The Preseason is over and what better way to kill time before the regular season than to try and draw any conclusions from eight meaningless games. Today’s topic is Rajon Rondo’s jump shot.
Rajon Rondo has a fatal flaw and it’s not a secret. Rondo’s lack of proficiency shooting the basketball is well documented and is also the “go-to” critique of NBA writer’s who refuse to put Rondo in the “top-tier” point guard conversation. While I believe his mastery in other aspects of the game (passing, defense, rebounding, etc.) trumps the perceived weakness of his shooting ability, I understand the argument against putting him in the “top-tier” conversation. Rondo is so good at everything else, his shooting sticks out like Mike Miller‘s sore thumb (too soon?). To many NBA fans, the success of this and future Celtic teams is contingent on Rondo’s improvement in this area.
This deficiency was most prominently (and most costly) exploited in the 2010 NBA Finals. Phil Jackson decided to employ a defense where Kobe Bryantdefended Rondo. Putting Bryant on Rondo allowed Bryant to play the role of free safety as he almost exclusively roamed the middle of the floor, leaving Rondo open for makeable jump shots. Unfortunately, Rondo shot 37% from outside of 10 feet for the series- well below league average (HoopData.com). There are those that believe that if Rondo had the ability to knock down these open jumpers, the series would have played out differently. This is one of those times where playing the “what if” game only results in half-baked conclusions, homer-rific proclamations, and the rekindling of painful memories. For those reasons, it’s just not worth it so I will not even bother. Instead, I have set out to determine if there is any evidence to substantiate a noticeable improvement on Rondo’s outside shot from the 2010 NBA Finals and the 2010 Preseason.
There is no right way to execute a successful jump shot. To say otherwise is to ignore the success of Reggie Miller (39.5 3P%), Shawn Marion (33.5 3P%), Leandro Barbosa (39.8 3P%), and the Celtics’ own Luke Harangody (Basketball Reference). While there may be no right way, there is definitely a wrong way. The wrong way is to continue to shoot one way without reaching a level of consistent success or making the necessary adjustments to reach that level of consistent success.
Rondo has been taking jump shots the “wrong way” since he came into the league. The three flaws in Rondo’s shot that are mentioned most when discussing his lack of success include the following:
1) Rondo’s right elbow tends to flare out/away from his body
2) The “jump” and “shot” lack the necessary fluidity
3) Rondo’s guide hand tends to leave the ball prematurely
Below is a video compilation of Rondo from the NBA Finals. Admittedly, the examples contained in this compilation are not the best for highlighting the aforementioned flaws in Rondo’s jump shot. By the time the NBA Finals rolled around, Rondo had put in a year’s worth of shooting practice and was noticeably a better shooter than he had been in previous seasons.
Example 1 is… a poor one. Rondo is off balance, shooting off the dribble, over a much taller defender in Lamar Odom- not to mention the shot clock situation. Despite the situational aspects of the shot, his form is still poor. He has Odom off balance and in a race to recover to contest the jumper. Rondo has a chance to go up straight but he fades away and the resulting shot is a brick.
Example 2 is an example of improvement from Rondo’s past shooting record but his lack of confidence is noticeable. Despite going up straight, he’s still off balance as evident by the scissor kick he does on the way down. He is also wide open without a defender within five feet of him and the ball still does not roll off his hand straight. You can see this by the way he tilts his head to the left after he releases, almost willing the ball to go in.
Example 3 is the best example from the Finals of Rondo’s shooting at its worst. While it may seem innocuous enough, Rondo has to take a dribble in order to square up cleanly to the basket. This gives enough time for Kobe Bryant to recover to contest the shot. Rondo’s arms do not begin his shooting motion until he has nearly reached the apex of his jump instead of jumping and shooting in one fluid motion.
Example 4 is a pretty good jump shot in terms of its rhythm and fluidity. Unfortunately, Rondo’s other mechanical issue, pointing his shooting elbow out, is prominent.
While he makes the jump shot, Example 5 is another example of his jump shot lacking fluidity. The best part about this shot is Rondo’s confidence level. Kendrick Perkins down-screens Kobe Bryant and as soon as Rondo sees daylight, he raises up and fires.
One of the biggest offseason surprises to most Rondo aficionados is the fact that he did not continue to work on his shooting mechanics with Mark Price- something he had done prior to the 2009-2010 season. After watching Rondo in the preseason, it’s obvious that he had extensively worked on his shot despite not working with Price.
Below is another compilation of Rondo shooting jump shots, although this video contains all of the jump shots Rondo took in the Preseason:
In Example A, Rondo does not bother to elevate as much as possible because he is so wide open. Instead, he sizes up the basket and shoots a jumper confidently and in rhythm. He has also shortened his follow through and kept his guide/off hand on the ball longer.
Example B is incredibly fluid. He catches the ball, immediately squares up to the basket, elevates and follows through cleanly. Rondo again leaves his guide hand on the ball until the beginning of his follow through. This is most evident in the replay from the opposite end line. In this clip, Rondo’s guide hand leaves the ball as soon as his wrist begins the final stage of his follow through.
In Example C, Rondo has to elevate more as the man defending him is Toronto Center David Anderson- a much taller player. Despite this extra elevation, Rondo still releases the ball timely and in rhythm instead of after reaching the apex of his jump.
In Example D, Rondo is is forced to shoot the ball at the end of the shot clock and over a taller player in Toronto’s Reggie Evans. He is falling away and has to shorten his follow through to get the shot off on time. These two things make this shot almost irrelevant to the discussion as this is far from a normal jump shot. The important element of this shot to note, however, is the rotation of the ball in flight. The backspin on the ball is far from the dead-ball that usually comes from Rondo’s lack of fluidity.
Example E is a missed three point shot attempt at the end of the shot clock, thus it’s not a very good example for comparison. Yet, notice how the elevation is similar to that of Example A- a make. Rondo has also shortened his follow-through in order to release the ball over the outstretched hand of the Knick’s Raymond Felton. The trajectory is dead on, it is just about six inches too short.
Example F is another example of how Rondo is keeping his guide hand on the ball for the beginning of his follow through. Rondo’s shooting elbow is still pointing away from his body but this is ameliorated by his follow-through and slight bodily rotation on the opposite side. Probably the most noteworthy aspect of this example is the fact that Rondo is calling for the ball. It is very evident that Rondo is much more confident with his jump shot- something that is almost as important as consistency of form.
Again, Example G shows Rondo shooting off the dribble and at the buzzer. In other words, the last thing on his mind is his shooting form. However, there is still a consistency about his release. Similar to his other shots from twenty feet or more, Rondo has shortened his release and hastened it. The trajectory is dead-on, but it’s too strong and hits the back rim.
Example H is nearly identical to Example E only this time, Rondo puts the right amount of muscle behind the ball and the outcome is a perfect shot.
Example I is a bad shot. Rondo is forced to jump higher than he wants in order to avoid Toronto’s Jarrett Jack. He also removes his guide hand prematurely. The result is a brick but better than a shot clock violation.
Example J is another bad shot. Rondo releases the ball after he reaches the apex of his jump and again removes his guide hand prematurely. This results in another brick that clangs off the right side of the rim.
The results from the Preseason are mixed, the sample size is small, and the varying situational aspects of each example make it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. That being said, it’s obvious that Rajon Rondo is comfortable and confident with his jumper and will not readily turn down open looks as he has done in the past. His outside shooting success in the preseason (50% FG%, 5- for-10 from >10 feet) is something that will undoubtedly stir up fanfare and the minor tweaks he has made (whether intentional or not) are worth mentioning.
Regardless of Rajon Rondo‘s final field goal percentages, I think it’s fair to say that Rondo will have a much different experience shooting the ball this season. Determining the positives and negatives of this prediction is for another day.