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Boston Celtics: Has Rajon Rondo Reverted to Inefficiency?

Ryan Aston@mrmarykateolsenCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket during the first half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

After the first two games of the NBA season, it appeared as if Rajon Rondo had turned over a new leaf on offense.  He was scoring at a high rate (26.5 PPG), hitting shots from the perimeter, and most importantly, getting to the free throw line (a combined 23 attempts) and making his foul shots at a higher rate (nearly 70%). 

Over the last four contests however, it would seem that Rondo has reverted to his old tendencies (11.5 PPG and a combined 6/11 on free throws).

Throughout his career, the big knock on Rondo's basketball skill set has been his ability to provide a viable outside threat to opposing defenses.  When playing off the ball/on the perimeter, it would not be uncommon to see Rondo left unchecked by an opponent's backcourt players.  Perhaps more troubling was the point guard's inability to get to the line (and make his free throws).  Last season, Rondo averaged only 1.9 free throw attempts per game.  By comparison, Derrick Rose (6.9 free throw attempts per game), Russell Westbrook (7.7 FTA), Deron Williams (6.3 FTA), and Chris Paul (nearly five attempts per game) were far more successful at penetrating and getting to the stripe.

The importance of free throw shooting is not to be overlooked.  By most metrics, drawing fouls on shot attempts is the most efficient way to score in the NBA.  Even using the most rudimentary of methods to calculate efficiency, an average foul shooter (70-75%) gets more points per possession (1.4-1.5 PPP) at the line than high percentage 2-point (50%/1 PPP) and 3-point (40%/1.2 PPP) shooters.  So while Rondo's court-vision and passing ability compare favorably to the NBA's elite point guards, his ability to score efficiently does not.

One cannot help but wonder why Rondo continues to display these deficiencies. Some theorize that Rondo's refusal to penetrate the lane and draw fouls is due to his lackluster foul shooting, but this is absolutely correctable. Players like Rose and Williams were not heralded for their shooting ability when they were drafted, but have since worked their way to becoming dangerous perimeter options and solid free throw shooters for their teams. For the Celtics to have continued success this season, Rondo's game must evolve and he cannot be afraid to mix it up in the paint.

Another troubling aspect of Rondo's performance this season has been his high turnover numbers.  He currently leads the NBA in turnovers at nearly five per game and has twice committed seven turnovers in games this season. Some of this might be due to the lockout-shortened training camp/preseason and condensed schedule, in which many statistics are down league-wide and the quality of basketball being played has occasionally suffered.  Another factor could be the influx of new players and new line-up combinations the Celtics have employed this season.  Whatever the case might be, Rondo has seen his turnovers increase while his assists decline.

Whether or not Rajon Rondo is willing or able to correct the lingering issues in his game remains to be seen, but early returns this season indicate that we will be seeing more of the same; a gifted athlete, but a flawed basketball player.

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