An incredible talent with overrated regular season production, Rajon Rondo defies simple analysis. He has the potential to be a first team All-NBA player next season, and he could just as easily be a mere shade above average. Since Rondo is so fantastic at certain parts of the game and so terrible at others, his projection depends on how much this still young player improves at what ails his game.
By statistical measure, Rondo leaves something to be desired. While it is common to cite his assist totals, there are more aspects to offensive production than passing. Rajon struggles to score, and scoring is an important part of a point guard's job.
The conventional positional wisdom is that a PG must be a distributor, that a scoring point is somehow a degradation of the game. This is a silly way to think because there's no tangible proof that a team needs a shot-averse point guard. These positions are somewhat arbitrary anyway, especially as the league evolves.
For example: LeBron James is Miami's best passer, but he plays small forward while doing his best work in lineups that feature him as a power forward. When analyzing players, it is better to just look at the production rather than positional archetype.
So let us look at Rajon Rondo's production. He led all NBA players in assists at 11.7 per game. For many basketball observers, the Rondo conversation ends there. He's the assist leader, so he's therefore elite.
But to what end is Rondo getting those assists? Boston ranked 24th in offensive efficiency last season and 18th the year before. Obviously, overall team age is a contributing factor in that ranking, but the Celtics boasted fine shooters all around.
Often, the only poor shooter on the court was Rondo himself. The mediocre .448 field-goal mark fails to tell the whole story because much of that story is Rajon passing up open jumpers and layups. Passing when you should shoot is just as bad as shooting when you should pass, in the general sense. For some reason, we give point guards a proverbial pass for over-passing. We take it especially easy on Rondo because some of that over-passing can lead to brilliant results.
But Rondo's refusal to shoot (only 10.8 field-goal attempts per game despite handling the rock more than any teammate) and inability to present the threat of shooting hinder Boston's ability to space the floor.
At the same time, Rajon Rondo is dynamic—or at least on the cusp of dynamism. The slight-of-height guard is a sleeping giant, if only he'd fix that jumper.
Last postseason was a preview of what could be. Rondo shot more, with his field-goal mark jumping to 15.8 per game. As a result of the shift, he delivered a breakout game against the Heat, going off for 44 points on 24 shots.
Obviously, Rondo isn't going to be scoring 30 points per game anytime soon, but he's one skill away from elite status. Thankfully for Rajon, outside shooting tends to improve as players age. He has the fortunate quality of being good at things players rarely improve upon (passing, rebounding) while being bad at a skill that players often get better at.
If Rondo becomes more of a scoring threat, he will become a more dynamic distributor. When teams fear his outside shot or his driving ability, lanes and space should open up for his teammates. Right now, Boston is too dependent on Rondo dribbling out the clock in search of an open man. A scoring Rajon could speed the pace with scoring tries, helping the overall offensive fluidity.
At age 26, this could be the year when Rajon Rondo becomes a two-dimensional offensive force. If it happens, the Celtics may become more than just a defensive juggernaut.