BOSTON — After suffering a torn right ACL in January 2012, it took nearly a year for Rajon Rondo to be cleared for game action.
Sitting out for such a long stretch could be seen as a detriment to one’s game. However, great players can use that kind of absence as an opportunity to expand their game, and that’s exactly what Boston’s star point guard tried to do with his outside shot.
Prior to this season, Rondo had shot just 24.1 percent from downtown over seven seasons, easily placing him as one of the worst three-point shooters in the league among starting point guards.
Rondo’s subpar percentage from deep also kept him from pulling the trigger from beyond the arc during many contests, taking just 0.65 three-point attempts per game before the 2013-14 season. That lack of a threat allowed Boston opponents to ignore guarding him closely on the perimeter most nights.
Heading into this season, Rondo knew these numbers and was determined to do something about it. Boston’s captain was unable to take part in full contact drills for the first few months of the year, but that didn’t stop him from refining his shooting skills with new Celtics assistant coach Ron Adams. Rondo turned to the former Bulls assistant coach after seeing how much Adams had helped Avery Bradley’s jump shot.
“[Ron’s] been with me since Day One,” Rondo said. “We’ve been working day-in and day-out, as much as possible. In the beginning I could only move so much, but I’ve just been continuing trying to work and shoot the ball with confidence.”
The plan to build Rondo’s outside range was approved from the top of the Celtics coaching staff, as well.
“Ultimately you never know how that’s going to work itself out,” Boston head coach Brad Stevens said. “But that was kind of part of the big picture plan [for Rondo] is using that rehab time to spend even more time shooting the ball...And I think that all the time that he’s put in is paying itself off.”
|Rondo's Career 3-Point Shooting Numbers|
|Year||3pt made per game||3pt attempts per game||3pt Shooting %||Games|
Through 21 games this season, Rondo has improved his outside shooting numbers at a noteworthy clip. Despite being marred in a 1-of-15 shooting slump from beyond the arc during his last four games, Rondo is still shooting 30 percent from three-point range this year.
That’s a six percentage point bump from last season and just 1.3 percentage points off his career high of 31.3 percent from long distance during the 2008-09 season.
Rondo’s 70 three-point attempts this year over 21 games already dwarfs the 48 three-point attempts he took during that career-best year. In fact, Rondo has increased his three-point attempts per game by more than 500 percent this year compared to his career average.
That new kind of commitment to the three-point shot is catching the eye of players around the league.
"I always said the more he's improved, the more he's expanded his game, he's one of the best,” Paul Pierce said of his former teammate earlier this month. “He’s unstoppable…if he's coming down and knocking down threes. If he continues to consistently knock down that shot, watch out."
The added element of Rondo’s game is also having a positive effect on the Celtics’ offense, according to Stevens.
“It doesn’t change how you set things up [on offense],” Stevens explained. “I think it’s a prerequisite for things working more fluidly. It makes the defense make a decision. I’ve seen the last couple of defenses really pick and choose a little bit differently than maybe the first couple weeks.”
Stevens continued, “It’s not a coincidence then that our offense … is better. It may not be on a given night, but it’s better from the big picture than it was two months ago just because he’s getting more comfortable and he makes everybody around him better.”
“It’s kind of hard for teams to go under [Rondo] now [on picks],” teammate Jared Sullinger said. “I see a lot of teams kind of fighting over the top now because he will stop behind the three-point line to shoot it. He’s been hitting it this year and now teams are kind of worried.”
With teams around the league now having to pick their poison more carefully in defending Rondo, there still remains a commitment to keeping Rondo outside the paint.
“[How we defend Rondo] is not going to change,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “Obviously, you want to keep him out the paint and force him to a be a shooter. I don’t think that’s going to change, with all due respect. It’s a credit to how great he is at the other things [beside outside shooting].”
Despite his gains, Rondo still has a long way to go before he is in the same company as other elite NBA point guards shooting the three-ball.
|3-Point Shooting Percentages for Elite NBA Point Guards|
|Player||3PM Per Game||3PA Per Game||3pt Percentage||Salary|
With free agency looming in the summer of 2015, Rondo must make serious strides in this department if he believes himself worthy of a max contract offer, or something close to it. The league right now is deeper than ever at the point guard position, making it hard for teams to justify paying big money to a player who isn’t a consistent threat from beyond the arc.
As the 2013-14 season winds down, Rondo must continue to make strides in his three-point shooting in order to improve his team’s prospects, as well as his own in the years to come.