A Case for Rajon Rondo


The Sacramento Kings have been nothing short of the laughing-stock of the NBA this off-season.  Every move made by Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac has been criticized and made a mockery by the national media.  Particularly the signing of four-time all-star and NBA champion Rajon Rondo.  To say the national media is skeptical is an understatement.  ESPN even went so far as to label Rondo the “Worst Newcomer of 2015-16”.

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Call me an overly optimistic Kings fan but I believe that Rajon Rondo will rejuvenate his career with the Kings.  Not long ago, it was a legitimate debate between Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul who was the best point in the league.  

In the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Rondo was the best player in a series which included the MVP LeBron James.  In that same 2010 playoff run, Rondo joined Wilt Chamberlainand Oscar Robertson as the only other player in NBA history to have 29 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in a playoff game.  

Man, how times have changed. Rondo appears to be a shell of himself and one could argue he is no longer in the top 10 point guards in a Western Conference that trots out the likes of Stephen Curry, Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook just to name a few. 

Since Rondo’s ACL tear in 2013, he hasn’t been the same player. Rondo’s field goal percentage dropped from his average of 49% in eight seasons down to 43% last year. A recent knock on Rondo is that he has become a worse perimeter shooter. What I find interesting is Rondo has never been a “shooter”.  

His higher shooting percentages in his eight prior seasons were a reflection of his ability to get to the rim which resulted in fewer shot attempts per game. Last season between Dallas and Boston, he was simply getting to the rim less which resulted in more perimeter shots which was documented in his poor shooting percentage.

However, I am optimistic that with the continuous double team’s that DeMarcus Cousin’s demands on a nightly basis will create wide open jump shots and lanes to the rim allowing Rondo to get back to his averages.  

Rajon Rondo’s role on “Big 3” Boston Celtics was to be a harassing defender and facilitator of the offense. His job was to get the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen the ball in their preferred spots which he did at an incredible efficiency. During the four years Rondo made the Eastern Conference All-Star team he averaged 9.8, 11.2, 11.7, and 11.1 assists per game.  

The last person to come close to that number in a Kings jersey for an entire year was Mike Bibby in 2004-2005 when he averaged 6.8 assists per game. The Kings haven’t had a legitimate point guard who excels at putting players in the right parts of the floor to succeed since Jason Williams.

Apr 18, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo (9) in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the landscape of the Sacramento Kings roster this upcoming season appears to fit Rondo’s strengths well. Rondo has arguably the best big man in the league at his disposal in DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins feeds on opposing defenders down on the block and will only benefit from having a point guard who can see the floor as well as Rondo and will get him the ball in the best spots on the floor.  

However, a key component to Rondo’s success is the outside shooting from the likes of Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Marco Bellinelli, James Anderson, and Seth Curry. Due to Rondo’s limited outside shooting ability he needs to be surrounded by shooters in order to space the floor. Teams will surely continue to double team Cousins with the hopes Rondo is forced to shoot. However, if Rondo is able to get the ball into the shooter’s hands quickly off the double team then his weakness can be managed appropriately.

What has remained consistent is his rebounding rate which is extremely good for a point guard. His first eight years in the league he averaged 5.1 rebounds per game. Last year, with Dallas and Boston he posted the second best RPG in the league with 5.5 behind only Russell Westbrook. I expect that number to decline a bit with the Sacramento Kings being a top 10 rebounding team in the NBA the past two seasons.  

Another knock on Rondo was his atrocious free throw shooting last year, which he shot 40%. It reached a point where he was afraid to go to the line which resulted in more pull-up jumpers. However, if you look back over his nine-year career he shot an average of 60%. That’s not going to win any horse games but I do have faith that Rondo can get back to his averages he displayed in his eight seasons prior to last year.

There’s too many narratives I’m buying into with Rondo. The first one is him playing for a multi-year contract.  Rondo signed a one year 9.5 million dollar contract with the Kings earlier this year and I look at that as a gamble and belief in his own skill set than a gamble for the Sacramento Kings. Rondo is betting on himself to regain his form and prove the doubters wrong with the hopes he is rewarded with a multi-year contract next off-season.

Mar 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Rajon Rondo (9) against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 98-92. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The second narrative pertains to a motivated Rondo. Rondo has had to hear all off-season how he is a destructive player who can’t be coached. I’m putting faith that Rondo wants to showcase his talents again and remind everyone through the NBA that he’s turned a new page and wants to revitalize his career. He’s said all the right things this off-season so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The last narrative I’m buying is the relationship with George Karl. It is widely known that Rondo and Rick Carlisle did not work out. I believe an important facet of Rondo’s success hinges on his ability to run the offense as he sees fit. George Karl seems to understand that allowing Rondo to facilitate the offense will keep him happy which results in him playing to his strengths.  

George Karl also has a strong background in dealing with strong personalities from Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, and Shawn Kemp. Rondo hasn’t been the easiest guy to hone in but if anyone can get through to him I believe its George Karl.

As Kings fans, to say we have been through a tough stretch is an understatement but at this point we have nothing to lose by possessing Rondo optimism. I’m willing to put faith in a player who I believe simply wants to prove himself to the league again and what better than on a team that everyone has written off. I’m starting to see the similarities. 

The four-time all-star Rajon Rondo might be a thing of the past but there’s reason for unbridled optimism this season for the Sacramento Kings.

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