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.