The resurgence of exciting, third-year forward Kyle Kuzma was what got the majority of the attention after the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, but head coach Frank Vogel knew that while Kuzma was important, he wasn’t the only key to the win. So much so that while he was answering a question about Kuzma, he made sure to praise Rajon Rondo as well, despite not being asked about the season debut of the veteran guard yet.
”And I want to say, Rajon gave us a huge lift too. We had a 120 offensive rating, and that’s the highest of the year I believe,” Vogel told reporters during his televised interview on Spectrum SportsNet. “Him running that second unit the way he did, orchestrating, getting us to play with pace and keeping us organized was a big factor in the win tonight.”
Vogel was right about the Lakers’ offensive rating being the highest of they year, but he actually undersold it, as the team scored at a rate that would have produced 123 points per 100 possessions on Tuesday night. And while the Lakers only produced a 97.1 offensive rating while Rondo was on the court, single-game rating stats should be taken with an entire salt shaker, and when watching the game — especially in Rondo’s first stint on the floor — it was hard to argue he didn’t make a positive impact in certain ways.
For Rondo, who told reporters on Spectrum that he said he “felt fine” in his first game back, and credited teammates for scrimmaging with him to get him in as close to game shape as possible without actually playing in games, returning the favor by setting them up for easy buckets was one of the main ways he saw that he could help the team while he was watching from the bench during their first nine games.
“Just not going stretches without our main guys touching the ball and getting good looks. Taking care of the ball as well, and getting back on defense,” Rondo told reporters of how he felt he would be able to help the team when he came back.
Perhaps no clip singularly epitomizes the way Rondo can aid this team — especially when LeBron James is resting — more than the one below, in which he fights for a rebound, gets the Lakers out on the break quickly and decisively, and then makes the simple pass at the right time to set up an easy layup for Kuzma.
No idea how Rondo (6'1) beat both Baynes (6'10) and Johnson (6'8) to this board, but he looked good running the second unit.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) November 13, 2019
5 points, 7 assists & 6 rebounds in 14 minutes for Rondo. pic.twitter.com/0ovhX2sGh6
It’s a short sequence, but it’s also two easy points for the Lakers that keeps their offense from getting bogged down. It’s also probably no coincidence that Kuzma looked more comfortable than ever in the second unit this year now that there was a traditional floor general to give him the ball on-time and in the exact spots he wants. And from the sound of it, the court is exactly where Rondo plans on staying (even if he’ll miss the game against the Warriors because he isn’t cleared for back-to-backs yet).
“I didn’t think about my legs or anything. I just went out there and played,” Rondo said. “Obviously I had the minutes restriction, but I felt okay tonight.”
Just as important, he looked like he could help. While it’s just one game, that’s a positive sign for a player who drew plenty of skepticism about his fit with this team. The Lakers will just have to hope things continue in much the same way.
All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.