It’s become painfully obvious over the last couple weeks who the best point guard on the Los Angeles Lakers roster is, and it isn’t the one Magic Johnson bragged all summer about acquiring. Alex Caruso is thoroughly outplaying Rajon Rondo for a lot of the reasons Rondo identified after yet another hilariously disappointing loss (this time to the New York Knicks).
Following that game, Rondo was asked about what he’s seen from Caruso, and spoke highly of his two-way contract teammate (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“The intangibles he brings… He does all the little things for us as a team. When he’s out there he’s very effective, and he’s very efficient as well.”
Unlike, well... You know what? Never mind. Hold that snark.
Rondo continued, poking fun at some of the hits Caruso took against the Knicks — including a pretty brutal elbow — as a result of his style of play:
“I joked that I thought he was going to have to leave in an ambulance today. That’s how he plays the game. He plays hard, and you want a guy like that on your team.”
Look, credit to Rondo for offering up an honest answer about a guy whose game — and journey — he probably does really respect. As a soon-to-be free agent who needs opportunities to audition for other teams this summer, he could alternatively be treating Caruso as a threat to his minutes. That he is instead supporting his teammate is a credit to Rondo’s professionalism.
All that noted, it’s really hard not to read this and think after every quote how this compares to Rondo as a player. It reads almost like he’s verbally subtweeting himself, even if that’s obviously not what he’s doing. It’s strange.
In the month of March, Rondo is a clean -100 in raw plus-minus. Whenever Rondo has been on the court, the Lakers have scored 102.7 points per 100 possessions and given up 117.9. When Rondo has been on the bench, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 115.9 and defensive rating of 105.5.
That works out to an astonishing 25.3 points per 100 possession difference in net rating when Rondo sits vs. when he plays, which is frankly incredible.
By the way, there are still 13 days left of March, and this trend appears to have staying power. Maybe Rondo should consider attempting some of those intangibles he mentioned in praising Caruso, because right now he very tangibly sucks.
It’s reached a point — given how the organization’s focus is now on the draft lottery — that fans have taken to cheering Rondo’s abilities as a tank master general anytime he’s on the court. And while rooting for the tank is still rooting for something, the Lakers have a culture problem, and the longer Caruso goes unrewarded for his play and the more Rondo gets to keep his minutes, the weaker the case for building culture within the franchise becomes.
The Lakers will wind up wherever they wind up in the draft lottery. By its very nature, the lottery is in and of itself a random process. The Lakers’ problems go far deeper than the impact of the 10th pick versus the seventh or eighth, and the longer guys like Rondo can skate by on reputation, the deeper those issues become rooted in the fabric of an already fractured organization. Caruso is doing things that should be rewarded, and he should be given more of Rondo’s minutes down the stretch of this lost season as a result.