Karalis: A broader look at Rajon Rondo, instigator

He can.

Doc Rivers and various Celtics teammate have told people for a while that Rondo’s jumper has been solid in practices.  But that’s never really translated into games over a consistent basis (last year’s series against the Heat excluded).

This season, while gaining the most attention for his double-digit assists streak (which ended at 37 — tied for second-longest in NBA history — when he was ejected against Brooklyn. What has gone relatively unnoticed is that Rondo has been taking shots with a lot more confidence, and drilling them.

The numbers bear that out.

Rondo’s field goal percentage, should it stay at it’s current 51.7%, would be the highest of his career.  The same goes for his 55.2 true shooting percentage.  His overall shooting numbers have always been propped up by a ridiculous conversion rate at the rim.

That’s still the case this season, where Rondo is hitting a career high 66.1 % around the rim.  But he’s been in the 60’s in the past.  What’s really adding to Rondo’s percentages is his mid (and long) range game.  The numbers tell the story:

10-15 feet16-23 feet
Career Average(prior to this season)106-270 (39.3%)386-1008 (38.3%)
2011-12 season10-36 (27.8%)60-152 (39%)
This Season 3-8 (37.5%)23-47 (48.9%)

*All stats via Hoopdata.com

It’s a small sample size, which is the caveat that goes along with most statistical analysis. For example, before he got thrown out of Wednesday night’s game, he missed one shot from 10-15 feet, which means he went into the game shooting 42.9% from that spot, well above his career average, missed once, and saw it drop to below his career average. But the sample from 16-23 is larger and more indicative of Rondo’s ability to step up and bury jumpers.  It’s that 16-23 foot range where teams sag off Rondo the most, daring him to beat them with jump shots.

That is, until they get burned.

“Teams still don’t believe it,” coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re still going under (picks). But one of the changes we’ve seen is that when he makes a couple (of outside shots), they start going over. And once they start going over, it makes our pick-and-roll offense unguardable.

When the Celtics run a pick-and-roll, teams have almost always gone under the screen. That makes Rondo’s first option a jump shot because it generally takes away a lane to the basket for the guy setting the pick.

But when the defense starts going over the top, Rondo has a tendency to make things like this happen:

The Celtics have seen a spike in alley-oops, almost entirely because teams are not sagging off of Rondo as much as they have in the past. And that’s almost entirely because of Rondo’s ability to shoot the ball.

It’s no surprise that he had a streak of 37 straight double-digit assist games going.  The ability to hit mid-range shots opens up the floor for a guy who could already see everything on it. It almost makes the defender in front of him transparent. You see it especially in the first play, and the last two plays of that video, when his big man rolls to the rim, and there’s sufficient confusion caused by the screen, Rondo will find him.

It works the same way in transition, which is where Chris Wilcox has thrived for the Celtics.  He has 11 dunks on the season, and all but a few have been alley oops from Rondo. Most of those have come simply because Wilcox found space as a defender chased Rondo out further than he would have in the past.

It also has a ripple effect on his older teammates, especially Kevin Garnett. Easy baskets for Garnett make him a more efficient scorer in increasingly limited time. This year, Garnett is playing 29.1 minutes per game, down two from last year.  But he’s shooting 51.6%, which is up from last year.  The reason?  Last year he shot 67% in shots at the rim.  This year, he’s up to 81%.  That’s almost all coming from Rondo.

Rondo’s assists are leading to 5.5 baskets per game at the rim this year.  That’s the highest number of his career so far and more than a full basket better per game than last year. His spike in assists this year (12.9 per game, up from 11.7), is due to more assisted 2-point field goals (11.4 per game, up from 9.2).

The Celtics haven’t really increased their pace much from last season. They’re only taking one more shot per game so far, so it’s not as if they’re getting a ton of transition baskets to lead to all those extra two-point assists. The fact is, Rondo’s getting his teams more shots closer to the basket because of one simple thing.

He can shoot now.  He’s creating more space with his own jumper, and his teammates are reaping the benefits.

You don’t have to imagine anymore.

(RELATED: Poll: How many games should Rajon Rondo be suspended for?)

John Karalis is the co-founder of RedsArmy.com, a top site for Boston Celtics news and analysis. He has covered the team and the NBA for Red’s Army and other sites for seven years. This is his second column for Sheridan Hoops.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedsArmy_John




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