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Rondo’s Jumper: How Much Improvement Can We Really Expect?

 

There isn’t a more scrutinized jumper in the league than Rajon Rondo’s. And with good reason. Rondo has emerged as one of the two dozen best players in the league, but his inability to hit long two-pointers at an acceptable rate can hurt Boston’s offense against a capable defensive opponent. Witness the Finals.

And despite his tutorials with Mark Price last summer, Rondo’s jumper appears to have gotten worse in 2010. Rajon hit just 33 percent of his long two-point jumpers last season, one of the very worst marks in the league among guards, according to Hoopdata. He hit 40 percent of his long twos the season before.

So what happened? And how much improvement can we really expect?

If you look at shooting percentage alone, you’d conclude that Rajon regressed as a long jump-shooter. (His shooting percentage from inside the foul line improved dramatically).

But I think another number tells a more important story:

Percentage of Rondo made jump shots that came off a teammate’s assist:

2008: 61 percent

2009: 43 percent

2010: 30 percent

So Rajon is attempting more of his long jumpers off the dribble or without the benefit of a teammate’s action opening up space on the floor. That 30 percent figure from 2010 is in line with assisted-on rates for point guards who handle the ball a lot and take many of their jump shots on screen/rolls. The higher figures, particularly that 61 percent assisted-on rate from ’08, are typically associated with guards who play less demanding roles and get more spot-up chances.

This makes sense. As the Big Three ages, more of the ball-handling and creative duties fall to Rondo. Point guards working with this burden do their teams a big favor when they can hit an 18-footer off an impromptu screen/roll as the shot clock runs down. This is why Derrick Rose is ahead of Rondo offensively, why Luke Ridnour just signed a heftier-than-expected deal and why Chris Paul and Deron Williams are so much more than just passers and drivers.

We all know Rondo has to shoot better than 33 percent on long twos next season. The tougher question is: How much improvement can we expect? The average guard hits about 40 percent of long twos, according to Hoopdata. Could Rondo at least reach that mark?

I have no idea. But as a starting point in this discussion, I decided to use the shot location stats available on Hoopdata (dating to the ’07 season) to see how much the worst-shooting guards in ’07 and ’08 improved by the end of last season. Again: This is a starting point, not an end point. To do this right, we need shot location data going back well before 2007 (I’m trying to get it from a couple of sources), and we need some mathematical or programming wizardry I don’t have.

But for now, I looked at a total of 54 guards (other than Rondo) who hit significantly fewer than 40 percent of their long two-pointers in either ’07 or ’08. This is obviously an imperfect database, since some of the players aren’t really comparable to Rajon. We’ve got older players, such as Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson, and we’ve got bench guys, such as Trenton Hassell and Juan Dixon, who don’t create their own shots off the dribble.

But it’s a start. And the year-on-year numbers show two clear things:

1) Most players didn’t improve;

2) Year-to-year shooting percentage from this range is wildly unpredictable, something Hoopdata’s Tom Haberstroh noted here a few months ago.

Of those 54 players, only six have statistical profiles that offer real hope for improvement. The rest continued to shoot poorly or saw their percentages fluctuate so randomly as to have no real predictive value. Players who fall into the first group of consistently below-average shooters: Baron Davis, Ronnie Brewer, Ray Felton, Rodney Stuckey. Examples of the fluctuators: Chris Duhon, Andre Miller, Mo Evans.

Here are the six guys who appear to have actually improved:

John Salmons (30 percent in ’07, 36 percent in ’08, over 40 percent in each of the last two seasons).

Manu Ginobili (33 percent in ’07, 40-plus in ’08 and ’09, down to 31 percent last season, which I’m chalking up to injuries/recovery).

Sebastian Telfair (!) (34 percent in ’07, 44 percent in ’08, 35 percent in ’09 and a whopping 46 percent last season. Perhaps he actually belongs in the wild fluctuation category, but getting into the mid/high-40s is tough).

Lou Williams (Hovered in the mid-30s for three straight seasons before bumping up to 41 percent last season).

Randy Foye (35 percent in ’07, about 39 percent in each of ’08 and ’09, and then 44 percent last season).

Jameer Nelson (42 percent in ’07, down to 37 percent in ’08 and up to 52 percent in ’09. He dropped back to league average last season, which isn’t bad, considering he was working his way back from knee and shoulder injuries).

That’s really it.

Rondo can work as hard as he can, but we shouldn’t expect him to suddenly start draining 45 percent of his long twos next season. But he’s got to do better than 33 percent, and if he can approach the 40 percent league average, he’ll be a more confident shooter and Boston will be a better offensive team.

Will he do it? He might, and it might have at least something to do with random chance.

  • John Kensmark

    I gotta be honest . . . I don’t think Rondo really needs to improve his mid-range and slightly longer jumper.

    For one thing, in his offense, he shouldn’t be shooting that shot very often. Almost any time that the defense backs off him and dares him to shoot it, he can go in to the basket or for a much closer shot because he’s so fast. It’s a better option for him, especially since it also gives him a better chance to get the defense to collapse and let him make a good assist to someone else.

    For another thing, what he NEEDS is to improve his free-throw shooting. Not just because he misses so many of his free throws, but also because it’ll make teams more reluctant to foul him. That is extremely important. It’ll make it easier for him to get into the deep paint — where his shot is aces — and it’ll reduce his odds of getting injured.

    But his jump shot is not a high priority, if you ask me. It’s OK, and its success mostly has to do with decision-making. But improving his free-throw shooting pays greater dividends.

  • Al

    I agree… free throw shooting is so underrated… if he improves that, he’ll score 16+ easy… free throw shooting is the difference between marcus landry and carl landry… rondo and chris paul…

  • Jay P

    @John

    100% agree on the FT Shooting, it’s by far the bigger problem for him. With his game, he’s getting to the rim pretty much whenever he feels like it. But until he can hit FTs in a 75-80% range, teams will just continue to put him on the line. He has to make them pay when they do, and make teams think twice about wasting fouls once he gets inside.

    However, I wont say he doesn’t need to improve the mid-game either. Guards who can hit that mid-range shot when coming around the screen and roll are extremely dangerous. It makes the roll FAR more effective, because Rondo’s man will have to fight over that screen a lot harder to try and contest the shot. Right now, defenders go under the screen and dare him to shoot, this cuts off his driving lane around the corner, since the defender is already a step back into the lane, and the defender of the screen just lays off, and picks up the roll. Neither goes out to contest the shot.

    Once he starts hitting that shot at an at least average rate, his defender will have to fight through to contest the shot, which opens up lanes down the middle to drive, or for the roller (if the other defender steps out on the shot.) It’s a very important aspect of the screen and roll for any guard.

  • Mike B

    I totally agree with John K on the FT shooting. I whole heartedly believe that if you can improve your free throw shooting, you will see improvement in all areas of your shooting. Rando commonly falls victim to the “Hack-a-Shaq” technique since other players know he’s a miserable free throw shooter (and I say “miserable” with all the love in the world), which can really limit his scoring ability. I also agree that he’s seldom in a situation where he really NEEDS to shoot a mid-range jumper.

    Bottom Line: Improving his jump shot is important, but free throw shooting is more important.

    Added Bonus: If he can improve his free throw shooting, he will also see improvement in shots from all other areas of the floor.

  • Jason

    I think Rondo shot more off the dribble out of comfort than because fewer opportunities were created for him. I remember countless instances when he caught a pass without a defender five feet near him and he wouldn’t pull the trigger until after a few dribbles. When he did launch off the catch, they were some of the ugliest shots I’ve seen. He was much better shooting off the dribble, to the point that his pull up in semi-transition was fairly solid.

    What’s more alarming about Rondo’s outside shooting numbers is that they’re built on wide open shots. The minimum standard for the kinds of shots he gets should be very high. Maybe Rondo improves his open shot percentage to the league average but what happens when defenders actually start contesting?

  • Jay P

    @Jason

    Then he fakes and blows by them. That’s the whole point, once they have to respect his jumper, they’ll play him tighter, get into his body more and contest the shot.

    If they do that, Rondo will have a field day. Think about how easily he gets around a primary defender right now, now consider when their a step closer, and don’t already have a 1-2 step lead on him. Unstoppable.

  • Coolin

    Not much, you either have it or you don’t, especially when you are as old as he is.

    This would be a discussion if he were in high school and maybe even college, but he’s in the NBA.

    He really needs to work on his layups more than anything at this point in his career.

  • Zack

    @Coolin
    You’re right, he is in the NBA. He is a professional who has nothing to worry about except getting better at basketball, like shooting. Some people are natural shooters and have a knack for it but its a learned process no matter what.
    “Too old to begin the training” Not quite

  • Sophomore

    @Coolin – I dunno. Randy Foye and John Salmons might disagree with you there. And, Rondo’s still only 24. Seems to me he’s a few years away from his peak as a shooter, so long as he keeps working at it. He doesn’t have to become a great shooter. Average would provide a big boost.

  • Jeff in Portland

    1. I think his jump shooting and foul shooting will improve together.
    2. The floaters he makes in the lane are incredibly difficult shots; anyone who can make those can make jump shots, with work.
    3. It is not too late to improve: Kobe Bryant remade his J this season with coaching from Chuck Person after hurting his finger (SI had an article about it); the guy who holds the world record for foul shooting started working on it after he retired from his job, he might have been in his 60′s or 70′s when he did it (there was a chapter about it in “The Art of a Beautiful Game”).
    4. I don’t think he was really committed to the J until the playoffs last season. I sure hope he’s working on it this summer.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    thanks for digging on the numbers – brought a fresh perspective to the “rondo needs a J” meme. love the comments above so nothing really to add other than i don’t believe in “chance”. he either becomes a better shooter, or he doesn’t. its up to him. i think jameer nelson is a great example of a guy who’s game has progressed significantly….even though he has lesser physical abilities than his peers…..he’s gone from question mark to the perfect compliment for lil superman. respect.

    personally, i’m a strong believer that deron williams is the #1 PG in the league. no contest. if rondo wants that throne, he needs to be able to shoot better from the field and the line….and do it before rose or wall or westbrook or curry or jennings mature….or CP3 gets glad :)

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    note: reke evans will never be a true quarterback so no competition from him for greatest PG in the game

  • Kevin

    FT percentage should be good for every NBA player. It’s the same shot from the same distance, everytime, without anyone between you and the rim. For some reason, there are people who do not have the requisite eye-hand coordination and depth perception to make any shot from even a moderate distance. However, Rondo doesn’t seem to be that kind of player.

    So, he should be able to improve his shot. Most NBA players end as much better shooters than they started. This is particularly true of big men, who seem to routinely develope very accurate mid range shots (Garnett, Glen Davis, Haslem, Karl Malone, Mourning, Mchale, etc.). There main reason they improve is offseason work to practice that shot and become comfortable with it.

    What I see with Rondo is a lack of ability compounded by a lack of confidence. One of the reasons he takes such bad jump shots is that he passed up the open shot, ostensibly to find a better one closer to the basket or for a teammate. However, he is the guy who had the good shot. The defense is covering everything else. Its a shot that most every NBA player would take without hesitation. Sometimes he’s working the pick and roll and is standing open a foot from the free throw line. That is a great shot. I agree with Jason that it’s jarring to see how OPEN he is for those shots but still clanks them. Baron Davis would lead the league in scoring if he had those quality shots.

  • http://richjanitorreviewed.org BV

    Rondo could make an improvement is the Celts had a shooting coach like Chip Engelland (of San Antonio) who made such an enormous improvement with Tony Parker’s jumper.

  • sam

    I think he should concentrate almost entirely on the 3-pt shot. Derrick Rose developed into a great long 2-shooter last year, but it didn’t do much for the Chicago offense. Sure it’s a nice crunch-time shot because it’s so hard to deny, but it doesn’t open up scoring opportunities for your team and you have to be ridiculously elite at that range to make it a consistently better option than an at-rim shot or a 3-pointer.

    If Rondo can get to 30-33% on 3s it will do much more than getting to average levels of mid-range jump-shooting both in terms of floor-spacing (a 3-pt shot forces the defense to extend all the way out, even if the player has no mid-range game) and in terms of efficiency.

  • James

    He just needs to work on it by shooting 500 jumpers and 1,000 fts per day during the offseason. The FTs will help his jumpers. Go Cs…love that Rondo and would not want CP3 instead.

  • Mark

    @Zach, would you trade Rondo for Chris Paul?

  • Zack

    Rondo is the future. Paul wants to goto a team to beat the Heat. Rondo has his team that he wants to be the Heat. See the difference? Rondo is built like old players, he wants to be the best by beating the best, not be the best by playing with the best. I want Perk and Rondo on the Celtics in the future

  • celtics freak

    y perk,perk is ok but i dnt kno y the celts will hav him start when he comes back to me jermaine is a better player and he has more experience

  • John Kensmark

    Hear, hear, Zack! I know I’m a homer, but I’m never eager to trade faithful local stars for some hotshot from out of town who’s just looking for a win or a buck.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    The better question, Mark, is: Why would the Hornets center any Paul deal around getting a point guard in return, since they already have Darren Collison? Collison isn’t Rondo, but he showed super ability as a starter last season, and he’s on a cheap rookie deal for 3 more seasons.

    New Orleans have no incentive do deal Paul to Boston, unless a third team is involved that can offer NO a young player at a greater position of need.

  • Josh A

    @Zach, would they like Bradley in return or james harden

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    No. Chris Paul is one of the 10 best players in the league. They will want a proven young almost-star, like Andrew Bynum or David Lee or Brook Lopez or someone like that.

  • John Evans

    Rondo’s form, execution, and shot selection are great, the only thing Rondo needs is a shooter’s edge. If Rondo wants to improve his jumpshot even further, he’ll have to have more of a shooter’s mentality, a mentality of no matter what any open shot he takes will fall, a confidence that he can make any shot at anytime(Basically the same mentality as Ray Allen) I know it can’t be taught but through confidence and more freedom to shoot, Rondo can develop that type of mentality

  • Josh A

    Would they like Perkins?

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    No. Please. Kendrick Perkins? As the main player back in a Chris Paul deal? You have to consider things from the Hornets’ perspective.

  • Josh A

    @Zach, We could offer Nate, Perk and Big baby as center peice, or the lakers (ouch) could offer odom or bynum. I dont think Bynum is almost an all star. What are you talking about

  • Zack

    I agree with Zach, needs to be a 3 team deal if anything (I am hoping for nothing). Getting CP3 & Posey puts us right in that 2 year window i hear so much about, but then we have to move rondo some where

  • Josh A

    I think it is time that we trade away everyone for Lebron, Wade, and bosh

  • Shooter

    Time will tell with Rondo’s jumper.If by the deadline he’s still shooting 35% or under from long 2s then i think it’s time to move him.

  • jmac1776

    Agree that FT % MUST improve, even before his jumper. I’ve noticed a lot of love for the rest of Rondo’s offensive game in the comments, but I feel that we overlook a major difference between a D.Williams, D.Rose and Rondo – size. Rondo has a freakish wingspan, but when he becomes the primary offensive option – when the D is good and sagging off him as the clock winds down-it is actually NOT easy for him to create a shot. Can he beat his defender off the dribble? Yes. If they are close enough, but then what? If the passing lanes are shut down and they are daring Rondo to score, what can he do? Pull-up? No. Fade Away? No. CP3 can do those things. Bull his way in for an and-one. No. D. Williams and D. Rose can do those things. Can he elevate and finish near the rim? No. He can take tough floaters and take a BEATING going to the rim for FTs, which he can’t make. So, I guess I’m saying there’s a reason Rondo is not in the Rose, Williams, CP3 conversation. That, and I agree that FT% should come 1st. We can’t hold our breath for FG%.

  • http://celticshub.com tball103

    Wow we are really dissecting Rondo! You have a beef with the free throws, no doubt. Question ?? For the money I believe Rondo is the best value out there ( don’t include rookie contracts )?? That is why is was a little bummed at the length of Pierce’s contract because in 2 years Rondo would have been the only player on the books. Love Pierce but i would have rather overpaid him for two years than give four. Did anyone watch that gamelast night? Rondo got more easy baskets for his team than any player on either side ( lopez must have been like ” i’m digging this “). On top of this he is great entertainment and he plays as hard as anyone, so back off Rondo!

  • knotty

    what happened to josh howard?

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