Post-game Reactions

For all the many advancements Rajon Rondo has made this season, he hasn’t made the one improvement we’ve been wishing for the most: He still can’t shoot jumpers.

He’s improved his shooting from 15 feet and in, and he’s shown flashes of a quality jump shot from outside of 15 feet. But the last two months or so have shown the long jumper just isn’t going to be a reliable part of Rajon’s arsenal this season. And you feel the impact of that reality when the C’s face a team (like the Spurs) that packs the paint on defense and doesn’t turn the ball over and allow Boston to get into transition.

Over Boston’s last 20 games, Rajon Rondo is 13-of-55 (24 percent) on shots from outside 15 feet, according to box scores on Hoopdata.

That is, frankly, awful. But we should separate three-pointers from long twos, since Rajon shoots most of his three-pointers with the shot clock expiring. When we do that, we get this:

Last 20 games:

Three-pointers: 2-of-17 (12 percent)

Two-pointers outside of 15 feet: 11-of-38 (29 percent)

How bad is 29 percent?

According to Hoopdata, there are 68 players classified as point guards who have played 20 games and averaged at least 10 minutes per game. (I used these criteria to weed out extreme stats from players who have barely played).

Among those 68 players, only three have hit fewer than 29 percent of their long two-point attempts: Rafer Alston (who has pulled this off for both Miami and New Jersey), Chris Duhon and Mardy Collins.

Over the full season, Rondo has been a bit better than 29 percent on long twos—but not by much. He’s hit 34 percent of two-point Js from beyond 15 feet, down from 40 percent last season and 43 percent in 2008, according to Hoopdata. The percentages are trending down even though the number of attempts per game has stayed about the same over those three seasons; Rajon’s percentage hasn’t dropped because he’s taking more (and tougher) jumpers.

And that 34 percent mark for the first 73 games of the season? It ranks 58th out of 68 on that list of point guards I mentioned earlier. (If you’re curious, the other guys below him are Tyreke Evans, Earl Watson, the Jazz version of Eric Maynor, Ronnie Price, Ray Felton, D.J. Augustin, Kevin Ollie and Jamaal Tinsley).

This isn’t to knock Rondo. He’s been the C’s best player this season, and he’s improved as a passer, defender and mid-range finisher. You can’t improve onĀ everything in one year, right?

But perhaps it doesn’t serve a team’s offense well when their best player can’t hit jump shots. Casual fans might miss the fact that a decline in the team’s offense is behind the C’s slippage this season. All the talk of aging and KG’s knee focuses the narrative—almost by accident—on the C’s defense, and you hear commentators occasionally discuss the C’s alleged problems on that end.

Guess what? The C’s are, right now, the best defensive team in the NBA. No team allows fewer points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference.

But on offense, the C’s have fallen from 6th in offensive efficiency last season (110.5 points per 100 possessions) to 17th (!) this season (107.0 points per 100 possessions).

As the Big Three have aged, more of the offensive burden has fallen on Rondo. He has proven up to that burden more times than not, but I don’t think it’s ridiculous to speculate that one reason for the C’s decline in scoring could be their reliance on a player who can basically be ignored outside the paint.

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Zach Lowe

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  • DRJ1

    I don’t know. Maybe Rondo’s jumper hasn’t improved, maybe it has. I believe the sampling is not adequate. Most of Rondo’s jumpers are taken as a last resort, when all else has failed and he’s the only option left. Occasionally, rarely, he’s decided in particular games to be more aggressive with his shot, but I can’t remember more than 2-3 such games all season. So the logic applied to his 3-pt shot can be applied to his overall jumper shooting.

    What we saw last night was an UNWILLINGNESS to take the jumper, even though he was wide open many times, thanks to Manu’s defensive plan. The best antidote to such a plan is, of course, an effective jumper. The 2nd best antidote is probably a pick and pop as Rondo drives. Last night, neither happened. The Cs had no counter at all. If there’s one thing they need to take away from this game, it’s that… have your plans ready when the opponent drops off Rondo. Because it’s gonna happen again. A lot.

  • schtevie

    It would be nice if Rondo were a better shot. But that is not what is at the root of the Celtics’ problems in regaining championship form. Go to BasketballValue.com. Look at the productivity of the starting line-up over the past three years. The story is clear. The net effect of the bad aging (KG, Pierce, and Ray Allen) and good aging (Rondo and Perk), is that the offensive efficiency this year is better than last and the same as in 2007-08. It is the defensive efficiency that has plummeted, from 93.4 to 98.4. How the team can best repair that five point gap is the question, and though a point is a point is a point, it seems to me that the focus should be on trying to return the defense to form and not trying to push the offense beyond what it ever produced in the past.

  • @schtevie: Good thoughts, man. You raise questions worth more analysis.

    Two things:

    There’s no question the D wasn’t where it was in ’08. It’s never going to be there again. That was an all-time defense. The current D is still as good as it gets in the league.

    You’re right that the starters continue to be a dynamite offensive line-up. But Rajon is being asked to play more minutes than ever as the lone starter (or one of maybe two starters) with the bench this season. I’d have to check to see how those groups are doing.

  • jackofarcades

    You can live with 40 and 43 percent. Even if they are routinely wide open shots, it’s pretty good. Nobody really shoots much higher, even on wide open shots. To expect like 50% would be unreasonable.

    34% is really bad, though.

  • @jack: absolutely. Very few players, if any, hit half their open Js from 16 and out. I’d sign up for 43 percent and a willingness to take them right now.

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  • schtevie

    Let’s be clear. According to Hoopdata, RR is an above average shooter from 15 feet in, and below average from beyond. If as an upper bound estimate, we were to magically transform him to an average shooter on long twos and threes (and keep in mind that these aren’t the shots that one is looking for in the NBA) my math says that the Cs get an extra 0.65 points per game on average. Nice, but first of all the magic ain’t gonna happen, and second, that transforms the Cs into….nothing much different really.

    If the question is what is their best bet to return to championship form, I put my money on reinvigorating the defense. Good health/non-tired legs is a prerequisite, great execution is the necessity, then a whole lot of luck would help too. Is it going to happen? I wouldn’t put any money on that.

    And Zach, you write about the ’08 D, “It’s never going to be there again.” But it was at the beginning of last season and the beginning of this one (if I recall correctly). The antidote to the pernicious effects of aging is the off-season. To bad the season doesn’t start with the playoffs.

  • @schtevie: But any improvement in Rajon’s shooting would have a larger impact on the offense as a whole, right? (Right?).

    I noted in the post that he’s become really good from 15 and in. And he deserves huge credit for that.

    Re: the D. I believe they allowed something insane like 98.9 points/100 possessions in ’08. Breaking 100 is historic. They were never below 100 this season.

  • schtevie

    Abstracting from the issue of whether an improvement in shooting fundamentals is possible at the end of a season (it isn’t, right?) there is the question of its hypothetical impact. I think the estimate I provided is an upper bound of RR magically becoming an average long range shooter. The argument is this. If Rondo were a better shooter, but the defenses didn’t adjust, he would get those notional 0.65 points. If they did adjust, some of those 0.65 points would be taken away but in turn teammates would reap the benefits in terms of more open looks. And these 0.65 would be the most that the defense would be willing to concede to others in guarding RR more closely.

    And as for the defensive performance issue, my recollection is that the roaring starts of this and last season were based on defensive performance akin to the championship season. Are you saying that this is false? These Celtics have been the best in the league when healthy. Sadly, aging has been predictably unkind on this account, however.

  • Jay Cutler

    That ‘The Cs are the best defensive team in the NBA now’ claim needs to be tempered somewhat.

    They look good in first halves but, by eyeballing, I see that their D falls asleep in 3rd quarters (see against Spurs for most recent) and their O slightly. Then their O flounders in the 4th.

    If only it were a 24 minute ball game.

  • @Schtevie: Not saying it’s false that defense has been great early and the fuel for this team. Just saying that even earlier this season, they were not giving up fewer than 99 points/100 possessions.

  • John R. S.

    Point guards should be “pass-first” players even if they have better jumpers than Rondo’s.

    Rondo IS a “pass-first” player, always has been and always will be. I have no semblance of a gripe with that.

  • John (hoping for a Lakes v. Celts II)

    Lakersfan here:

    OK, I think it’s no secret that guarding Rondo means just leaving him open. What I’ve seen from him is that the more open he is, the left confident he has in his form and follow through. It’s almost as if when a defender is no where in sight, he feels hurt that nobody respects his jumper and he stops thinking about what his form and more about whether or not he’ll make it.

    Celts will go nowhere if Rondo’s jumpers don’t fall. I think SVG figured it out best during last year’s playoff. Just clog Pierce and Ray Al and make Rondo into a jump shooter.

  • Jrmz

    Maybe hes just on a slump. Was he better at the start of the season? Plus is it possible that teams aren’t giving him the open looks they once did? After all, you can’t just leave an All-Star open.

  • I love Green

    Honestly, I don’t know how you can have professional trainers helping Rondo with his shot, and not have him stick his elbow in. Every basketball player should know your elbow needs to be in when you shoot.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    Agree that Rondo can’t take the blame when you look at the salaries of the other guys….its just not fair. Its unfortunate that what amplifies his weak J on O is that the bigs aren’t really getting it done inside either. They can’t create their own offense in traffic and they are bad on the O glass. In traffic, there seem to be an awful lot of turnovers and blocked shots. No one is really a threat to rise up, dominate, or even continually pester a frontline effectively….even in a Craig Smith, Brandon Bass, Birdman, or Dejaun Blair kindaway. Baby is close but continually gettting stuffed after an O rebound is not a net+. The irony is, sheed really looks in command on the block and can get his shot off at will in traffic…..but he mostly chooses not to do it and definitely could not be bothered to hit the glass.

    NOTE: would be very happy if you could pull numbers on any of this and prove true or call BS on me.

    I like Rondo a lot….but I can’t transition to manlove unless he comes back next year with an improved shot. He is a competitor and knows its the only major hole in his game, so I would expect a big step forward even over this summer.

  • Sam

    The onl problem is that we need Rondo to hit his Js this year. Next year we are most likely not a contender for the title.

  • schtevie

    Zach, the C’s pace this year overall has been 91.7 possessions per game. In the first 28 games, when they ripped it at 23-5, they gave up 91.5 points per game. Assuming that the pace over these games was the same as the yearly average, their defensive efficiency was 99.7 vs. 98.9 on the year in 2007-08. Of course, on the same terms, that year, the Cs started stronger still defensively and one should really count the possessions to get the correct answer, but the point remains that the Cs would appear to have significantly deteriorated defensively since the year began. And that I chalk mainly up to creaky bones.

  • Perry

    schtevie: You make some good points, which I’d like to expound on. First, let’s agree that replicating that 07/08′ defense is akin to Kevin ever playing at 100% again. Both entities performing at that level were off the charts.

    That being said Zach is also right. Although nowhere close to the 07′ model, statistically this current group of Celtics remain a defensive stalwart by today’s NBA standards.

    But the Celtic offense thrives on getting multiple stops on the defensive end. When that happens Rondo is able to do what he does best — get his teammates in the best possible position to score. So if the stops aren’t consistent neither is the offensive efficiency.

    Zach’s analysis is spot on. Rondo’s perimeter game has not progressed. The elite teams possessing depth and length at the wing always dare Rondo to shoot, and the results are ususally not in the Celtics favor.

    Last night we saw Pop implement the strategy using Ginobili. Jackson has called on Kobe who has also neutralized Rondo.

    Instead of using his quickness in the half court set to exploit the match up he settles. Other times it’s as simple as him moving behind the pick at the elbow. Those are good shots, and we want him taking those shots, but he isn’t knocking them down consistently.

    In his defense there are numerous instances where the ball sticks only to wind up in his hands with precious seconds left on the shot clock. In other words, Doc is not running sets for Rondo to shoot 3’s.

    So Rondo’s perimeter game remains a detriment, but not an impediment — if his teammates don’t settle for the ‘one shot pass’ concept. The ball has to swing for them to find the mismatch the opposition’s switching creates. Chances are the ball will find its way to a smaller man on Pierce or Ray.

    Let’s give credit where it’s due. Because of injuries Rondo has done an excellent job of assuming the leadership mantle. No one can deny he’s scored the ball when the situation deemed it necessary. But this is still Kevin’s team in the locker room, and Paul’s team in crunch time. If Rondo tries inflict his will too much on the offensive end it results in chemistry problems, and since the 23-5 start it’s been all too evident.

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  • Dan

    I don’t think you can analyze the offensive and defensive efficiencies in isolation. Missed shots lead to easy transition points, especially against a slower team like the C’s. Right now the C’s average 11.6 opponent fast break PPG, which is actually near a league best. But, since the C’s have the 3rd worst OREB%, I’d argue that the relatively low 11.6 is deceiving.

    Another mind-blowing stat is that the Celtics average almost twice as many offensive fouls as their opponents, 2,47 pg compared to 1.67 pg. In fact, this is the only turnover category in which the C’s are getting beaten at. I’m not sure which end of the floor this is on: is it because of PP’s aggressiveness and Perks’ clumsiness, or because no one other than BBD takes charges?

  • john marzan

    of course, rondo is a poor outside shooter.

    I can tell you that by just looking at his FT% (62%).

    for comparison, shaq during his last year in phoenix shot 60% FT

  • Ray Leighton

    Schtevie’s comment about the defense actually leads to some research I just did, and which I found profoundly disturbing. According to Schtevie, we are giving up about five more points on defense in terms of efficiency this year. Even though we are the best defense in the league overall, those five points are a terrible increase, so I set out to find the problem. I’m sure that you will find this as disturbing as I did:

    It has nothing to do with the big three. It’s Perk. If you check out the +/- production stats that I am always talking about on 82games, you can actually get the details of all of the stats that go into the formula. And one number jumped out at me — Perk’s opponent is scoring 19.3 points per 48 minutes when Perk is on the floor. In other words, for every 48 minutes that Perk plays, the opposing centers are averaging almost 20 points. Regardless of whether you like production stats are not, this isn’t really a production stat — it’s simply what your opposite number scores when you are on the floor.

    That number is really bad — first, it is by far the worst number for any of the C’s starters (KG is tops, giving up less than 14 points per 48 minutes). To put it into context, of the nine East Conference teams that can still get into the playoffs, Perk ranks 7th out of 9 starting centers in terms of giving up points. Bargnani with Toronto is only giving up about one point more per 48 minutes. Even worse, Sheed is not that much worse, and he is barely trying on defense (although admittedly, Sheed also plays against a lot of second-rotation centers).

    And here is where it gets really disturbing — last year, Perk was fifth among centers in the entire league at this statistic, and you guessed it, he gave up about 5 points less per 48 minutes last year.

    So although Perk is increasing his blocked shots this year, his ability to actually stop his man from scoring has gotten way worse.

    I hate to say this — I feel like I have already picked on Perk in a previous post because of his awful turnover rate, and we all like Perk — but this season, Perk has been one of the worst overall centers in the NBA. I don’t understand how it could have declined so much as a defensive presence, but the perception that Perk is a solid defender is not backed up by his opponents scores. Of course, one could argue that Perk has to come out and help more, and so he leaves his man open more often? But I think that’s just stretching…

    Both offensively and defensively, we are terrible at the 5 spot, whether it is Perk or Sheed. These guys have to step it up for the playoffs.

  • Perry


    Considering Perk’s contract is the most valued asset Danny has to bargain with this summer would those numbers scare other GM’s?

    I doubt it. Perk is recognized by the league and the media as a formidable defensive center. But, you’re right. He’s not the stopper he was over the last two seasons, but I bet he’ll be named to the second or first NBA defensive team. You see once the media builds a reputation for you the rest is easy.

    Let me defend Perk, and speak to your point about the switching.

    A lot of his problems may have to do with Doc subbing him more frequently in the 2nd half of games this season. He’s also getting a quick hook in the first quarter. So perhaps his rhythm on defense has been off? Or perhaps he’s roaming more to spots vacated by his teammates as you mentioned?

    I think it’s the latter. I also think the communication both Kevin and Perk had on the defensive end is not as prevalent as it was in the past. Perk may indeed be compensating for Kevin, who has trouble defending that baseline. Ditto Sheed.

    Like Rondo, Perk has become a victim of the chemistry problems plaguing this team.

    When Kevin went down it was Rondo and Perk who became the third scoring option on any given night. That is not their role. Perk is a rebounder first, enforcer second. The dude is a tough SOB.

    I’d still want him over Sheed because Perk is capable of playing a guy like Suaq or Howard straight up. Not saying he shuts them down, but certainly you don’t have to double down as much.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    @ray. thanks for the interesting numbers on perk – even thought they do not make for pretty reading. i like the man but he has definitely not been a top center over the last 2/3 of the season. i think the dip in numbers is not due to worse play, but the decline of KG requires perk to do more on both ends….and he hasn’t yet proven he is capable of excelling in that increased role.

    IMHO, if the Cs do blow it up after this year I would entertain offers for perk. if someone is willing to give good value, i would take it (ex. package him with one of the big contract albatrosses). i fear he doesn’t have the upside to be a franchise center on a championship caliber team. i think his ceiling is as a really solid starting center, that can only be part of a championship frontcourt with an elite power forward.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Unlike other Cs, Rondo is breaking records this year. He has the highest FG% among pg so he is making a lot of shots, just not the shots you want. If we are going to talk about shooting percentages lets talk about Sheed’s 3s. Rondo has the sense to play within himself & not jack up jumpers which he is not confident in. I would much rather have a point guard passing the ball & not shooting bricks than a point guard who is just really a shooting guard. If better shooting from that distance is the answer then why not bench Rondo & just play Nate? I’m sure Nate shoots a higher percentage from that area than Rondo, but then what about the assists & steals & transition & getting to the rim & rebounds???

    Sheed is killing the team with 73% chance of not hitting the 3….YET… there is no Doc saying enough Sheed, it’s not working.

    This team has much bigger problems than Rondo’s jumper. I wish Rondo hitting 11% more of those jumpers would solve the 3rd quarter collapses, but there is something really wrong with this team. I have watched over & over & over what has not worked, but we have a coach who refuses to do something different. Does anyone out there really think the Cs even know why they are self destructing in all these 3rd quarters? Doc should be hammered with that question every time he is near a microphone.

    I know one thing about the defense. There are only 2 players on the entire Cs roster who know how to (or are willing to) take a charge.

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  • This article about Rondo really rocks. Great to read abotu his improvements in 15 feet and in.

    We all need to practice to become better!

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  • Very nice information about Rajon Rondo’s, hope he will improve in the future

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  • It's unfortunate that his jump is still bland.

  • good shooting

  • hope he will improve in the future

  • hope he will improve in the future

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