Dallas Mavericks: Rajon Rondo’s Vision, Intelligence Amazing

Dec 28, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo (9) comes off the court during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Thunder 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo (9) comes off the court during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Thunder 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Rajon Rondo wasn’t brought to the Dallas Mavericks to be an offensive force.

He wasn’t asked to shoot or score 20 points a game. With this offense, with an abundance of offensive weapons, Rondo’s only objective is to direct this already-dangerous offense.

Dallas is quickly learning the limitations of his game offensively. Rondo is shooting 43 percent from the floor in his five games he’s worn a Mavericks jersey, but has shot the ball much better in the last two games, including a 10-for-17 performance against the Los Angeles Lakers this past Friday.

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When Dallas made the trade for Rondo, a concern that was brought up was the lack of spacing Dallas would have offensively. By losing Jameer Nelson, who was a capable 3-point shooter for Dallas in his short time, teams wouldn’t have to worry about closing out on a shooter as aggressively thanks to Rondo’s shooting limitations.

That’s the genius of Rick Carlisle. He understands Rondo can’t shoot. There will still be times Rondo decides to take a 15-foot jumper, knowing that it’s not going in. His shooting is just an added bonus for the Mavericks.

The genius of Carlisle, however, is turning this offense into a drive-and-kick system that can still get shooters open. It starts with Rondo getting a screen from either Tyson Chandler or Dirk Nowitzki and him doing the rest.

Or, it might be a case where Rondo is so smart that he makes it look so easy.

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This is the beauty of having a pass-first point guard on a roster that’s already amazingly efficient on offense. While having a guy like Nelson helps everyone else in terms of spacing, Rondo’s vision is on display perfectly in this play. This was after a missed shot, and Rondo keeps his eyes up the entire time and finds a cutting Chandler Parsons for the easy basket.

Of all the players on Dallas’ roster that has struggled to adjust to playing with Rondo, Parsons might be at the top of the list. In the first three games in the Rondo era, Parsons shot 11-of-30 and 2-of-12 from 3-point range.

In the last two games, he’s shot 16-of-25 with him attacking the rim and making his 3-point shot.

Parsons was probably the one player Rondo had to get used to playing with the most. Not only is Parsons trying to assert himself as a No. 1 option in this stacked offense, but he’s doing it in a multitude of ways, which has forced Rondo to adjust as well.

After five games of playing together, the chemistry between the two is becoming more apparent and it shows with this huge 3-point play against Oklahoma City on Sunday night.

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Give a point guard like Rondo weapons to work with on a fast break, and he’ll make defenses pay. He’s got Monta Ellis and J.J. Barea on both sides with Parsons running right by him. Rondo understands the situation here: He could’ve easily made the pass to Monta or Barea for the 3-pointer, and knowing how both were struggling with their shot, who knows what would have happened? But instead he goes with the athletic Parsons and knows he can finish the play.

Getting Parsons involved in the offense is going to make Rondo’s job a lot easier just based on the different ways he can score. He already has Ellis and Dirk to work with in the pick-and-roll and two-man game. Parsons’ ability to get to the basket and make 3-pointers opens up that spacing for Rondo to work with that was supposedly lost by losing Nelson.

One way that has improved Dallas’ spacing on the pick-and-roll is Rondo attacking the basket. Knowing he’s not a good shooter, Rondo can suck the defense into the paint, leaving one of Dallas’ plethora of shooters open. Carlisle has done a great job having Rondo direct the offense from 15-18 feet instead of from the 3-point line. Rondo can be a threat when given room to operate closer to the basket.

And when he does, he makes it look easy.

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It hasn’t taken that long for Rondo to understand who he has around him. When the Mavericks made the trade for Rondo, they knew losing Brandan Wright would hurt their field-goal efficiency. But Charlie Villanueva has filled in nicely as the backup to Dirk by being a lethal 3-point shooter.

That play best describes it. Rondo sucks the defense in by drawing his man and Villanueva’s man to the rim. Knowing that, Rondo makes an amazing bounce pass to Villanueva for the backbreaking 3-pointer to put the Los Angeles Lakers away.

And then there are also bounce passes like this that make you throw your hands up and walk away.

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If you want to read more about how Villanueva has made the most of his opportunity coming off the bench, read fellow Mavs writer Brandon Jennings’ take on it.

One constant theme in all of this is Rondo likes to play fundamentally-sound basketball. He’s not one to throw fancy passes. The bounce pass is a lost art in basketball in today’s game, and Rondo has shown how effective of a weapon it is. Sometimes, simplicity is better than flashy. Especially if it wins the game and gets teammates involved.

And one teammate that has gotten involved, albeit slowly, is Tyson Chandler. It took a couple of games before Rondo and Chandler worked together in the pick-and-roll lob situation. By losing Wright, the Mavs lost the art of the alley-oop.

Against the Lakers, Rondo and Chandler connected on two alley-oops. The second one, on a fast break, was beautiful.

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And then there’s this pass that just doesn’t need words.

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That’s just the logistics of his passing that make Rondo such an amazing player in this offense. There are other simple things. One noticeable trend is how Dallas is sharing the ball. It’s always been a staple in Carlisle’s system, but having a floor general who is an unwilling passer can rub off on his teammates.

Look at this play at the beginning of the Thunder game and watch for two things: How Oklahoma City respects Parsons’ ability to attack the basket, and how aware he is of the situation.

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When arguing about the limitations of spacing, refer skeptics to plays like this. It’s a simple drive-and-kick, but that’s the benefit of having multiple playmakers on the floor at the same time. Not to mention, the OKC game was without Tyson Chandler, so Parsons was playing power forward on this play.

If Tyson was playing, then Parsons would’ve had another option with him at the rim ready for the alley-oop. The Parsons from a month ago may have gone for the tough shot, but he’s getting just as comfortable as anyone else in this offense.

This has also helped Rondo’s game as terms as a scorer in recent days. He’s starting to understand when to go to the basket or when to pass. On this play, it’s a simple screen from Dirk at the top of the key, but Rondo sees a lane as wide as the Red Sea and connects with the floater.

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Rondo’s presence in this offense goes beyond the passing. He’s been a great passer for years. That’s why he leads the league in assists this season. But his ability to get everyone else involved can pay huge dividends for the Mavericks going forward.

He can’t fix every problem. He can’t grow nine more inches to grab rebounds (he’s already playing like the second-best rebounder on the roster) nor can he score 25 points a night. What he’s showing to Dallas is what they didn’t have since Jason Kidd left Dallas: an intelligent point guard that can make life easy for those around him.

Rondo’s vision and intelligence is what sets the Mavericks apart from other teams. The turnovers might be up more from where they were before the trade, but we’re slowly seeing what this team can be with Rondo being an effective force offensively.

His calling card has been defense, and that’s no surprise. But as the season progresses, Rondo’s ability to break down a defense and pick his spots is going to be crucial for Dallas.

That’s what separates the good teams from the great ones come April.

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