Why Rajon Rondo is going to be a better scorer than ever next season
"If only he could shoot threes, Rajon Rondowould be one of the best players in the league".
If I had a nickel for every time I heard the above sentence, I would have at least two additional dollars in my bank account (I could lie and say I'd have enough money to retire or something, but I don't feel like lying to you guys).
Rondo's lack of shooting has always held him back, allowing teams to sag underneath on the pick-and-roll, taking away penetration and limiting the options for the Celtics offense. Opponents didn't respect Rondo's shooting, and for good reason. After all, during his first seven seasons, Rondo shot an average of 0.7 threes-per-game, and hit a paltry 24.1% of them. For reference, the NBA average is 36% on threes.
However, something has clearly changed with post-knee injury Rondo. He's firing off three times as many threes, and hitting them far more often than ever before.
In only 17 games played, Rondo has hit 20 three-pointers, breaking his career high of 17 set back in 2009-10. Again: he's set a new career high in three-pointers made in 17 games! Not that he had set the bar high or anything, but still, it's a testament to his new found stroke.
He's also shooting 3.6 threes-per-game, crushing his career high of 1.3, and knocking down 36.4% of his attempts, way above his previous best of 31.3%.
Now, Rondo's new found success has led to some horrible attempts (last night he had a few terrible looks after starting 3-3), so he needs to realize the difference between taking an open three (a good idea) and a forced three from the wing with a man in his face (not-so-good an idea). But for those wondering if the Celtics' point guard would come back with an improved jumper, the answer is a resounding yes.
So why hasn't he taken a huge statistical leap overall?
Well, while Rondo is shooting the three better than ever (not to mention shooting free throws at a career best 67%), he's been terrible on two-point attempts. So far this season, #9 is hitting on only 42% of his twos, way down from last year's 51.3% mark.
And the issue isn't deep twos, as Rondo is hitting a career best 49% of his shots from 10 feet out to the three point line (further proof of his improved shooting). Instead it has been his struggles by the basket.
For the first seven years of his career, Rondo was one of the best guards in basketball at converting near the rim. Between 2006-13, Rondo was successful on 61.3% of his shots from within three feet, and just as importantly, 47% of all his field goal attempts came within three feet of the basket. In other words: he shot nearly half his shots at the basket, and converted them at an elite rate.
However, this season those numbers have plummeted, with Rondo hitting only 47.8% of his shots within three feet, with only 31.5% of his attempts coming from that distance. That's a massive difference, but one that I think is fairly understandable.
Keep in mind, Rondo is coming off of a traumatic knee injury that took place on a drive to the basket. Therefore every time he drives, the mental part of his recovery is tested. He's also still in the early stages of his return, with most studies saying that it takes 18-24 months to get 100% of your quickness back after blowing out your knee. That first step that was so deadly from 2006-2013 is not quite as deadly right now, and that's costing Rondo when he tries to get to the hoop. That's forcing him to take worse shots at the rim, and causing him to get blocked more often (Rondo is getting blocked at the same rate as previous seasons despite the fact that he's shooting less than ever near the hoop).
The good news? Rondo's first step quickness should come back. With a full of summer of working out without restrictions, a full training camp and a full exhibition season, he'll have a ton of time to get back what he has lost. And if he can do that (and there's really no reason a 28-year-old shouldn't), there's a really good chance the Rondo we see next season will be the best scoring Rondo we've ever seen. Hell, he's averaging a career high 14.3 points-per-36 minutes this season despite his inefficiencies by the hoop. There's no reason at all that number shouldn't spike once he's 100% comfortable taking the ball to the basket again.
Now, all of this is reliant on his new found shooting stroke sticking around. But if he works as hard on his jumper this summer as he did while he was out, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't. And that's a very good thing for the 2014-15 Celtics, not to mention a very good thing for Rondo's wallet come next summer.