Rajon Rondo: Early-Season Edition (Through First Four Games)


Coming into the 2015-16 regular season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, Rajon Rondo in the past has had a record of early season success figured to bode well for him and his new team.

Separated by month (October through April), Rondo’s career-best splits in field goal percentage (.553), true shooting percentage (.558), offensive rating (117), defensive rating (98), rebounds per game (5.8) and assists per game (12.4) have all come in October—the month in which the NBA regular season starts.

If history was any indicator, Rondo would hit the ground running with his new team the Sacramento Kings. 

But early in their first game, the Kings (and Rondo) did little-to-nothing that resembled running. A lack of player and ball movement punctuated largely static play, as constant turnovers rendered any offensive rhythm.

In this game, Rajon was much more part of the problem than the solution to solving a stout Clippers team, and his stat line reflects as much: 4 points on 2/8 shooting, with 4 assists and a plus/minus of -8.

Now Rondo alone wasn’t the source of all the Kings problems, but because of his ball-dominant style of play, the quality of his performance had a greater effect on that of his team. In eight-plus seasons in Boston, and half of one with Dallas, this has always been the case.

For his career in wins, Rondo has shot .499 from the field, .274 from three and 62 percent from the free throw line, with a .531 true shooting percentage, an offensive rating of 110, and a defensive rating of 98, while averaging 11.2 points and 8.9 assists per game, per Basketball-Reference.

In losses, Rondo has shot .432 from the field, .253 from three and 59 percent from the free throw line, with a .468 true shooting percentage, an offensive rating of 97, and a defensive rating of 110, while averaging 10.4 points and 7.5 assists per game, per Basketball-Reference.

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Obviously its not uncommon that a player’s stats would reflect more favorably in wins and less so in losses. That much is logical. However, what is unique to Rondo, more so than is evident in most other NBA players, is the sheer difference in his numbers between wins and losses—notably, the 65-point drop in field goal percentage, the 61-point dive in true shooting percentage and the respective fluctuations in his offensive and defensive ratings.

It speaks to Rondo’s influence on his team’s overall performance. It’s evidence of a point guard who lives and dies on ball dominance—as does his team subsequently.

Because as much as Sacramento and its starting point guard initially faltered against the Clippers, a bounce back performance against a deeply flawed Lakers team offered wonderfully different results.

In stark contrast to his rather passive play in game one, the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson failed to inhibit this form of Rondo—a point guard whose effort to probe and press the opposition from inside the paint was significantly better. It was the style of play that had earned him such great regard before: maneuvering his original defender to penetrate the defense, twisting between and around bigger bodies in search of kick-outs, handoffs, shovel passes or split-second soft-touch lay-ins and floaters.

Undoubtedly, the Lakers complete unwillingness to perform anything resembling NBA level defense likely contributed greatly to Rondo’s (and Sacramento’s) uptick in play. It should also be noted that next night’s game in a Clippers-themed Staples Center more resembled the better of Rajon’s two previous outings.

Against a Clippers defense that dared Rondo with shot-blockers like DeAndre Jordan and Josh Smith, not to mention Chris Paul for the second game out of three, Rondo flourished.

Midrange jumpers dropped, floaters fell, and perfect passes bred converted baskets. On the other side of the ball, Rondo fared much better as well. Chris Paul’s penetration was Sacramento’s undoing in its home opener, and in the second matchup Rajon stepped it up. That sort of defensive improvement must continue going forward into the season.

Because the Western Conference — the Pacific Division very much included — is stacked top-to-bottom with top shelf point guards like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and many others, it goes without saying that Sacramento needs someone to keep these guys in check. The starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, will therefore inherit this responsibility, and its importance cannot be understated.

As much as offense dominates the conversations that seek to analyze Rondo’s team impact, his efforts on the defensive end may be just as crucial.

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Tuesday night he suffered something of a setback. Versus a Memphis Grizzlies team that starts five above-average defenders, Rondo shot just 2/10 from the field for 5 points, adding 4 assists, and committing 2 turnovers for a single-game offensive rating of 55.

What does this tell us? Well, the Grizzlies, a sizable loss to Golden State included, are still a very good team. Also, Rondo, among a sea of relatively unfamiliar faces, is not exempt from his own share or early-season fluctuation.

Next: Sacramento Kings Weekly Wrap Up

You can pretty much chalk this loss up to a proven team. With a defined identity and years of playoff experience, forcing its style of play onto a team in some flux, still somewhat foreign to one another, trying to discover itself and its way while battling a brutal early schedule of Western Conference competition.