in the NBA in points per 100 possessions, according to HoopData. But if you're looking for evidence that the point-guard-less system could work, consider the second unit's lineup data from Basketball Reference. In little more than 72 minutes of floor time this season, a lineup of Lee, Terry, Green, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett has outscored opponents by an average of 26.2 points per 100 possessions.

Granted, that lineup might be used far less frequently moving forward given Lee and Sullinger's recent insertions into the starting lineup, but those numbers, more than anything, are evidence that this kind of system can be successful for Boston. It's now a matter of how quickly the Celtics can adjust to the new format.

"We have a system and it's [run] a certain way, and it's predicated for when guys are in and predicated for when guys are out," Garnett said Tuesday. "As long as you run the system the way it's supposed to go -- it's not perfect, but it never skips a beat. It's when we get into doing things individually and not doing things as a whole or not doing things as a team that we find ourselves struggling sometimes or not making adjustments or whatever it may be."

This season hasn't been Rivers' first dealing with a true point-guard-less system. He saw it at times as a player and he's utilized it before as a coach.

"Think back to the Bulls back with Michael [Jordan] -- they had three guys," Rivers said. "As a player, if we pressured B.J. Armstrong, Michael brought it up; if we pressured Michael, Scottie [Pippen] brought it up. It's not that hard to do. It's just different for us."

Rivers also incorporated the method during his coaching days in Orlando with the likes of Darrell Armstrong, Grant Hill and Mike Miller splitting the ball-handling duties.

"I had some teams in Orlando. Darrell Armstrong was my point guard, he's a little like [Terry]," Rivers said. "Grant Hill brought it up. We had the year with Grant Hill, Mike Miller and Darrell Armstrong, and whoever brought it up, brought it up. It didn't hurt us at all, we scored a ton of points. We just didn't have a lot more talent after that."

With more talent now at his disposal, Rivers is hoping this new system can keep the Celtics afloat in Rondo-less waters. Several of the key role players who have to step up with Rondo out -- particularly Terry and Lee -- have underperformed at times, but with the team down a rotation player, more stable minutes for the remaining guard core could help in Boston's search for consistency.

"I think consistency always helps," Rivers said. "I think it'll help [Terry] in some ways, just because, you know, he'll have the ball at times, probably more. And it may hurt some guys. You just don't know. That's the unanswered question. I'm hoping it helps some guys, but you never know."

What Rivers does know is that his team isn't running from a future without its All-Star point guard -- or any real point guard for that matter. The new system isn't entirely foreign, and Rivers is hoping the team's familiarity with it will ease the transition. A quick adjustment could go a long way toward helping to validate Rivers' ongoing claims that his club, even without Rondo, can be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Greg Payne is a regular contributor to ESPNBoston.com's Celtics coverage.