It appears as though Rajon Rondo’s days with the Boston Celtics are numbered.
Over the weekend, rumors swirled around that the four-time All-Star has asked the Boston Celtics to trade him. While that report has since been shot down — Rondo and his agent supposedly have no idea where the rumor came from — there are a number of reasons to believe that Rondo may be heading elsewhere soon, either before the trade deadline in February or next offseason.
- The Celtics are rebuilding. Rondo is in the middle of his prime and it’s one that doesn’t belong on a team that is trying to build themselves from the ground up. With winning not being the number one option for the Celtics right now, it would be worth giving his 35 minutes per game to younger players who are in need of development.
- The Celtics drafted point guard Marcus Smart with sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Marcus Smart is a point guard. He’s ready to play right now, but a backcourt pairing of Rondo and Smart doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Once the Celtics drafted Smart, it seemed as though a Rondo trade was on the cards.
- Rondo’s contract expires after this season. It’s unlikely that Rondo wants to spend the prime of his career on a team that might not make the playoffs for a few more years, even if Boston is home to him Brad Stevens is one hell of a coach. There are a number of teams that could use his services and he’ll probably be looking to jump ship to a contender who will pay him the big bucks.
Nevertheless, there aren’t that many playoff teams that would really benefit from having Rondo on their roster, which is where it gets interesting. After all, there’s an abundance of good point guards around the league. Not only that, there is one facet of Rondo’s game that appears to make him a bad fit in most systems: his jumpshot, or lack thereof. Unlike the Chris Pauls and Damian Lillards of the league, Rondo has never been a deadeye outside shooter — a key asset for a point guard to have in the NBA today, as teams, more than ever, place a premium on floor spacing.
However, prior to his ACL injury in 2012-2013, Rondo flaunted off a greatly improved jumper, one that could make him a better fit in most systems than many expect. For that reason, is it still a worthy concern?
Rondo was indeed a dismal shooter when he began his career with the Boston Celtics in 2006-2007. As a rookie, he attempted a total of 118 shots outside of the paint and only made 33 of them (27.9 percent). While he improved from that point on, the scouting report soon became to back off of him and bait him into settling for jumpshots. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen as his teammates for the majority of his career, a midrange jumper from Rondo was a shot teams would gladly give up if it meant he wasn’t getting in the paint and dishing it off to one of his Hall of Fame teammates.
While Rondo is still, by no means, a knockdown shooter, he’s gotten to a point where defenses have to hone in on him. In 2010-2011, he shot 97-for-235 (41.28 percent) from midrange; and in 2011-2012, he shot 64-for-163 (39.26 percent). Also, although it’s only a small sample size, Rondo attempted a career-high 90 3-pointers last season, and did so in only 30 games. While he only made 28.9 percent of those, it’s clear that he’s making an effort to expand his range, something that would make him even more sought after. There’s a reason Paul Pierce said he could be “unstoppable” if he adds that to his game.
The table below is of Rondo’s shooting numbers in comparison to some of the better scoring point guards in the NBA last season. The reason Rondo’s last two seasons aren’t included is because he only played in 68 games. As you’ll see, Rondo doesn’t match up with them in each and every spot — for one, he’s not a great shooter from between 3-to-16 feet from the basket. Nevertheless, he’s right in the mix with most of them, both in terms of percentage made and volume, when it comes to shooting from around the rim and 16-to-23 feet from the basket.
While that spot is, by most standards, considered as the least valuable shot in basketball, it’s huge in terms of Rondo’s ability to keep defenders honest. He’s already an elite playmaker and, when healthy, among the league’s best at finishing at the rim. However, without an outside jumpshot, teams can hamper his effectiveness by backing off him, packing the paint and daring him to shoot. Therefore, if he’s able to knock down long range jumpers (not necessarily 3-pointers, although that would be nice), it forces defenses to play him normally, allowing him to stick to what he does best — break down defenses and find open teammates in their sweet spots.
When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were a part of the Boston Celtics, Rondo didn’t have to be a knockdown shooter, because his role was to feed them. However, as a secondary or even tertiary option, it’s important that he can connect on some outside jumpers, which he has proven over the years. The majority of his offense comes out of pick and rolls, so his ability to hurt defenses in a variety of ways — drives to the basket, kick outs to the perimeter, or midrange jumpshots — makes him an even bigger threat on the offensive end. Teams started to even go over screens last season, playing right into Rondo’s strengths, as Brad Stevens told the media, via The Boston Globe.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of respect, but sometimes you pick your poison, just like we do, with a really good player. I think you are seeing that more and more, that they’re going over [screens], because he is also good at getting them lower when they go under, and our guys, our bigs, are doing a really good job — twice as good a job as we were [doing] earlier in the season — of setting the right angles on their screens.”
Note: Since 2009, pick-and-rolls have made up over a quarter of Rondo’s offense. It’s been on the rise since 2011, too, with nearly 50 percent of his field goals coming out of pick-and-rolls last season.
Rondo has never been a scorer, so he is very selective with the shots he takes. As a result, we have a much smaller sample size to work with when it comes to his outside shooting ability when compared to other point guards. Not only that, his numbers are likely inflated because of the way defenses play him. Quite simply: defenders have always baited him into taking jumpshots, particularly in pick-and-rolls, by going under screens and backing way off of him.
To add to that, Rondo has only played without Garnett, Allen and Pierce for three seasons — his very first, which was a disaster, and the last two, which have been riddled with a knee injury. So it still remains to be seen how he can get his shot off as a primary option and if he can continue to convert them at a respectable rate with defenders playing him more honestly.
Rondo isn’t the shooter that many of the elite point guards are and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be a big time 3-point shooter. However, that doesn’t mean he’s unable to space the floor and that he’d be a bad fit in a lot of the outside shooting systems that operate in the NBA today. Even if his numbers have been inflated over the years as a result of how defenses have played him, he’s proven that he can knock down midrange jumpers, thereby forcing teams to respect that and alter the way they try to slow him down. (Teams have also learnt that going over screens against Rondo is a death wish, so he’ll likely always get the space he needs if teams continue to go under screens.)
Whichever team lands Rondo — assuming that he does, at some point, leave — will have to adapt their offense to play to his strengths and weaknesses, that’s for sure. He operates mainly in the pick-and-roll and his bread and butter will always be his ability to break defenses down. (So, basically, he wont ever be a spot-up shooter.) But he’s a good enough shooter to give a team a variety of options in half-court sets, and with the right team around him, there’s no reason why he can’t help a contender in a big way.