Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with No. 14, Rajon Rondo.
Last summer, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $9 million deal with the hope that he’d be the type of veteran presence Lonzo Ball needed to make a leap in his second year. While Rondo may have helped Ball last season, it didn’t show in any meaningful way on the court. And even if it had, Ball is no longer with the team.
This summer, Rondo re-upped with the Lakers on a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, but his role with this year’s roster is less clear than it was with last year’s.
At this stage of his career, Rondo’s arguably the most valuable as a locker room veteran on a young team. For example, last season his younger teammates raved about how his attention to detail inspired them to watch more film and how his vocal leadership made the game easier on them even when he wasn’t playing.
While those same leadership qualities can still be valuable on a veteran-heavy team like this season’s Lakers, they won’t be a necessity, which begs the question: Where is Rondo’s value on this roster? To be more specific: Where does Rondo fit into head coach Frank Vogel’s guard rotation?
Rondo will be one of three point guards under contract with the Lakers next season, not including Avery Bradley, who could very well start at point guard if he shows signs of life in the preseason. Of those four guards, Rondo will make the least money next year, which could indicate that he’ll have a smaller role next season, something Lakers fans shouldn’t be opposed to.
Last season, Rondo averaged 29.8 minutes per game, the fifth-most minutes per game on the team behind LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Ball. With that time, he averaged a 9.2 points, 8 rebounds and 5.3 rebounds per game, which looks great on the surface, but the advanced numbers tell a different story.
Through 46 games with the Lakers, Rondo posted a team-low defensive rating of 113.3 and a net rating of -8.6, which was only better than rookie Moe Wagner. Additionally, the Lakers were 5.6 points better per 100 possessions when Rondo was off the court, according to NBA.com.
In layman’s terms, he was bad, but there was a time during the season he was actually one of the most valuable players on the team.
Prior to suffering a finger injury against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day that kept him sidelined for a month, Rondo had the fifth-highest net rating on the team (+3.8) behind Ivica Zubac (+18.8), Josh Hart (+5.3), Tyson Chandler (+5.1) and Brandon Ingram (+3.8). In fact, on the night he got injured, he posted a box plus-minus of +24 to the tune of 15 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. earning him his fourth double-double of the season. He ended the season with 14 double-doubles and one triple-double, making him one of 12 guards to tally at least 10 double-doubles and a triple-double.
For a moment, he was incredible, but that moment only lasted 15 games. Unless Rondo rediscovers that magic early on in the season and maintains it, it’s going to be hard for Vogel to justify playing him over Cook or Caruso.
Rondo’s best — and arguably only — skill is passing, which makes him an awkward fit alongside LeBron James, or at least a more awkward fit than Cook and Caruso, who both shot above 40 percent from 3-point territory last season.
It’s possible that Rondo will enjoy success while sharing the floor with Anthony Davis, who he developed a nice chemistry with during their time with the New Orleans Pelicans, but the boost he’d give the team on offense likely wouldn’t make up for what he’d give up on defense.
Will there be nights that Rondo resembles the All-NBA point guard he was with the Boston Celtics? Sure, but those nights will likely be far and few, and that shouldn’t be the expectation for him going into his 14th season.
Rondo has all of the intangibles coaches and teammates like in a player, but his on-the-court production no longer warrants a big role in the NBA. Unless Rondo gets a glowing endorsement from one of James or Davis (which isn’t an unlikely scenario) there’s no reason for Rondo to be the primary backup point guard for the Lakers next season.
What will be interesting to watch is whether or not that role is exactly where he ends up.
The countdown so far...
14. Rajon Rondo