A few days ago, my man IP wrote a very good article asking whether Rondo had been "off" lately. The reaction to that article was decidedly mixed, with many saying that the article was premature, and others arguing that the perceived slump could just be random noise or chance.
Sadly, since that article, the question of whether Rondo has been off his game has been conclusively answered: he is, and in a big, big way. Here are his stats in the three games since IP's article:
3/11 @ Philadelphia: 12 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 6-for-12 shooting, 0 FTA
3/13 vs. Milwaukee: 2 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 turnover, 1-for-6 shooting, 0 FTA
3/14 @ New Jersey: 2 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 4 turnovers, 1-for-10 shooting, 0 FTA
Rondo has now been held below 10 assists the past four games. Prior to this stretch, he'd only had fewer than 10 assists in back-to-back games once, and never in more than two games in a row. He hadn't scored less than four points in a game until the last two contests, either, and the past two games are his two worst shooting games of the year. In other words, Rondo is in the midst of a stretch of poor play that is unprecedented this season.
So, it's pretty fair to say that yes, Rondo has been "off". The question is why? Some have suggested that it's a matter of integrating new teammates, and to some extent that makes sense. However, shouldn't Rondo's game be improving as he gets used to the new players, rather than worse? The same reasoning would seem to cut against the theory that Rondo is slumping due to his buddy Perk being shipped out of town. Yes, Rondo's slump coincides with the trade, but he still managed to have a monster game against Phoenix and another good game against Golden State. Again, if it's a chemistry issue, you would think that Rondo would be improving, not regressing.
That leaves two theories: 1) Rondo is hurt, 2) Rondo is tired, or 3) Rondo has no confidence. It's impossible to say which of these three hypotheses is more likely, although I tend to speculate that it's a combination of all three. Rondo simply hasn't been playing with the same energy or aggressiveness lately, and he often looks like he has his head in the clouds (like on his offensive foul tonight, where he dribbled with his head down and bowled over the defender, Tony Allen style). His jump shot has completely left him, after shooting above his career highs on jump shots for much of this season.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot that can be done about it. If the issue is fatigue or injuries, it may be time for Doc to sit Rondo down for a few games, even at the expense of playoff seeding (which seems to be slipping away regardless). However, if it's a confidence issue, it's all in Doc's hands. He needs to get into his young point guard's head and he needs to infuse Rondo with confidence. Simply put, we won't win a championship unless Rondo plays much, much better than he has lately. Clearly, he has the talent to do so, but the team needs to somehow figure out a way to fix what is ailing him.