Editor’s Note: The Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). We continue today with No. 5, Rajon Rondo, and will be counting down to the Laker we think is most interesting with a new piece each weekday until we hit No. 1.
Among the players who had at least 3,000 on-court possessions last season, only one member of the Los Angeles Lakers posted a positive point differential when on the floor — Lonzo Ball.
Between Ball’s stellar defensive instincts and nearly savant-level passing, the rookie guard helped dictate the Lakers’ new high-tempo offense and much improved defense last season.
Unfortunately, by year’s end the No. 2 overall pick would end up missing a grand total of 30 games due to knee injuries. The point guard’s frequent absences from the team’s lineup left the Lakers scrambling for a replacement with options that often came up short in duplicating the value he provided when on the floor.
This injury trend to their guards has not been new to the team as even before Ball’s arrival, former lottery pick and Lakers’ point guard, D’Angelo Russell, ended up missing 19 games the season prior.
The Lakers, who are now led by LeBron James as their primary initiator, seemed to make an effort to address their backup ballhandling issue over the summer when they went out and signed veteran point guard, Rajon Rondo, to a one-year deal.
Rondo’s likely role of back-up point guard has been a glaring weakness the team has failed to address through the years. The murder’s row of: Tyler Ennis, Gary Payton II, Marcelo Huertas, and Ronnie Price never truly offered the Lakers the necessary bench contributions needed to compete nightly.
The eccentric lead guard likely will shore up this roster flaw, but also creates some interesting dynamics on the team in the process.
Often heralded as one of the most intelligent and vocal players in the league, Rondo’s personality and schematic fit makes him one of the most compelling personalities on the roster heading into the season.
For as youthful and exciting as the Lakers were last season, the team generally did not have a vocal leader.
Both of the team’s primary facilitators, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, tended to gravitate more to the lead by example approach, rather than verbalizing or organizing their teammates on the floor.
That should change next season, as throughout his career Rondo has been one of the closet things to a player-coach on the court the league has ever seen. Between his constant call outs of the opposing team’s plays, or simply demanding his teammates to communicate on defense, the Lakers should simply be louder this season in part because of Rondo.
And although Rondo is not the player he once was in Boston, if nothing else, he’ll provide the team with a credible back-up to Ball that doesn’t come with the fears of a drastic drop off in production or style of play.
Last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, Rondo averaged a solid 8.3 points, 8.2 assists, four rebounds, and one steal in only 26 minutes per game (his lowest since his rookie year in 2006).
He also proved to be an instrumental part in the team’s midseason transformation and impressive playoff run after losing their talented big, DeMarcus Cousins, for the season due to an Achilles tear.
The Pelicans post-Cousins drastically reshaped their offensive identity and became a monster of a transition team in route to the postseason, specifically with Rondo at the helm.
According to Cleaning the Glass, in lineups in which Cousins and Rondo shared the floor last season, the Pelicans were only able to get out on the break 14.5 percent of the time (41st percentile) compared to when Rondo was on the floor without Cousins, the team jumped up to an 18 percent transition frequency team (87th percentile).
Contextually, what Rondo was able to do with the Pelicans’ transition game is exactly what the Lakers schematically will seek to do again on a nightly basis this upcoming year, and hopefully address what was a noticeable, and consistent drop-off whenever Ball was not in the game last year.
Through an array of hit-aheads and full court touchdowns, the purple and gold were among the NBA’s elite in terms of the number of their possessions starting with a transition opportunity last season, as nearly 20 percent of their offense came in this fashion (95th percentile) when Ball was present.
Unfortunately, once the former UCLA Bruin stepped off the floor, that frequency rate dipped at a near three percent rate. With Rondo now employed, that issue might be resolved, and therein lies the makings of what could be one of the most ruthless transition teams in recent memory.
And although there has been a definite dip in terms of his overall impact, Rondo still projects to be one the better back-up options the team has had in a while, despite some lingering negative narratives still floating around the minds of Lakers’ fans and the media.
On the court, Rondo has an interesting offensive fit as he seemingly needs to have the ball in his hands to be effective, since he has never been a world-beater of a perimeter threat (career 30.9 percent from three) leading many to question his overall schematic functionality next to James and a roster depleted of “shooting specialists.”
While there is some merit to this concern, collectively the team should see general efficiency upticks across the board due to the additional playmaking Rondo provides and through a player of James’ driving gravity existing on the roster.
And although Rondo himself will most likely not contribute to the percentages with his shooting, he did in fact improve 3-point shooting on the Pelicans last season, as when he was on the floor the team shot 37.5 percent from three compared to the 36.5 percent when he was off.
Rondo also has had the nagging reputation of being a poor locker-room presence has been dispelled in recent seasons, as both the Bulls and Pelicans’ players have publicly raved about his positive contributions to the team on and off the court.
The other fear among the Lakers’ fanbase of him stealing Ball’s minutes or hindering his development was also shut down, this time through his own words as he recently spoke to TMZ about his mindset entering the season:
“Whatever they ask me, you know, my main objective is to win,” Rondo said. “I’m ready to help develop Lonzo as much as possible. If I’m not starting and he’s starting, he’s going to be ready to go and ready for anybody that comes his way. And we’ll be ready to roll.”
The 12-year veteran has seemingly embraced the next stage of his basketball career and could discover newfound productivity in this more limited role.
If he can, in fact, serve as a positive mentor for Ball and provide the team the necessary depth it’s lacked, it is not completely out of the question Rondo even sticks around past this season.
With renewed expectations and the playoffs possibly back in the picture, the Lakers needed to address this glaring weakness, and with Rondo, it seems like they have.
Statistics provided by CleaningtheGlass.com and NBA.com | You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.
The countdown so far:
5. Rajon Rondo
6. Josh Hart
7. Ivica Zubac
9. Moe Wagner
10. Michael Beasley
11. Svi Mykhailiuk
12. JaVale McGee
13. Isaac Bonga
14. Lance Stephenson
15. Luol Deng
16. Alex Caruso
17. Travis Wear