Rajon Rondo heard what everyone said about him last summer, and it’s fueling him this season at the helm of the Sacramento Kings.
The four-time all-star, who hasn’t been considered a member of the NBA’s elite since he was churning out triple-doubles in Boston with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, is posting gaudy figures out West.
He’s been labeled an enigma for years and for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was that he blatantly ignored Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle’s play calls and was subsequently suspended. His five-month experiment in Dallas was an utter disaster, leading to many speculating if he could contribute anywhere.
Now as a member of the tepid Kings (5-10), Rondo has been handed the keys to Coach George Karl’s offense — and it’s paying large dividends. There’s a slight uptick in his usage rate (19.8 percent of possessions compared with 19.5 last season), and he’s holding the ball for 7.6 minutes per game, which ranks fourth among all players and is three minutes longer than any other player on the team.
“I worked my (butt) off this summer and I’m continuing to get better,” Rondo said recently. “I still have room to improve. I still have a lot of room to grow.”
He has a league-leading four triple doubles this season, and set a franchise record with 20 assists in the team’s 127-122 loss Monday to the Charlotte Hornets. Sacramento’s single-season record for triple-doubles is five — a record that Rondo will almost certainly break.
He remains, at best, a moderate shooter — netting 44.7 percent of his field goal attempts and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc. Both percentages are significantly higher than his figures in recent years, and he’s hoisting a career-high 12.7 shots per game, which often brings a dip in efficiency.
Basketball Reference’s Game Score metric is a John Hollinger creation that gives a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game, where a score of 10 is an average performance and a score of 40 is an outstanding one. Rondo has eight games this season with a score above 17; he had six last season, and just five the year before.
Win Shares attempt to attribute team success to individual players, with one win equivalent to one win share, in Basketball Reference’s methodology. Rondo’s .074 win shares per 48 minutes are the most he’s averaged since 2012-13; the year he was last named an all-star.
“Rajon is very intelligent, and I think he’s ahead of the curve,” Karl recently said. “I’ve been surprised by the numbers he’s putting up from the standpoint of understanding our team.”
Billed as a passing savant, Rondo has returned to the fundamental that first made him a household name. He leads the league in passes made per game (78.7) and assists (10.8). What’s more is that his potential assists (19.5) indicate that his raw assist figures have room to grow if his teammates can connect on a higher percentage of their shots. More than 25 points of the Sacramento scoring total per night is accredited to Rondo’s assists, or 24.4 percent of all points produced.
Rondo is in a contract year, looking to prove to NBA franchises that he can contribute on the floor and jell with a team. So far, he hasn’t disappointed in Sacramento. Even if the Kings can’t navigate their way to the first playoff appearance in a decade, at least they’ve been able to see Rondo find his form and break a few franchise records in the process.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.