Rajon Rondo has been given the okay by the training staff to return to full contact practice, the Los Angeles Lakers announced on Friday, bringing the team a step closer to having a fully healthy roster.
However, as Rondo gets set to return, head coach Luke Walton will have to do some soul-searching and decide which direction he wants to go with Lonzo Ball once his veteran point guard is once again available.
Prior to undergoing surgery to repair a Grade 3 sprain to his right ring finger, Rondo was a key cog in Walton’s rotation, particularly in the fourth quarter. In the 14 games he’s played this season, Rondo has averaged 7.8 minutes per game in the fourth quarter.
Comparatively, Ball has averaged just 6.9 minutes in the fourth quarter this season. When Rondo was healthy, it was even less.
At the time, one could see the logic behind playing Rondo over Ball in fourth quarters, even if that logic was flawed. Rondo is a 13-year veteran and a former All-Star that can be trusted to make the right decisions in clutch situations. He’s also arguably less of a liability on offense.
Again, it was flawed logic given that the Lakers need Ball to develop, but it was somewhat easy to follow. That isn’t the case anymore.
In the 12 games Rondo has been injured, Ball has slowly started to come into his own offensively, averaging 12.9 points on 41.8 percent shooting from the field, and 38.9 percent shooting from behind the arc. He’s also averaging 6.9 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
While those numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, they’re indicative of Ball’s growing confidence. That, more than anything, is going to be the key to his breakout this season.
In order to keep that momentum going, though, Walton will have to stick with Ball even when Rondo returns. Unless Rondo comes back on a minutes restriction, there’s no guarantee Walton will do that.
Having Rondo back will provide a nice boost to the second unit and give the Lakers the vocal leadership they’ve been missing since he and LeBron James were injured on Christmas Day. Those are all good things.
However, if Walton reverts to his old ways and plays Rondo in favor of Ball during key developmental moments, his return suddenly becomes less exciting. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out, and the ramifications of this return may extend further than most think.