As Anthony Davis enters the 2019-20 NBA season, he has a lot to be excited about. For one, he got his wish from last year, and is finally a member of the Lakers now. And for another — after he and LeBron James were given significant input on the team’s roster makeup — Davis has the teammates he wanted in Los Angeles alongside him, including Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is a... polarizing... presence in Los Angeles, as the players on the team and people in the organization seem to really like and respect him, while a vocal portion of the fanbase doesn’t think he can contribute as much as the team’s other options at the one (like Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso and potentially Avery Bradley if he starts alongside James at “point guard”).
How big of a role Rondo will play remains to be seen, but those writing Rondo out of the rotation entirely may have to hold their horses, as what Davis told Peter Flax of “The Red Bulletin” would seem to indicate that he expects Rondo to play (emphasis mine):
But with the 2019-20 season looming, Davis knows what’s expected of him and he’s prepared — to sometimes put the team on his back and carry it. And he knows that he will be surrounded by quality players he already knows. There’s LeBron James, of course, but also his former New Orleans teammate, Rajon Rondo. “I’ve got Rondo back as my point guard — he’s a guy I can count on to get the ball in my sweet spot.”
We shouldn’t overly read into this just because it’s September and there isn’t much else to talk about, but it does offer an opportunity to discuss the dichotomy in which Rondo currently exists.
The criticisms of Rondo the basketball player are certainly legit. Even Davis was a tick better in almost every statistical category with Rondo off the floor over their season together in New Orleans, but only just so.
Still, as our own Christian Rivas pointed out earlier this month, “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.” That’s bad.
That is also not the version of Rondo that players seem to be evaluating. It’s important to remember that Rondo is a proven playoff performer — “Playoff Rondo” is a thing, whether Rondo likes the moniker or not — and was the floor general on the most successful team Davis has ever played on to this point.
Rondo is also a guy who LeBron James frequently went out of his way to praise for his leadership and cerebral knowledge of the game last season, and who goes out of his way to mentor players. He’s someone who teammates clearly revere as a leader in the locker room, and a guy who some of them even grew up watching in big moments.
All of that can’t be dismissed, and neither can the fact that Rondo was an ally for a beleaguered coaching staff last year, and someone who could bridge the divide between older and younger players in a way no one else on the roster really did. The coaching staff and roster have changed, but the qualities that made Rondo a guy who unites the locker room likely haven’t, and are probably something the front office, players and coaches all value.
So yes, Rondo will miss defensive rotations this year, try to switch everything, not always go all out on defense, cough up some wacky turnovers and do other things that make you grit your teeth. But he does bring some benefits off the floor, and while it remains to be seen if those qualities make up for his warts on the court, they’re things that players around him value in addition to his on-court skills. For instance, if Rondo sets Davis up with a perfect pass that sees two steps ahead of a defense, that’s a lot more likely to be something he remembers than Rondo gambling for a steal and not getting it.
Basically, Rondo does the types of things that many players and coaches value, even if he doesn’t do all of them and it remains an open question if he helps teams win basketball games in 2019. Still, because of the former quality and the fact that he clearly has earned the respect of James and Davis, he’s likely to at the very least be given a shot to show some value early on.