Post-game Reactions


The best part of watching this year’s Boston Celtics has been the rapid development of Rajon Rondo. The player that in the past had shown so much promise and untapped potential, all the while being maddeningly inconsistent,  has come full circle this year. The guy is the MVP of this team thus far, the individual who they could least afford to lose to injury. That’s some heavy praise for a player who is surrounded by three future Hall of Famers in the starting lineup.

Given these developments, it’s fair to ask, what exactly has changed about Rondo this year? Sure the majority of his averages per game have gone up from last year in points, (12 to 14), assists, (8.2 to 9.7) steals (1.9 to league-leading 2.5) but those numbers were pretty impressive in themselves last year. So what’s the biggest improvement Rondo has made in his game this year, to catapult his play into becoming the team MVP and potential All-Star? The short answer? It’s the finishing, my friend.

We had always seen flashes of Rondo’s finishing potential over the course of his career, and especially last year during the first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. The guy averaged just under a triple-double for that entire series, and just a shade under 20 points per game while getting to the basket at will against the pesky Bulls. Universal acclaim was bestowed upon Rondo, as the country saw what we Celtics fans had seen flashes of throughout Rondo’s entire career: the ability and confidence to finish strong at, and around the basket.

The honeymoon ended very quickly in the Orlando series. Rondo still provided terrific numbers in other facets of the game, averaging 9.5 boards and 8.4 assists per contest. The presence of Dwight Howard in the paint as well as Orlando’s defense put the clamps down on Rondo’s ability to get to the rim, as much as he did against Chicago.

Rajon’s shooting, as well as the C’s offense, suffered tremendously because of this, with Rondo’s FG percentage dipping down from 45 percent against the Bulls to 36.6% for the series against Orlando. Rondo’s flaws and inconsistent play were exposed to the nation once again, as it had been during his 2008 Finals run, when he was benched in favor of Eddie House at many crucial junctures of the Lakers series.

An offseason of well-documented turmoil surrounding Rondo followed the Orlando loss. Despite this, Rondo returned to the C’s as expected, reportedly more motivated than ever and fresh off of a summer working with shooting coach Mark Price. Needless to say, Celtics fans were excited about this development, as Rondo’s inability to shoot from the outside proved to be his achilles heel against Orlando.

What many fans seem to forget though, is that the 10-15 footers were just as troublesome as the outside shots for Rondo against the Magic. Rondo had opportunities from that range against Orlando all series long, as Magic defenders laid off of the point guard while protecting the rim. Unfortunately, Rondo lacked the ability, as well as the confidence, to take and make those chances on a regular basis. This led to many instances when Rondo looked to pass from this range, despite having a wide-open shot. Once again, Rondo’s perhaps fatal flaw had been exposed. It was a problem, and many C’s fans wondered if it would severely hamper and limit his effectiveness over the course of his career.

Fast forward to Rondo’s performance this year. Despite Price’s coaching, the outside shooting has not improved. In fact, it has regressed. Rondo is shooting 19.4 percent from downtown, a sharp drop from the 31 percent in 2008-09. In addition, his mid-range jumper has taken a hit as well, according to Hoopdata.com, with his shooting percentage from 16-23 feet falling from 40 percent last year, to just 32 percent this year. These numbers combined with Rondo’s problems at the free throw line (though he has recovered nicely to 60 percent in recent weeks) seem to indicate Rondo has not figured out the outside part of his game—not yet anyway.

Now, to make a point of full disclosure here, the inspiration for me writing this blog post came after the Heat win last week. In that overtime contest, Rondo went 9-of-12 from the floor and seemed to make every kind of shot when he got within 10-15 feet of the basket, especially in crunch time. I had noticed he had become a much better shooter this year on these types of “in-between” shots, but I figured it would be interesting to see just how much he had improved this year from this area on the floor. The answer? More than you and I could have ever imagined:

Below are Rondo’s FG Percentage numbers from all areas of the floor courtesy of Hoopdata.com

I highlighted the 2010 column there at the bottom for emphasis. As you can see Rondo showed nice improvement at the rim in his shooting percentage, but the focus should be the percentages inside 10 feet, and the 10-15 foot range. In these categories, Rondo posted unprecedented 17 and 20 percentage point gains, all the while taking MORE shot attempts from both of these regions of the floor. Just remarkable improvement that has gone under the radar for the majority of this year.

When you go back and think about Rondo’s performance this year though, the numbers make sense. The teardrop, floater, lefty layup, up-and-under–Rondo is taking all of these shots now with confidence and taking them well. With the nice array of weapons Rondo now has in his arsenal, number 9 is no longer looking to pass first when he gets within 10 feet of the hoop. Now, he looks to finish.

The advanced progression may have sped up a bit due to the plethora of injuries that have beset the Celtics in the past 2 months, as Rondo’s shot attempts per game have jumped from 10 to 13 per game since December. With the additional workload has come confidence and success as well, as despite the increased number of attempts, Rondo has shot a staggering 60 percent from the field thus far in January.

While digesting all of these numbers, another question popped into my head. Sure, Rondo’s improved numbers were nice inside 15 feet, but how did they stack up overall against other point guards in the league? The answer was a little less surprising this time. Below are Rondo’s rankings amongst PG’s at the various ranges as well as the league averages for point guard’s at that distance.

Rondo: 4th (66.3%)

Rondo: 7th (57.6%)

Rondo: 5th (55.2%)

Once again, impressive numbers for Rondo in all of those ranges. In fact, Rondo finished ahead of great scorers such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Mo Williams in ALL of these categories. Expect that? Neither did I.

I still had one question left though. Sure Rondo may be shooting well from all of these ranges, but how many shots per game was he taking in these regions, compared to everyone else. Figuring this out, I thought, would expose Rondo and other players who may shoot well in a particular area of the floor, but didn’t shoot from there enough for it to impact the game. For example, Beno Udrih is the 2nd best PG finisher in the league around the rim, shooting over 70 percent when he gets in that close. However, he only shoots 2.4 attempts a game from that close, so he really doesn’t get to the rim enough for it to help his team significantly.

With that in mind, I ranked Rondo’s shot attempts per game in all of these areas amongst all point guards. Once again, the results were favorable for Rajon:

Rondo: 5.6 attempts/game (3rd in league amongst PG)

Rondo: 2.1 attempts/game (2nd in league amongst PG)

Rondo: 0.8 attempts/game (21st amongst PG)

All numbers from Hoopdata.com

So there you have it. Rondo is not only shooting well from these areas of the floor, he is taking more shots inside of 10 feet than nearly every other PG in the league. In fact, at the rim and inside of 10 feet, Rondo is only behind Steve Nash and Derrick Rose in FG Percentage out of the point guards who take more than 5 shots/game in those ranges.

So not only is Rondo making these shots more than ever, he is taking more of them than ever before. For that reason, I have to proclaim Rajon as one of the best finishers in the league now around the basket. These numbers don’t lie, and Rondo is making the Celtics offense more dangerous than ever.

Given the fact the point guard out of Kentucky is only a 24-year-old, Danny Ainge’s decision to lock up the guard before he hit the market is looking smarter than ever and in all likelihood saved the C’s a couple million dollars a year that some other team surely would have anted up in max (or near max) money this offseason.

For now though, the C’s are left with one of the elite finishers in the league at his position. Rondo ranks 2nd in the league in point guard FG Percentage at 53%, just behind Steve Nash. Combine this with all the other ways number nine can fill the box score, I think it’s fair to start debating whether Rajon is one the top three overall point guards in the game. Now if he could only figure out that jumper.

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Brian Robb

Brian Robb co-founded CelticsHub in 2009 and is the currently editor-in-chief. He is a producer and reporter at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston and also contributes to Boston.com and Bleacher Report among other outlets.
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  • Sam

    Watch out when he figures it out. I can’t wait for that moment to come since I know it’s coming. He’s proven he only gets better with time which is what makes him fun to watch. The knowledge that he’s only going to get better, That he best form him has yet to come.

  • Jay P

    I’ve been saying it for the past two years, when Rondo adds a jumper, he is the best point guard in basketball, and one of the best players all around, period.

    The fact that he’s somehow managed to improve in categories which he was already elite in, just adds to this fact.

    He’s a hall of famer in the making, and if he’s snubbed from the all-star team this year, it’ll be a downright crime.

  • I will wear a Vujacic jersey if Rondo doesn’t make the All-Star game.

  • Jason

    Without looking at the numbers, just watching the games, his finishing is clearly improved and it’s awesome to see it happening. The in-the-paint floaters, the squeak-by-and-under layups, the over-the-shot-blocker kisses: his finishing is clearly stronger. He’s willing to force it a little more, that is when previous he might have had a bigger or stronger guy defending him, I wouldn’t say he was scared to challenge him, I would say he would choose something higher percentage in the offense. When there were bigs who rotated well, again, same thing, he would choose something else. This year, though, he’s going at them anyway and it’s the right decision because he’s come up with the skills to finish regularly even when challenged, plus it keeps defenses honest, not allowing them to sag. He’s making that strategy pay.

    Just watching him, it feels like soooo many more of those awkward shots are going down, which is just fantastic. Still, he seems to miss some it feels he should make. Admittedly, no one’s perfect and maybe my expectations are unreasonable, but it feels for all the progress, he still has marginal room for improvement.

    I had read earlier in the season that he credited one-on-one with Hudson (a tad taller and stronger than Rondo) as a major reason for this improvement. I hope he finds another practice-mate to help continue the progress.

    Anyway, the point is, I think he’s as close to elite in finishing as he can get. My image of an elite finisher has to be LeBron or Wade, even Maggette. The combination of quickness, length, size, strength, ups, coordination and touch are just so high that every time they head toward the rim, any opposing team (or fan) feels helpless. They are going to finish or get fouled and often both. It doesn’t matter the abuse, they can take it and still make it. That’s elite. Being at his height and weight, Rondo simply doesn’t have those imposing attributes and his finishing has to be smarter and sneakier (not simply brute) and like Nash or Parker (and the originals like Stockton), that’s what he utilizes to overcome the physical disadvantages he gives up near the rim. And it’s no insult to Rondo; the PG position isn’t where you typically find imposing finishers. In fact, the only PG I can think of that might be able to rival Wade and LeBron in that regard is Rose.

    This is all to say again that he’s very close to about as good as he could be for the tools he has, but I don’t see him ever rivaling the truly elite finishers of the league merely because at 6’1″ and 190 lbs, he simply can’t bull his way into the lane and above the rim and finish against multiple guys anytime he wants. Wade, LeBron, Maggette, Rose (and some others) can. And that’s elite.

  • Jason

    By the way, the reason Rondo couldn’t finish against Howard in last year’s playoffs is because Howard committed 25 fouls a game (only a minor exaggeration), but was only called for two. It even carried in the Cavs series where even LeBron FREAKING James couldn’t get a call against Howard who would bump the crap out a driving James and not get whistled.

    Anyway, Rondo went in there plenty of times, got knocked on his ass, but got no call. Eventually you learn the refs are going to let Howard do that all day so to continue driving would simply be stubborn.

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  • @Zach: Now THAT is great motivation to vote.

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  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    Rondo’s progress in this area has been huge since the beginning of the season. The first 15 games or so it was so obvious he was only thinking pass even when he had blown open a clear lane and was on the doorstep – dump to KG or Perk, kick-out to Ray or Truth. It was frustrating to watch – “score the ball!”, “keep the defense honest!”, “dominate!”.

    The injury situation has been a blessing in disguise. One more weapon to keep opposing Ds on their heels, and he is even starting to get the calls he didn’t get before (thats the nba, no rep for finishing, no calls). All he needs to do this year is steady his foul shooting so he can help close games…..the jumper can wait for the summer.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I was thinking of how Rondo ‘finishes’ on the fast break with the right pass at just the right time. He is like an artist with the bounce pass, but he can oop the alley or go behind his back….there is really no limit.

    IF he has some guys running with him it seems like 99% of the time he makes the right choice & somebody gets an easy basket. I was thinking if he was on a younger, fast break team his numbers would be outrageous.

    I continue to believe that he could lead the league in triple doubles, but I don’t think stats interest him that much. He just seems to love to make the unconventional play. I mean you watch his game, & you think of one word, SLICK. Jump shots are sort of boring to watch. Watching Rajon twist, snake, & stretch his way to the rim or make some weird angle bank shot adds so much flava to the game. That dunk against the Wiz was completely sick & my favorite Rondo offensive play this year. I just didn’t expect it at all, but I watched it over & over & over. Hearing Marv’s excited voice & seeing the reaction of shock from all those Wiz fans in the stands made it even better. If you gave me the choice between jump shot Rondo or rim Rondo I’d rather see him blowing by people & attacking that basket. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Rajon being an all star, but if you really like him you should go to nba.com & vote for him. Do your part. He deserves it.

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  • penetration

    fuck u hater

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  • Aw, this was an extremely good post. I have Spend some time and actual effort Rajon Rondo: Elite Finisher? iis appearing in the article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done