The Fall of Rajon Rondo

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Oct 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the basketball up the court in the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeat the Kings 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Rajon Rondo is- statistically speaking -putting together an absolutely magnificent start to his 2015-16 season.

The 29-year-old Rondo has averaged 12.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and is second in the NBA with 9.5 APG, all of which are up from last year’s horrifying campaign that saw Rajon go from being considered amongst the league’s best pure point guards to something of a laughing stock.

Still though, the rise of analytics has shown that it takes more than just a flashy stat-line to be considered a top player in today’s NBA. The rise of the three-point ball has quietly phased out players like Rondo that can neither shoot or defend. As far as being a top-tier player in the Association, Rajon Rondo’s days are done.

But why did Rondo, once an intricate part of a Boston Celtics squad that won a championship in 2008, fall from the graces, and why is he being ignored this season despite posting three triple-doubles after only 11 games?

The Beginning

Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant

To find the answer to that question, we have to first travel back to 2008, the year the Celtics put together the original Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. While not one of the biggest superstars on the team, Rondo was seen as the fourth member at a table for three, starting at PG and playing 30 minutes a night. He may not have had the leadership of Pierce, the shooting of Allen, or the dominance of KG, but Rondo’s willingness to dish the ball made him a massive player in the Celtics rotation.

Again though, he was nowhere near the star power of Pierce, Allen, or KG, and was still generally considered well after those three stars in terms of their importance to what Boston was trying to do.

Yet somehow, he managed to be the team’s biggest problem off the court.

Rajon’s issues with fan-favorite and legend Ray Allen have been well documented, but his issues with coach Doc Rivers and team President Danny Ainge have also been noted by many and had already caused many to dislike the point guard. The issues between the group got so bad, the Celtics were reportedly close to trading the duo to Phoenix for Amare’ Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, and the 14th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

While the trade was eventually nixed, the friction between Allen and Rondo never truly disappeared, and fans in Boston have never truly gotten over Rajon being a core reason for Allen’s departure to Miami a few years later.

Simply put, Rondo was beginning to get the reputation as being something of a diva, regardless of that being true (we’ll never truly know) and fans were beginning to get sick of it, not seeing the worth in someone who clearly was disrupting team chemistry while only averaging about 12 points and 10 assists per game.

Even after the departure of Allen and eventual trades of Pierce and Garnett, Rondo never truly felt accepted as the face of the Celtics. Various injuries and the feeling that Rondo didn’t really care about wins and losses, only about his personal stat-line, made the Celtics point guard into one of the most disliked players in Boston.

Boston fans and media weren’t the only ones getting sick of Rajon being in a Celtics jersey come last season, as the free agent-to-be also appeared to want out of the city.

Last Season

rondo to coach
The one photo summation of the Rajon Rondo-era in Dallas.

With Rajon seemingly done with the Celtics headed into last season, he put together a decent enough first half and forced his way out, being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in return for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, two draft picks, and $12.9 Million.

It was almost immediately a disaster for Dallas.

Rondo’s numbers steeply dropped during that second half as he went to war with coach Rick Carlisle about how the Mavs would use him. The issue eventually got so bad that teammates agreed to cut him out of the playoff bonus money, as well as Rondo being told to fake an injury in Game 2 of the playoffs so the relationship could be completely cut. It was an ugly relationship that seemed doomed from the beginning. It’s rare for a coach and player to absolutely lose it on one another, nonetheless.

For the second time in as many tries, Rondo had left a team and it’s fanbase on horrific terms, as well as fail to gel with a coach many deemed to be excellent, first with Rivers and then with Carlisle.

When you can’t mesh with a guy as cool as Dirk Nowitzki, fans will not only notice, but hate you for it. He’s Dirk for Christ’s sake, he’s like 7-feet tall and German, what’s not to love?

Now

Oct 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the basketball up the court in the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeat the Kings 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the basketball up the court in the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeat the Kings 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Over the offseason, Rondo inked a 1-year deal for $9.5 Million with the Sacramento Kings, essentially giving him one final chance to fit into a team and save his career.

From an off-the-court perspective, it’s been hard to tell if Rondo has made any progress on that. He claimed that he was having issues getting along with George Karl during the preseason, but later said he was only joking when he made the remarks. It’s one thing if someone like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, who have no history of getting into beefs with their coaches, make those types of jokes, but with Rondo it’s different. Maybe he was just joking, but the very public issues his teammate DeMarcus Cousins has had with Karl make it seem like Rajon only claimed he was joking to save his own skin in free agency this summer.

On the court, Rondo is once again a traditionally excellent player.

Rondo’s 12.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 9.1 APG are magnificent marks for any point guard, and he once again looks like one of the game’s premier passers. This is a man that posted three triple-doubles in a week, something that is difficult for anyone to do, nonetheless a man many thought was done.

But has he truly returned to the form that made him an All-Star and is he helping the Kings win?

Simply put, no.

The Kings are 4-7, with those wins being more because of superstar DeMarcus Cousins than Rondo. In fact, Rondo is a borderline non-factor in most aspects of the games.

Rondo’s been solid once he gets to the basket, shooting 59% at the rim, but anywhere other than there, he’s downright bad. On the rare instances he does pull the trigger from the outside (89 of his 146 shots have come from the mid-range or three point line, with only 22 being from behind the arc. To give you perspective — Jarrett Jack of the Brooklyn Nets has put up 28 shots from behind the arc despite shooting over 20 times less overall), Rondo is shooting just 29%. In fact, that’s 4% worse than the 33% he shot from the mid-range and 3-point arc last year, a season that was supposedly his worst.

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That low shooting percentage combined with Rondo’s complete lack of confidence in his jump shot leads to him being completely left alone late in games. This leads to DeMarcus Cousins or Rudy Gay often being double-teamed, cutting off Rajon’s passing lanes and taking away his greatest asset, assists.

His defense, which was never particularly good in the first place and was another source of frustration between Rondo and the Big-3, has also been detrimental to the Kings success. While he’s forced 2.1 steals a night, opposing teams are shooting 49% against Rondo, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t going for 70% at the basket. Teams aren’t just blowing past Rondo, they’re going past him at the speed of a bullet and leaving him wondering what just happened on their way to a relatively easy bucket.

Rajon Rondo is still a very good basketball player and there’s no disputing that. He’s amongst the league’s best passers and penetrators and a lot of teams could use someone with his skill set. But in today’s NBA that focuses so heavily on being able to shoot and defend, Rondo has become something of an afterthought.

He may put out a plethora of triple-doubles, but many of those stats are hallow and don’t display what Rondo truly is at this point in his career — a nice role player that simply cannot play 30 minutes a night on a playoff-caliber team.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ShotAnalytics.com, and NBA.com/Stats

 

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