A lot of questions have been made about the starting line-up for the Boston Celtics this year. Who will play center? Will Brad Stevens place his trust in youth or experience? However, a more important question might center around who should be on the court to end games this year. The Celtics will no doubt be locked in some close games, probably against the bottom of the league. However, if they are not planning on contending for a playoff seed, these are the games that will keep them out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Rajon Rondo's role at the end of games is going to change drastically this season. He will have the ball in his hands, as usual. However, this season he could potentially be the second scoring option. Jeff Green will probably be the first.
In the past, Rondo was able to control the pace, protect the ball, get the team into its set, and then allow Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce to do their thing.
Now, Rondo will carry a bigger load. This could be a bit of a problem. Why? Because Rondo cannot shoot, which makes no Celtics lead safe, because as the game progresses opponents will force Rondo to shoot, giving him tons of space and focusing their efforts on the other four players.
Opponents will be willing to let Rondo's jump shot beat them.
In 2008 the Celtics were down 24 points to the Los Angeles Lakers in game 4 of the NBA Finals. The game looked lost and the series was going to be 2-2 heading to game five. The Celtics came back, and they did it with Rondo on the bench, for the entire second half. Eddie House and Tony Allen were entrusted with running the offense and stretching the floor. Kobe Bryant could no longer leave Rondo to play defense on everyone else. Once Rondo was off the floor the other players on the Celtics had space to operate.
Obviously, in 2013 Rondo is a different player. His presence was missed against the New York Knicks in the playoffs, especially as a ball-handler. Avery Bradley was shaky and Pierce was running on fumes. The vital question centers on Rondo's jumper though. He is not a good shooter, and those who argue he has improved fail to remember one important caveat: Rondo is never guarded when taking a jumper. The league has no respect for him.
Per Hoopdata.com He shot 37% from 10-15 last season, and has never been better than 46%. The one bright spot is that Rondo's shooting has improved from 16-23 feet. He shot 48% last season, his highest percentage yet. That will be a stat to look at next season when defenses can defend Rondo tighter because his supporting cast just is not as threatening.
So what happens at the end of games when Rondo cannot run the offense because the defense does not respect him as a scorer? Rondo has only shot better than 30% on three-pointers once in his career. He is a 62% career free throw shooter. He shot 64% from the charity stripe before getting hurt last year. That's the same as Al Horford, JJ Hickson, and Blake Griffin. All those players are regarded as detrimental to the offense at the end of games. Griffin is often not even on the floor at the end of games.
This should be a huge concern for Celtics fans, Rondo is a pass first point guard. No doubt about it. Usually, a team's point guard is a safe ball-handler because he can shoot free throws down the stretch to protect a late lead.
Now, there have been moments when Rondo stepped up and impressed in clutch situations. During game seven against Philadelphia 76ers in 2012 is one great example. Paul Pierce had just fouled out, the game was in the balance and Rondo was superb. Here's the clip:
Rondo hit two three-pointers, harnessed a rebound, and led his team to the next round of the playoffs. It was a seminal moment, and launched the legitimate conversation about the Celtics becoming Rondo's team.
In truth, Rondo took two three pointers with the shot-clock winding down because the offense was completely stagnant. It was so stagnant that Rondo had to shoot threes as the shot clock expired. How often do Celtic fans want to see that this season? Probably not too often.
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