Rajon Rondo might very well emerge as the Celtics' most important player next season. However, despite that potential importance, the weaknesses in Rondo's game are more evident than those of any other player currently on the roster.
But when you think of Paul Pierce's flaws, or the improvements he could make, what comes to mind? Is he too turnover prone? Do you wish he'd rebound more? Should his assist numbers be higher?
What about Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, or Glen Davis? Does one specific element of their respective games stick out in a very obvious manner? Not really.
But when you think about Rondo, or ask yourself what he can improve on, the answer is obvious: Jump shooting and free throw shooting. It's one of those questions that, when asked to any longstanding Celtics fan, garners a correct answer almost instantaneously. And because it's so obvious, it should be equally clear to Rondo what he needs to spend the majority of his time on this offseason.
According to Hoopdata, during the 2009-2010 regular season, Rondo shot the following percentages from various ranges on the floor:
Free Throw Line: 62.1 percent
10-15 feet: 46.9 percent
16-23 feet: 33 percent
Three-Point Nation: 21.3 percent
Compare those numbers to the percentages he posts when he finds himself closer to the basket:
<10 feet: 50.4 percent
At Rim: 64.2 percent
The consensus has been. and continues to be, that Rondo is not a very good jump shooter, or free throw shooter, and the numbers do very little to refute that claim. Compounding matters is the fact that Rondo's free throw shooting took a turn for the worse in the postseason, when his percentage dipped to a ghastly 59.6 percent. Rondo's 62.1 percent from the charity stripe ranked him dead last amongst NBA guards last season.
In an interesting twist, however, Rondo's three-point shooting percentage skyrocketed from that 21.3 percent to a very respectable 37.5 percent during the playoffs.
(As a quick aside, Rondo has that interesting habit of knocking down three-pointers whenever the shot clock is about to strike zero.)
Overall, last season, Rondo shot a career-best 50.8 percent from the field, which ranked him 1st amongst guards in the league. His total field goal percentage has increased to some degree, year by year, since his rookie season. If you're looking for signs of improvement, perhaps it will encourage you to know Rondo improved dramatically from 10-15 feet last season (46.9 percent), compared to the 2008-2009 campaign (35.0 percent). However, despite the improvement from that specific range, Rondo's field goal percentage from 16-23 feet fell from 40 percent in 2008-2009 to 33 percent this past season. Of all the ranges Rondo needs to make improvements from, that one might be the most important.
Why is it imperative for Rondo to make the necessary improvements as best he can? As we saw on multiple occasions throughout the 2010 playoffs, opponents were quick to place a larger defender in front of Rondo, who sagged off considerably, and became more of a "free safety" defender by helping his teammates double other Celtics at certain times. The two most notable examples came against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers, who put Anthony Parker and Kobe Bryant in front of Rondo, respectively.
Having Kevin Garnett around softened the blow of these strategies somewhat, but back during the 2009 playoffs, specifically against the Orlando Magic, when Garnett was out with the knee injury, the Magic were quick to help off of Rondo and double-team Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Danny Ainge addressed this later in the summer, before Rondo signed that five-year, $55 million extension. We've seen on multiple occasions in the past where Rondo's weaknesses in these areas have served as a liability to his team.
When bringing other point guards into the conversation, what are some of the main things guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Steve Nash can do better than Rondo? Shoot the basketball. Whether it be pulling up for a three-pointer in transition, or a stop-and-pop after coming off of a well-set screen, these three colleagues of Rondo do it better than he does right now.
More importantly than the "best point guard" conversation is how Rondo's inconsistencies hinder his own team. It's exciting to think about how much more Rondo could ascend as a player if he were able to incorporate a reliable jump shot that opposing defenses need to respect. His ball handling is excellent, he just made his first NBA All-Defense team last season, his passing is difficult to top, he's one of the best rebounding point guards in the league, he led the NBA in steals last season, and he played in his first All-Star game.
So, how exactly can he go about making the necessary improvements? Is it matter of simple repetition? Does he need to park himself in the gym and shoot 2,000 free throws and 5,000 jump shots every day? Should he tweak his shooting form? Does he need to have another rendezvous with Mark Price? Does he need to shadow Ray Allen for the summer? Maybe a little bit of everything?
While the solution might not be as obvious as the weakness, Rondo needs to make a concerted effort this summer to remedy his shooting woes. Both he, and the Celtics, would certainly be better for it.