Rajon Rondo: Does Stat-Stuffing Point Guard Add Actual Value?

Next6 of 8Prev
Use your ← → (arrows) to browse

Dec 6, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the ball around Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Offense, by the numbers

What’s always made Rondo an attractive talent — even with his many flaws — is his ever-unique skill set.

Rondo was crowned “Mr. Triple Double” a few seasons ago, and though he has since been usurped by Russell Westbrook, the Kings’ point man is a near-lock for a double-double on a nightly basis, and always a threat to put up big rebound numbers too.

But the biggest question about Rondo in recent years has been the same: do his puffy stat lines actually make an NBA offense better?

First, it’s important to look at his individual production this season. For the Kings, Rondo is averaging 12.3 points and 10.9 assists, while shooting 43.8 percent and 36.5 percent from the field and three-point line, respectively.

While Rondo’s field goal percentage is significantly lower than his career average of 46.8 percent, his three-point shooting has seen a tremendous improvement this season, up more than nine percent from his career average (.273), all while almost tripling his average attempts from deep (0.9 to 2.4).

Nov 30, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) takes a three point shot against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Though his increased deep-ball conversion rate suggests that he has drastically improved his shooting, Rondo is only knocking down 24.6 percent of his total jump shots, indicative of his still-developing midrange game. Rondo is only shooting 20 percent on attempts between 10 and 16 feet from the hoop, by far a career-worst mark.

Between 16 and 24 feet from the hoop, he’s knocking down just under 36 percent of his attempts, a clip that’s far from optimal and actually the fourth-worst of his career, which serves an interesting quandary for a supposedly improved shooter.

But Rondo need not be an excellent shooter, though that has been his biggest knock throughout his career. Really, the fiery floor general needs to have a jumper that’s reliable enough for defenses to respect it, or make them pay if they don’t.

Thus far, the latter has been the case. 24.6 percent of Rondo’s attempts from more than 10 feet come with his defender between four and six feet away from him, leaving him “open”. In these situations, Rondo sports an effective field goal percentage (takes into account the value of a three-pointer) of 32.0. 18.1 percent of Rondo’s attempts from the same area come with the defender more than six feet away, leaving him “wide open”. On these attempts, his effective field goal percentage is 54.3. Better, but still not great considering the lack of defense.

Of course, while Rondo has his moments as a scorer, his biggest weapon is his passing ability. It was, after all, his impressive assist numbers that thrust him into the conversation of the league’s elite floor generals to begin with.

This season, the narrative isn’t much different. Rondo is dishing out 10.9 dimes per game, an impressive mark, even for his standards (career average of 8.4 assists per game). Exemplifying the “pass-first” point guard, Rondo is first in the NBA in assist ratio (39.8), a Hollinger metric that measures the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist.

On average, Rondo also accounts for about 46 percent of the Kings’ assists this season, a category in which they are now fifth, as opposed to 26th last year.

But he’s always been a volume distributor capable of putting up those types of numbers. What’s important is whether Rondo — who has been accused of stat-padding his assist totals — simply serves as the middle man between teammates, or actually puts them in better positions to score.

Nov 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Sacramento won 129-118. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, we’re going to explore that.

Rondo has three main targets, each of whom receive more than 15 percent of his passes: Rudy Gay (20.6 percent), DeMarcus Cousins (18.3), Marco Belinelli (16.9), and Omri Cassipi (11.3).

Gay, who normally shoots 45.7 percent from the field, converts 48.9 of his shots that Rondo assists on, good for a 3.2 percent increase. Cousins is shooting 40.8 percent from the field this season, and is knocking down 44 percent of his Rondo-assisted field goals. On looks created by Rondo, Belinelli sees a 9.2 percent increase in his efficiency from the field.

It would appear that Rondo is, indeed, creating offense and finding gaps, rather than simply serving as the delivery man.

As far as stat-padding goes, the verdict is still out. It’s no coincidence that on average, the three players that receive the majority of Rondo’s passes also account for nearly six of his 11 assists per game. Then again, all that shows is a correlation between passes and assists, not necessarily Rondo’s intent to give the ball to guys that he knows are going to bump his numbers. Of course, bumping his assist totals would also result in a made basket, which is in the interest of winning as well, so, as already established, the evidence isn’t conclusive.

Ironically, one knock on Rondo has been that he actually hinders team play by dominating the ball. Relatively speaking, this isn’t really true. His usage rate of 22.1 percent is actually quite low, and is actually 27th among all qualified point guards and less than that of both Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins (24.1 and 33.6, respectively).

On top of that, the Kings assist percentage is higher with Rondo on the floor (61.7) than without him (60.2), though the increase is marginal. Additionally, four of the Kings’ five best lineups in terms of average net points feature Rondo at point guard. His individual net rating is minus-6.1, but the Kings are a 7-15 team, so that stat is skewed a bit. In wins, Rondo is actually a whopping plus-11.1, indicative of his impact as a momentum-shifter.

The stats suggest that Rondo improves Sacramento’s offense, even if it’s only slightly. What about the eye test?

Next6 of 8Prev
Use your ← → (arrows) to browse