Between the Numbers of Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo holds a very prominent place in our nation's basketball consciousness.
As if being a rising star for one of the NBA's most storied—and recently competitive—franchises wasn't enough, his combination of immense talent and defined weakness gives him a conversational gravity. Everyone has a different opinion when it comes to Rondo's impact and potential, likely due to the fact that counting and advanced statistics alike have a hard time pinning him down.
No statistic is useful without context, but in Rondo's case, every number seems to demand footnotes upon footnotes of explanation.
11.9 points per game in 2011-2012
With as often as Rondo is praised for being a "pure" point guard, this season average should hardly come as a surprise; one of the most talented playmakers in basketball so often sticks to what he does best and leaves the scoring—for better or worse—in the hands of his Celtic teammates.
But two things stand as notable given Rondo's lack of scoring/shot attempts: Rondo is a far more capable scorer than his numbers suggest, yet he willingly elects to suppress his own point-getting ability.
The former certainly works to his advantage and goes a long way in explaining why such a talented athlete has never scored more than 13.5 points per 36 minutes in any season in his entire career.
There's nothing wrong with not piling up shot attempts, particularly when Rondo grew to prominence in a high-functioning Celtic offense that featured Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett heavily.
But those days are gone, and the nature—and effectiveness—of the offense have changed.
Boston scored fewer points per possession than all but three teams last season and could absolutely have benefited from Rondo looking to play the role of a more aggressive scorer. When at the absolute top of their game (as they were in the later stages of the postseason), the Celtics are essentially an elite outfit.
Otherwise, they're an elite offensive team with an inconsistent offense in spite of the fact that they have one of the best passers in the game leading the way.
17.5 PER in 2011-2012
Player efficiency rating (PER) is a useful but imperfect stat—as are all others. It gives us an easily read benchmark of a player's production relative to league-average levels and said player's peers, but it only has the ability to assess that which is measured.
For that reason, big men are typically valued rather highly on the PER leaderboards; not only are NBA bigs more likely to pile up rebounds than perimeter players, but by virtue of their height, many are able to score more efficiently on spoon-fed buckets, putback attempts and easy looks at the rim.
It makes sense then that a player like Rondo—who doesn't score much, doesn't have three-point range, only rebounds well for a guard and piles up assists and steals alone—would have a lower-than-expected PER.
Shot creation is an interesting issue in terms of PER-depicted value, but in Rondo's case, it seems fair to say that the metric doesn't entirely convey his offensive utility, much less what he's capable of providing on the defensive end.
Rondo's outright importance trumps even his impressive assist totals, as he's responsible for over half of the Celtics' field-goal makes while on the floor.
2.6 steal percentage in 2011-2012
Rondo pilfered opponents at a nearly identical rate to both LeBron James and Andre Iguodala last season, and one would expect no less of him. The Celtic guard has a proven and uncanny ability to pick off passes and tap away loose balls.
Those takeaways had only solidified Rondo's defensive effectiveness in years past, but the 2011-2012 incarnation of Rondo was decidedly different. Amidst an utterly unpredictable season, one of the best defenders in basketball hid behind his steal numbers while contributing a lacking and lackluster effort in his defensive duties.
Typically, Rondo's steals come as a result of excellent ball pressure and well-managed gambles. He's long done well to provide Boston's defense with a stellar front, and he had Kevin Garnett behind him to clean up any mistakes.
But last season's Rondo wasn't nearly as committed on the defensive end as he had been previously. Whether due to injury, poor conditioning or a lack of discipline, Rondo gambled far more recklessly than we've grown accustomed to seeing and folded far too frequently in off-ball situations.
He's an absolutely tenacious defender when engaged, but the most enigmatic Celtic threw us all for a loop with an impromptu regression.
The post-lockout season created a strange dynamic for all involved, and one can only hope that Rondo's impressive steal totals, averages and percentages come to represent his otherwise tremendous defensive capacity going forward, rather than give his effort a silver lining.
Career 48.1 percent field-goal percentage
Rondo's shooting discretion has resulted in a fairly impressive overall field-goal percentage, but given his reluctance to shoot and glaring lack of range, this particular number isn't as beneficial for Rondo as it might be for some of his contemporaries.
Take Steve Nash, for example—the champion of point guard shooting efficiency. Since his move back to Phoenix in 2004, Nash has shot no worse than 49.2 in any given season and typically posts a field-goal percentage well over 50 percent.
Rondo has a handful of such seasons to his name as well, yet even next to a pass-first point like Nash, Rondo's shooting reluctance colors his percentages in a completely different light. Nash is a threat to score every second that he has the ball in his hands, and he used that fact—along with his incredible pull-up accuracy—to fuel his own passing game and the flow of the Suns offense.
Though Rondo may put up roughly equivalent field-goal percentage numbers in individual seasons, he attempts significantly fewer shots per game and per minute than Nash and only remains a serious threat to score when within five feet of the rim.
Rondo epitomizes pure point guard play to a fault, and the differential in true shooting percentage (a measure that also accounts for three-point and free-throw shooting) between him (.483) and Nash (.625) last season spotlights a rather substantial difference that raw field-goal percentage does not.
Put more simply: Range matters, and Rondo doesn't have it.
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