It might sound ridiculous to be upbeat when your team’s currently ranked 12th in the horrific East, holding a 19-39 season record, and definitely nowhere near the playoffs. Here’s a flowchart that sums up my feelings every game:
Summary: Just can’t lose this season! As things stand right now, we’re looking at two first round picks this coming draft. There is another potential pick from Philadelphia which is lottery protected. Problem: they’re 15-42 right now, and they definitely did a better job on making their team worse by trading Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the deadline, so that pick is more or less out of reach.
Outside of developing young core players like Sullinger and Olynyk, hoarding picks and keeping the salaries manageable, the biggest concern on the team has to be our captain Rajon Rondo. It’s obvious the long term plan is to build around #9, which begs the question – how is his game looking like so far after his return from ACL surgery, and can we expect him to be as good (if not better) compared to earlier seasons?
Free throw shooting
Some past numbers on RR at the stripe:
- His highest FT accuracy was 64.7% in his rookie season (2006/07) while averaging 2.4 FTs a game (184 attempts total.)
- The next highest was 64.5% last season (2012/13) at 2.4 FTs a game (93 attempts total.)
- The most free throw attempts ever taken in a season was in 2009/10, where he took 282 shots and made 62.1%.
This season, he’s been hitting them at 73.7%, making 14 of 19. Out of the 13 games he’s played, he’s only shot free throws in 6 of them, more notably the recent games against the Suns (4/5), Lakers (1/2) and Jazz (6/6).
This sample size is incredibly tiny, and he could very well derail the entire stat by only making half of them in the remaining 23 games. If his free throws in the recent Jazz game are any gauge though, his mechanics do seem to be improved. If you do watch the video linked above, there is a consistent form and routine being seen in the way he follows through with the shot.
Long story short: it could be luck, but I doubt it.
Shot distribution and accuracy
Rondo has always been known as a brilliant passer and finisher at the rim, and much less of a shooting threat, be they three-pointers or mid-range jumpers. Of course, he proved Miami wrong by burying mid-range jumpers when they sagged off him during the 2012 playoffs, but that’s been an anomaly from Rondo and his cheat code playoffs mode, rather than a consistent statistic.
In 2011/12, his right elbow jump shot was a reliable but seldom used option (23 /41), with the bulk of his shots being near the rim (176/340) – floaters, putbacks, twisty layups off the glass, the occasional dream shake and all that. Everything else was a quirky and unreliable go-to option.
In 2012/13, things began to change. Despite not finishing the season (38 games played compared to 53 in 2011/12), Rondo’s mid-range shots around the FT line improved in both volume and accuracy, most especially the right elbow.
- In only 13 games, he’s already hit the same amount of three pointers straight up (the zone facing the basket), that he did in 2011/12 and 2012/13 combined. That’s a total of 91 games, mind you. Put it to a combination of three factors: team direction, Rondo’s confidence and his improved shot mechanics.
- It’s also evident that he hasn’t quite regained his speed and mobility, which accounts for the reduced field goal percentage around the rim. Not being able to sidestep and flash by defenders at top speed would tend to make one miss more layups – just saying.
In terms of distribution: he’s taking 23.28% of his shots at the three point line this season, compared to 10.75% in 2012/13 and 7.34% in 2011/12. Clearly, Rondo’s working hard to dispel the defensive myth about “giving Rondo space to shoot because he’s a bad shooter”, and making teams rethink their Rondo-oriented defensive strategies. Rondo hasn’t regained the fluid movement he had pre-ACL tear, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much space opposing teams will give him in the months ahead.
This wouldn’t be much of a Rondo article if we ignored Rondo’s most valuable trait on the floor. Having averaged 11.7 and 11.1 assists per game in the past two seasons, he’s currently on 7.8 dimes per game, with 10+ assists coming from 6 of his 7 recent games.
Some other interesting numbers (reference):
- The team averaged 19.45 assists per game before Rondo’s return, and is currently dishing close to 22 assists in the past 17 games since his return.
- Out of the 395 assists made by the team since his return, Rondo’s made 102 – that’s more than a quarter of them.
- Similarly, the team’s assist % has risen from 53.52% to 60.52%, which speaks volumes about the increased number of assisted team baskets.
What the numbers don’t describe though, is the sheer joy of seeing Rondo make the right plays and find a teammate for open baskets, something that has been sorely missed when he went down last season. That “point guard by committee” thing last year? Most definitely a failed experiment.
Despite all the positive signs, it’s still too early to say for certain how well Rondo’s recovered. The true test will come soon enough once March hits, when the Celtics run the gauntlet and go through a punishing schedule with contenders (Warriors, Pacers, Suns, Heat) and tough matchups (Pistons, Nets, Bulls) throughout the month.
Be sure to refer to the flowchart and stay positive, but more importantly, keep your eyes peeled and observe how Rondo and the team fare against tough competition. This season is all about growth, and that’s all the silver lining we need right now. May the return of Mr Triple Double be swift, and certain.