Sacramento Kings: The Resurgence Of Rajon Rondo Has Been A Pleasant Surprise


The resurgence of Rajon Rondo this season has been a pleasant surprise for the Sacramento Kings

Remember when Rajon Rondo single-handedly destroyed the 2014-2015 Dallas Mavericks?

It’s really not an exaggeration, I promise. In Dallas, Rondo mucked up the Mavs’ fast-paced offense, feuded with Rick Carlisle, and totally shook the team’s chemistry. The 29 year-old point guard became such a problem in the locker room that Carlisle asked him to stay home during the postseason rather than join the team for their series against the Houston Rockets.

I’m pretty sure Rondo even upper decked the toilet in Mark Cuban’s private bathroom just for good measure. Rajon Rondo’s poor individual performance, coupled with the adverse effect he had on the team completely sunk the Mavericks, a team that had been one of the most free flowing and exciting teams through the first half of the NBA season last season.

I won’t even attempt to figure out what happened to Rondo in Dallas after he was sent there by the Celtics. Trying to get into his mind would likely take us somewhere scary. There is no reasonable explanation for why an all-star point guard would do better playing along side Vitor Faverani

and Marcus Thornton, than he would with Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons. I’m sure his feeling uncomfortable within the Mavericks system and the mutual disdain between him and Rick Carlisle didn’t help, but that doesn’t explain it all. What happened to Rajon Rondo in Dallas will always remain a mystery.

Even more mysterious? The way Rajon has played this year.

The previously unknown refreshing qualities of Sacramento have transformed Rondo back to his old self. He has looked nothing like the man we saw in Dallas last year. No ridiculous turnovers, no more possessions that see him hold onto the ball for 20 seconds, and no more heated moments with his head coach that legitimately gave you Latrell Sprewell/P.J. Carlesimo flashbacks.

Rondo’s stats speak to just how much better he’s playing as well. Over his 46 games with the Mavericks, he averaged 9.3 PGG, 6.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, with a usage rate (an estimate of the percentage of his team’s possessions a player “uses” while he is in the game) of 20.3%; a crippling number when you consider that Rondo shot just 43.6% from the field.

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Through 18 games with the Sacramento Kings this season, he is averaging 12.4 PPG, 11.0 APG, and a career high 7.3 RPG. In four of those 18 games, Rondo has tallied a triple-double, leaving him just one triple-double shy of Chris Webber’s franchise record of five in a single season.

So how has Rondo managed such a dramatic turnaround just months after being such a toxic presence in Dallas?

There are a few factors involved.

Right now, he is handling the ball significantly longer than any other player on the Kings, and is fourth overall in the league in time of possession, behind only Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Reggie Jackson. This would strike most as troubling, especially because Rondo has been criticized in the past for dominating possessions and slowing the flow of the offense. However, while Rondo has had the ball in his hands a lot this season, he is consistently moving the ball quickly and decisively within the flow of Sacramento’s offense.

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For example, Rondo touches the ball a league-leading 101.3 times per game, but is 33rd in the league in average seconds per touch (4.56 seconds), first in passes per game (79.2), first in potential assists (19.7) and first in assists points created (26.7). So while Rondo is still handling the ball a lot and dribbling into the lane waiting to find open shooters, he is not dominating the ball to the detriment of his team’s success. He is looking for his teammates releasing off of pin down screens, in the pick-and-roll and off of his own penetration through opposing defenses.

It also doesn’t hurt that Rajon is playing under a particularly point-guard friendly coach in George Karl. Karl is known for his fast-paced offense, which isn’t dissimilar from the one run by the Mavs in Dallas that Rondo struggled with. The difference this time? Rondo has a strong pick and roll big man to work with in DeMarcus Cousins; something he never really had in Dallas. The combination has proven itself to be pretty potent thus far, and so long as the collective crazy between the two doesn’t manifest itself in a locker room brawl, or a wild drug infused weekend in Vegas, it should continue to be a successful pairing.

Lastly, Rajon Rondo has become far more efficient with the Kings this season. In those 46 games with the Mavericks, his PER was 12.3%, putting him below Trey Burke at 12.6%, and just slightly above Pablo Prigioni at 12.2%. Not exactly the most esteemed company when it comes to efficiency. With the Kings, Rondo’s PER has improved to 16.6%, above the generally accepted league average of 15.0%. While this number still leaves him well below the typical percentage for an all-star point guard, it’s an improvement, and one that has lent itself to the rest of his game.

Rajon Rondo’s reversion has been one of the more unexpected storylines of the young NBA season. It has added another exciting wrinkle to what has to be the most dysfunctional/interesting organizations in the Sacramento Kings. I truly believed that he was no longer an impact point guard after the way he tanked with the Mavericks last year. It’s a testament both to his immense skill, and just how poor of a fit he was in Dallas.

However, the question still remains – Can Rajon Rondo sustain this? His strong play out of the gate has been a pleasant surprise to all of us who watch the NBA, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen a player come out strong after an entire offseason of training. The true test will be seeing whether or not he can keep this up. To find out, we’ll just have to wait, watch, and hope that he doesn’t throw up so many bricks, that DeMarcus Cousins rips his head off.