There have always been questions about how Rajon Rondo — a non-floor spacer who often shares the court with LeBron James — fits on the Lakers. How much value is there in having a playmaker, even an above-average one, who takes the ball out of James’ hands and then can’t make defenses pay for leaving him open?
As it turned out, those were all questions about regular-season Rondo. Playoff Rondo warps defenses, runs a mean pick and roll, and gets all the way to the hoop and finishes at creative angles. Playoff Rondo definitively deserves a place on the floor next to James and every other Laker. Watching Rondo run the offense is no longer stress-inducing. He’s a little too flashy to the point of being careless, though he also has the second-best offensive rating on the team behind Danny Green.
But watching Rondo shoot? That hasn’t gotten any easier, despite the fact that Rondo is converting his 3-pointers at a high clip this postseason. Rondo has made 13-of-29 threes during the playoffs, and his 44.8% efficiency from distance trails only Quinn Cook, who has made 1-of-2.
Theoretically, any possession that ends with a Rondo three has a highly successful expected outcome. It still doesn’t feel that way watching Rondo pull up. Every time he lets go of the ball beyond the arc, it’s a “no, no, no... YES” proposition until the shot goes in.
In Rondo’s defense, a fair number of those shots have gone in. In honor of everything Rondo has accomplished thus far in his first Lakers postseason, here is a ranking of all 13 of Rondo’s playoff threes, from the ones that generated the least anxiety to the most.
13. Pouring it on against Houston
Rondo has just assisted on four straight (four! in one quarter!) Markieff Morris threes before getting a chance to hoist his own. The quarter is ending, James feeds him the ball. There’s no way Rondo can’t take that shot.
12, 11, and 10. Eating during blowouts
Even Rondo gets to take gratuitous threes when the Lakers are blowing out a team in the fourth quarter, especially if he gets to shoot them right between Russell Westbrook’s eyes.
9. Handling the grenade
Considering the caliber of shooter that Rondo is, the Lakers get him the ball at the end of the shot clock a shocking number of times. All credit to Rondo, he accepts that he is a less-than-ideal situation and takes the opportunity to shoot threes without remorse. It’s hard to fault him for doing the only thing he can here.
8 & 7. The Dwight screens
Never in a million years did I imagine Rondo and Dwight Howard running a 2-man game for the Los Angeles Lakers. The sheer oddity of seeing those two play together in purple and gold uniforms is only surpassed by the two of them running an action — multiple times — to generate wing threes for Rondo. In theory, it’s a nice idea to have Howard screen the small away to create space for a clean look from distance. It would also make more sense if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Danny Green were taking that shot. Or if the shots were from the corner. I legitimately don’t think this is a set the Lakers ever practice.
But it’s Rondo. And the shots are above the break, where he’s been terrible this season. And so of course he cashes them, because that’s what Playoff Rondo does.
6. Opening with a bang
Rondo hadn’t played a game since March. He was coming off of a hand injury, one that presumably would interfere with shooting mechanics. These were his first minutes in the bubble, and he had already missed his first jumper.
A normal player might try to settle down, get into the paint and develop a rhythm before launching from deep. Rondo apparently likes to get cooking from long range first.
5. Challenging Michael Porter Jr.
There are 14 seconds left on the shot clock. There is enough time left in the quarter not to worry about a 2-for-1, so the Lakers have no incentive to go quick. It’s a closeout game, every possession matters, and the floor is spaced for someone to drive to the basket. Instead, Rondo chooses to step back against a guy nine inches taller than him just for sh*ts and giggles.
4, 3, & 2. Taking over in the clutch
There was a time when the Houston Rockets seemed like a formidable opponent, a 3-point-bombing, switch-everything blur that could speed up the Lakers into a worse version of themselves. Spoiler alert: they were not. Not only could they not contain LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they couldn’t contain jump-shooting Rondo.
The first shot here is bonkers. The shot clock is running out, and Rondo has to side-step out of a corner three into a jumper fading left that of course goes in. At this point, one make in, Morris has decided that Rondo is on a heater and keeps setting him up. That leads to another three from the same spot, and then one from the opposite wing for good measure — on consecutive possessions — as Rondo gives a look at who I can only assume is William Rondo in the fan section. Maybe the last one is a good shot, maybe, given how open Rondo is when he receives the ball. All of them had me with my hands on my face looking at the TV through my fingers.
1. Channeling the Mamba
The Lakers were laboring in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against Denver. The Nuggets had erased a 16-point lead to go up 87-86, and the Lakers had no clear plan on offense. No movement, no actions, just trying to hold off Denver as long as possible. Somehow, in that moment, the career 31.6% 3-point shooter that is Rajon Rondo decided to take matters into his own hands. He hadn’t made a bucket all game, yet called his number to take that 3-pointer. As Frank Vogel might say, the swag was off the charts.
The Lakers are heading into an NBA Finals that figures to feature a lot of zone defense from Miami, which means a lot of opportunities for Rondo to continue to let it fly from 3-point range. I’m still a skeptic when it comes to Rondo the floor spacer, but the Finals just may be the perfect time to become a Playoff Rondo acolyte.
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