LOS ANGELES — Rajon Rondo has missed the basketball court, and he’s well aware that everyone else is aware of how many Los Angeles Lakers games he’s missed this season.
And after the Lakers’ 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night, Rondo showcased both of those facts by deadpanning exaggerations of how much time he’s missed during three separate interview answers, saying that he’s missed “74 games” before later changing that number to 60.
Rondo has actually missed 34 of the Lakers’ (26-24) 50 games so far this season, even if he thinks it feels like more.
“Like I said, I haven’t played in about 7 months,” Rondo deadpanned to another question. “I don’t know how I looked defensively, but other than that I’ll watch the film and continue to try and get better.”
Rondo may not feel like he’s at his best, but his return has given the Lakers a critical playmaker during a time when they literally don’t have any others, as Lonzo Ball and LeBron James miss time with injuries while Brandon Ingram shows playmaking isn’t the role that best suits him.
Rondo — who has assisted on a team-high 36.1 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while he is on the floor — could be the solution, and so far he’s putting his fingerprints all over every possession he’s a part of.
But Rondo’s impact goes beyond just assists and postgame sarcasm, as Lakers head coach Luke Walton explained after the game.
“He also just makes the right play,” Walton said. “There are some people that go out there and hunt assists and will only make a pass if it’s going to be an assist and that’s not him. He’s going to make the right play and if that leads to an assist it does, but if it leads to someone else getting a bucket he’s fine with that.”
Rondo’s teammate Brandon Ingram and other Lakers have also all lauded the way Rondo has figured out where everyone likes to catch the ball and their favorite spots on the court, delivering passes with the perfect speed and pinpoint precision.
“Having a point guard like that makes the game a lot easier. He sees the floor really well. He sees the guys that are open. He draws up plays out there. He just makes guys feel comfortable and confident in their game,” Ingram said.
The Lakers needed all of those things because of how their offense fell from 16th in the league in offensive efficiency before James (and Rondo) got hurt on Christmas Day to 24th since. With James seemingly set to return within the week and Rondo’s ability to set teammates up in exactly the ways they like, things might finally be on the upswing for the Lakers after 16 games that have felt more like 60.
And while such chemistry and an instantly searchable rolodex of where, when and how each teammate wants their passes normally isn’t a quick-developing process, Rondo said that despite how many games he’s missed this season, it didn’t take him long.
“The game comes pretty quickly and easy for me, so I just try to get guys on the same page,” Rondo said. “My job as the point guard on the floor... is to get guys into open spots where they can be most effective.”
Rondo has done a good job of that when he’s played, and even if he feels like he’s missed somewhere between 60 games and seven months, the Lakers are just happy he’s returned to the lineup.
“It’s really nice to have him back. He knows who needs shots, who’s hot. He knows how to manipulate screens (and) read defenses,” Walton said. “Unfortunately we haven’t had him out there that much with our guys, but he makes guys comfortable and he gets guys good looks.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.