Analyzing The Anomalous: Rajon Rondo vs. Chicago
When compiling a list of the league’s most polarizing players, with thoughts based purely on skill and not off the court intangibles, Rajon Rondo must be near the top. If not first, then second or third. The jumper is a tired subject of conversation. His struggles are well documented in that area and he’s become too good of a player to have it outweigh his many strengths when discussing what he does and does not bring to a basketball team. This season Rondo’s great dichotomy has come more from overall inconsistent play. It’s gotten so bad that comparing him to Chris Paul, a player who ALWAYS seems to come through for his team in the fourth quarter, and Derrick Rose, a walking stick of 20 point dynamite (on an off night), has become a futile argument. Still, he’s the most promising triple double candidate since Jason Kidd, and, despite the shafting he received due to missing a few games with that wrist injury, a perennial All-Star in the Eastern Conference.
If I look like a flip-flopper in discussing Rondo’s skill, that’s the entire point. At times he’s GREAT, but sometimes Boston fans are left wondering whether trading him is really such a bad idea.
Let’s look at what he did Thursday night against Chicago.
Rajon Rondo vs. Chicago. Boston lost 89-80. Rondo’s number: 44 minutes, 17 points (on 7-17 shooting), 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks
- Rondo might be my all-time favorite player to watch, but the reason I wanted to analyze this performance in particular was his work in the post. He’s shown it off a bit throughout this season and in small pieces a year ago, but on last night’s national stage Doc Rivers made it a focal point of the Celtics’ offense, and despite Boston leaving Chicago with a loss the results were awesome. Rondo started the game with two “easy” assists (ones that didn’t consist of any real penetration or “work” on his part) for wide open Kevin Garnett jump shots, but his third to the Ticket was a direct result of that post work. Backing down a smaller John Lucas III, Rondo spun into the paint, drew Joakim Noah in for help, then kicked it to a wide open Garnett for his third Rondo assisted jumper of the game.
- In the middle of the third quarter, Rondo found himself in the corner on a delayed pick and roll with Chris Wilcox. Watching the play, it appears as though Rondo got himself in a bit more trouble than he should’ve been in. The Bulls had a closing CJ Watson and available Carlos Boozer to push Rondo towards the baseline and into a possible trap. But, as was previously mentioned, one of the would-be-defenders on this play was Carlos Boozer. Instead of sealing off the angle and forcing Rondo further and further into the corner, Boozer mindlessly leaves about a foot of space between his foot and the endline. Being the basketball maestro that he is, Rondo gladly takes advantage with a surgical bounce pass to a wide open Chris Wilcox standing underneath the basket. Wilcox dunks it. Tom Thibodeau screams. This is what people talk about when they bring up court vision; a foot is all an artist like Rondo needs. This is also what people talk about when they say that Carlos Boozer has no idea what he’s doing 60% of the time he’s on a basketball court. I wonder how much of his own salary Thibodeau would forfeit if Chicago’s ownership agreed to buy out Boozer’s contract?
- I believe it was during halftime that Kenny Smith declared Rajon Rondo the second hardest point guard to defend in the league; his combination of unpredictability and weird athleticism always making him a threat to do damage from a variety of different angles. Early in the fourth quarter Rondo put this on display. Starting on the left wing, Rondo took a screen from Pietrus and drove towards the paint. With Pierce and Garnett standing well guarded in the corners, the options here were more than enough for Rondo to do his damage: he could loft a floater, kick it back to Pietrus for three, or toss a lob to the rolling Wilcox. Door No. 3 was wide open, and the pretty alley-oop was converted.
- Rondo makes getting to the rim so easy that you wonder why he doesn’t attempt to do it every other play. His right-handed finger roll from the left side is one of the surest sequences in basketball, but when discussing what it is that makes Rondo worth something it doesn’t come close. The most valuable thing Boston’s point guard brings to the table is his unselfish ability to make those around him better. Whether it be his always finding three-point snipers in transition, using his penetration to breakdown the defense before kicking it out to an open shooter, or calling out the offense’s play like a studious middle linebacker would to his fellow defenders. All are important, but right now his most impressive contribution has been his turning of big guys like Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal into offensive finishers. Rondo gives players in the front court incentive to hustle from one rim to the other. Against the Bulls, Rondo fed three dunks to Wilcox and had a pretty alley-oop to O’Neal, which he laid in. When really tall guys are weighing where they’d like to go in free agency, playing with Rondo could be an underrated factor in the decision making process.
- Rondo turned the ball over once in 44 minutes of action. Let that sink in for a moment.
- While Rondo did appear to have his jumper working in the early going, the overall body of work eventually turned into a horror film. He attempted nine (!) shots from 16-23 feet which makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve found myself defending Rondo in countless debates, but on what planet is this a good idea? I know the Bulls defense can at times resemble a brick wall, but this is taking a six perfectly good possessions and throwing them down a garbage disposal.
- Paul Pierce had 16.7% of his baskets come by way of an assist in this game. When compared to what Chicago did with Deng, Noah, and Boozer (100, 100, and 90.9% respectively) this is terrible offense, and some of that blame must come on the shoulders of Rondo. When the game is in its natural flow, Rivers has shown enough trust in his point guard to allow him the choice of what offensive set he’d like to run. For Pierce to take 16 shots and make just six of them (with three coming in the first five minutes of the game), the Celtics have what appears to be a growing issue on their hands. Rondo needs to figure out ways to balance his scoring attack while getting Ray and Paul easy buckets. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but so go the pressures of being an elite point guard with an ageing cast.