Before his ACL injury last season, Rajon Rondo was one of the best mid-range jumpshooters in the league.
Most people plugged into the Celtics seemed to catch on about halfway through the season, but it took a little longer for everyone else to realize his improvement. Fortunately, Kirk Goldsberry’s story on Grantland earlier this season about Rondo’s perception versus his reality brought to light statistics Celtics fans had been harping on all summer.
But as Goldsberry pointed out, Rondo’s 3-point shooting still wasn’t good, which is what makes his 3-point percentage this year such a surprise: Through 10 games, Rondo is shooting 37.8 percent from behind the arc and is averaging 3.8 3s per 36 minutes, 2.9 per game. His per-game and per-36 attempts are both more than three times his career averages. In other words, Rondo is taking a lot more 3-pointers and hitting a much higher percentage of them.
Now let’s apply some perspective to this. Against the Spurs, Rondo was 4-for-5 from 3-point range. That bumped his percentage up from 29 percent to 38 percent, which tells you just how small our sample size is so far. Before the Spurs game, Rondo was 7-for-24 from behind the arc, which is not great.
That being said, the Spurs game happened, and it is relevant to our discussion. Rondo won’t shoot 80 percent for the rest of the year, but he certainly appears to be more comfortable and confident behind the 3-point line. Here are his made treys against San Antonio on Wednesday, with some added notes:
In the first clip, Rondo gets a screen, but instead of curling around it and heading toward the ball, he flares to the corner.
This shows Rondo’s confidence in his jumper, since it’s a lot tougher to drive and kick when you are already in the corner. Old Rondo might have been problematic — rather than taking the efficient shot from the corner, he might very well have tried to drive along the baseline looking to dump it off to a big in the lane. With Jeff Green and Marco Belinelli standing between him and the basket, that would have been an issue.
Instead, Rondo simply sets himself and drains a 3-pointer. He looks in rhythm and comfortable, and — interestingly — the Spurs make a huge show of contesting his shot. This was his first 3-point attempt, and whether or not San Antonio was truly concerned about Rondo’s 3-point shooting at the outset, they made a big show of defending him from deep throughout the game.
The second clip demonstrates why people have been pining for Rondo’s long-range shooting to improve for as long as he has been in the league. Look how absurdly far under the screen Rondo’s defender goes:
Once again, the Spur spent most of the game chasing Rondo around screens and contesting every shot, but in this case, Humphries’ screen dislodges the defender so well that Rondo gets a clean look anyway. Frankly, most of the credit for this open jumper belongs to Hump.
In every year before this one, going under the screen against Rondo was a good idea. Sure, it afforded him a cleaner look at passing lanes, but that was a small price to pay in exchange for not getting burned off the dribble. That’s why Celtics fans have pined for a 3-point jumper from Rondo since his breakout season in 2009: If you can’t stop his drive or his passing or his 3-point jumper, how exactly are you supposed to stop him in the pick-and-roll?
The last two clips are essentially just heat checks, but once again: Rondo looks extremely confident. In previous years, he would much rather have sought out a teammate to take an open shot. Now? He’s pulling up in transition and knocking it down.
So what’s different about this season? Perhaps nothing. The Spurs game may have been an aberration, and Rondo may simply regress back to the mean. But if there’s any season in which Rondo’s shooting is going to take a positive turn, this one might be the most likely since he’s coming off an ACL injury and all he could do was shoot for months. And, according to Rondo, 3-point shooting has been a point of emphasis for him.
“I’m taking more a game. Usually in the past, I would take maybe two. But taking five or six a game, I’m getting in a little bit of a rhythm,” Rondo told reporters after Wednesday’s loss. “I’m working pretty hard with Ron Adams, and so far it’s paying off. I’m shooting with confidence, and as of lately they’ve been going in.”
Here’s hoping they continue to do so. Heat-check Rondo is really fun.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.