Rajon Rondo: A Confusing Piece to the Puzzle

The following is a piece discussing Rajon Rondo, his statistics this season, and the ever-present question, "What should the Celtics do with Rajon?"

Rajon Rondo. The guy just can't remove himself from headlines it seems. Either people think he's strange and immature because of the way that he carries himself, or he's the greatest point guard of all time (I'm being facetious, you guys) and needs to stay in Boston until he decides to retire. Either he's throwing the ball at his teammates so they can hit jumpers, or he's throwing the ball at the official. Ok, he only did that once. The point remains, though, that as long as Rajon has been in Boston he has been the object of both (sometimes justified) criticism, and overly high praise. This year is no different. Rajon has proven that he has what it takes to put points up on the board for Boston, and has even willed this team back into some games with his aggressiveness. But all in all he is quite a confusing character.

Rajon has played in 22 games this season for the Celtics. He's endured a wrist injury, and now a two game suspension. The Celtics have clearly missed Rondo (never mind the two games against Orlando), and it is easy to see why folks tout Rondo so highly. He's an exceptional athlete. He's a fantastic defender (two time All-Defensive First Team, and one time All-Defensive Second Team). He's quick, he can get to the rim with relative ease, and he can finish at the rim quite well. Hey, his jumper even at least seems to have improved. Maybe it's because he doesn't have the slight hitch in his release that he has had in past seasons, but he's hitting the mid-range jumper with a lot more consistency than he has for most of his career. It will definitely be interesting to see how he holds up.

One of the biggest knocks on Rajon has been his passive play. A lot of times he appears tentative and uninspired -- content to just let the rest of the team run off of screens, wait for his front court to get decent post position and then feed them, or just stand there and use a pick and hope his defender continues to go underneath the screen (which leaves him wide open for a jumper). He doesn't always have a killer instinct. His attack mode isn't always set to "on", and quite frankly it frustrates fans. Take Derrick Rose for instance. Rose has the ability to shoot, drive, and create for the rest of his team. Within reason, Rondo can do this as well. But his motivation to do this on a consistent basis seems lacking to some fans. While Rose might take the defense to the rim and create a shot for himself at the basket, or give it to Boozer or Noah, Rondo might be content with trying his jumper. That's not always a terrible option (when it goes in), but for a guy like Rondo who has displayed time and time again that he has the ability to penetrate and create for both himself and the rest of the team, it's disheartening and leaves you wondering why he is tentative and passive. Fans often wonder, "Why does Rondo pick and choose his spots so poorly sometimes?" A valid question about a player who quite often seems content to play the background.

Rondo is taking the most field goal attempts of his entire career, 11.9 per game. He's making 5.8 of those shots for a field goal percentage of 48.5. He's also getting to the line more times per game than he ever has (5.0 attempts per game), but he's averaging just about the same amount of shots per game at the rim as he has over his entire career. So, perhaps his moves towards the basket are more aggressive and potent at this point this season.

Rajon is shooting the second most shots of his career from 16-23 feet at 3 attempts per game, and he is making 1.2 of those shots per game (1.2-3, 42%). He's also averaging the lowest percentage of shots assisted within that range (only 25.9% of his shots between 16-23 feet are assisted) which is obvious by the fact that he is shooting these shots usually as his defender goes underneath screens instead of defending him closely.

In terms of his actual production, Rondo has been the best in transition situations (we knew he was good at that already), and in post-up situations. In transition opportunities he is averaging 1.06 points per play and shooting 47-75 (62.7%). A good portion of those made field goals have been at the rim. (All of these statistics according to MySynergySports.com)

The numbers from the post are what is most surprising to me. There weren't any of these plays unveiled with more than one opportunity in a single game before the loss against Detroit on February 15th. And while these plays only account for 3.7% of plays involving Rondo, his numbers have been fantastic. He is averaging 1.14 points per play from the post, and shooting 7-11 (63.6%). But as Beckley Mason from HoopSpeak.com pointed out here, Rondo has been able to use this post position recently to set up other guys on the floor. This has been a decent option for Boston when guys like Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal are on the floor -- guys who generally don't create shots for themselves, and can't hit a consistent mid-range jumper. Having Rondo set up from the post creates a unique spacing situation for the rest of the team, and might be something Doc goes to more often to give Boston an added dimension offensively.

When you look at Rondo's shooting numbers as a whole, though, it mildly dampens the reality that he is hitting his jumper (at least to the naked eye) with a bit more consistency than usual. He is shooting 47% of his shots as jumpers, and his eFG% on his jumpers is only an underwhelming .379%. This has long been one of the biggest knocks against Rondo. He has all of the necessary tools to become a prolific point guard. He can attack, he can distribute, and he can defend. He's 25 years old. Well, he turns 26 tomorrow. Happy birthday, Rajon! But the point remains that he still has plenty of good years ahead of him to develop into a consistently dominant point guard.

And with there being many good years ahead of him I would argue that keeping Rondo in Boston is the best overall option for the future of the team. As Jeff has argued many times, "blowing it up" just doesn't seem like a viable option. There don't seem to be too many teams knocking down the Celtics' door to acquire aging vets, or even perhaps Rondo. And if there were would it even be worth it? Is giving Rondo away to a team for someone like Pau Gasol (31 years old, and not the only piece that the Celtics would need in the immediate future to make a run at a title) worth it? For that matter would it be worth it to give up Ray, KG, Pierce or any combination of the three for Pau? I don't think so, personally.

After March 1st when players who signed in the offseason can be traded, then and only then will the options open up potentially for the Celtics. But even then, the greatest option for the Celtics in the future appears to be to wait until the free agent period and make a run at some big time names. The options aren't as wide-ranging as one would hope, but with the contracts the Celtics will have on the books for next season it isn't out of the realm of possibility for the Celtics to be able to attract two max contracts in Boston. Who? I don't know. Dwight Howard seems like one option, but I personally don't see Dwight in Boston. Regardless, the best option for Boston heading forward is to keep Rajon Rondo as a Celtic. Despite his emotional deficiencies and his tendency to be one of the most confusing players I've ever seen, he really is a special player. He's a top-10 point guard in the NBA (if not a top-5), and his upside far outweighs his downside.

Rajon is having a really unique season, and when he returns from his suspension it will be interesting to see how he handles himself. Will he take it upon himself to augment the Celtics abilities, or will he continue to take nights off. He's capable of helping the Celtics every night that he takes the floor -- as is evident by his great start to the season and his league leading two triple-doubles this year. He's phenomenal on some nights, and lackadaisical and confusing on other nights. Still, Rajon Rondo's capabilities are vital to this team's success during the second half of the season. There are only a handful of other point guards in the league better than Rondo, and trading him away for anything less than a top-tier center or a top-tier point guard just isn't worth it for Boston. Will Ainge agree? Who knows. But as it stands, he's a Celtic, he's the best point guard in Boston, and he's as intriguing a character as he has ever been. He has many quirks, and just as many phenomenal skills. And we love him for that.

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