If Rajon Rondo reversed global warming, one-upped Infinite Jest with a timeless Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and convinced the nation that Kris Kardashian is a permissible human being, people would still harp on his inability to knock down a 16-footer.
So goes the trouble that comes with being one of the most unique, other-worldly basketball players the NBA has ever seen. And so goes playing during a statistically driven revolution where slight blemishes are transformed into career-crippling flaws.
But advanced statistics are far from the only thing to blame for the jump-shot related stigma Rondo has created for himself. Before playing a single NBA minute, people already questioned whether or not he could shoot. He entered the league with a dark cloud above his head, and after struggling with his jump shot for much of those first few seasons, Rondo found himself in every scouting report as someone who could be left alone on the perimeter.
As the years went by, he found creative ways to glide into the paint at will, eventually establishing himself as one of the two or three best pure point guards in the league. But to some, it's never been enough; people still go back to that faulty jumper. (The running joke got so bad it eventually reached the White House.)
Reputations are incredibly hard to lose, even for people as insanely fast as Rajon Rondo. Once you’re given a label, it’s nearly impossible to convince people you’re something else. This is the steep hill Rondo will climb for the rest of his career, but lucky for both him and the Celtics, perception often has a way of distancing itself from reality.
He’s been working on his shot, and it's ever-so-slightly improved throughout the past six seasons. The form is far from perfect, but the numbers that once killed him now indicate an elevation closer to the median than ever before.
So far this season, what we've seen is continued betterment. Rondo's shot has been consistent to the point where even if it drops off just a little, defensive coaches will have serious nightmares each time they face the Celtics.
According to Synergy, Rondo is averaging 1.56 points per possession in spot-up situations this season. That number isn’t sustainable—if he somehow managed to keep it up, the Celtics would win the championship and Rondo would surpass LeBron James as the world’s best player—but it is encouraging.
It's early in the season, but Rondo's shot looks as nice as it ever has. He's drained 13-of-21 shots between 8 and 24 feet, an area that used to be his dead zone.
Through four games, 31.3 percent of his production is coming from mid-range jumpers (up from 20.3 percent last season) but in order for Boston's offense to become average, he needs to shoot even more. Here's a play from Wednesday night's victory over the Wizards in which Rondo comes off a screen from Paul Pierce and finds himself wide open just above the elbow.
Instead of confidently stepping into the shot and knocking it down, he appears visibly shaken at finding himself so wide open. Rondo hesitates, then whips an awful pass at Jared Sullinger, who's standing in the heart of Washington's defense.
If we want to criticize Rondo (jump shot and all, it's difficult to name 12 better players in the world) here's where we should look. Right now, the most problematic part of his game is a penchant to throw low-percentage passes that result in unnecessary turnovers.
Those are what's really hurting his team, not the jump shot.
The sample size of information we have to work with is small. We aren’t even five games into an 82-game season, and there’s much more basketball to be played. But so far, a lot of what we’ve seen from Rondo’s jumper has been a positive step in the right direction.
If defenses continue to leave him alone, and he continues to knock down shots, Rajon Rondo's reputation will finally change for the better. So far, Celtics fans are liking what they see.