It’s tough to complain.
Rajon Rondo’s averaging 12.5 assists per game, and his play-making abilities never fail to amaze. Barring a two-game disappearing act in Portland and Phoenix, Rondo has eliminated his biggest weakness from last year — a tendency to hide for quarters, or even games, at a time. He’s become the consistent floor leader Boston needs, and even has improved his outside shooting. According to Hoop Data, he’s taking more 16-23 footers than at any other point in his career, and making a higher percentage of them (46%, with his next highest being 43%). But there’s been one thing missing this season: Rondo’s aggressiveness driving to the hoop.
This season, Rondo has rarely driven with scoring on his mind. As Dan Duggan worded it in a tweet, Rondo has evolved from pass-first to pass-only. At times, Rondo has even passed up open layups in favor of hitting a teammate for an open jumper. His unwillingness to score allows the defense to play him solely as a passer, and has resulted in Rondo’s career-low average for free throws, as well as a scoring average (10.6 ppg) which is well below last year’s scoring average (13.7 ppg) and even further below Rondo’s numbers from last playoffs (15.8 ppg). Rondo’s actually shooting a better percentage from the field this year than he ever has, so his scoring drop can be solely attributed to his lack of scoring aggression. By shooting fewer shots and earning fewer trips to the free throw line, Rondo has effectively allowed opponents to defend him solely as a passer.
Until last night. For the first time I can remember, Rondo looked to score. And he looked to score some more. And he kept looking to score. By game’s end, Rondo had taken 15 shots — more shots than he’d taken in any game since November 30, 2010, and the second highest field goals attempted total of Rondo’s season. Amid all that scoring aggression, Rondo still found the time to notch 10 assists. Aggression and assists, as Rondo displays when at his best, are not mutually exclusive. He can do both. Last night, whether it was because he was defended by Beno Udrih, because Doc Rivers’ prodding finally convinced him to call his own number, or because of some other reason I can’t think of, Rondo drove to the basket looking to score. He made himself a threat, and, to Celtics fans, it was a beautiful thing. (CSNNE)
“It’s night and day. When he’s attacking and making things happen, and playing at a high level he’s used to playing at, the sky’s the limit for this team,” said Kendrick Perkins.
Rondo still didn’t find his way to the charity stripe very often (he finished 3-3 from the line). But that will come, as long as he keeps attacking. And even if the trips to the free throw line never come, Rondo’s increased aggression provides the Celtics with yet another weapon.
“We’re staying on him; I’m trying to get him to get to the free-throw line as much as possible,” Rivers said. “Just keep driving, keep attacking.” …
“The second half of the year, that’s really important for him; just see how many times he can get to the free-throw line,” Rivers said. “It’ll be great for his confidence, great for our team’s confidence. And we known when the playoffs start, that’s going to be something that he’ll have to do.”
I recently spent some time covering Scottie Reynolds in the NBA D-League. Reynolds, who plays for the Springfield Armor, is attempting to reinvent himself as a pass-first point guard, and doing so quite successfully. But his head coach, Dee Brown, said the key for Reynolds is finding a balance between scoring and distributing.
“You can’t be the type of point guard who takes 18 shots and only gets three assists,” Brown told me. “And you can’t be a point guard who only takes three shots but has 13 assists. It’s all about finding that balance.”
I love the way Rondo’s played this season. I really do. He’s been great, and I assume everyone would agree. But the next step is finding that balance. Tuesday night in Sacramento was a great start.