Not too long ago, Rajon Rondo was one of the more heralded players in the NBA. Despite playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, it was Rondo that provided much of the excitement and flash for Boston.
In today's NBA, Rondo is seen as a shell of his former self after suffering numerous injuries and particularly for flaming out in Dallas, a place that seemed like a good fit for him at the time. As such, Sacramento's decision to sign him to a one-year, $9 million deal was seen as one of the more controversial moves of the summer. After all, if Rondo can't play like the Rondo of old, is it worth the time, money and potential trouble?
Statistically, Rondo has seen a steep drop in efficiency since tearing his ACL in 2013. Prior to the ACL injury, Rondo's career FG% was a solid 48.1%, a good rate for a guard who's primary strength involved getting to the rim. While Rondo has never been a shooter (26.3% for his career from three), he benefited from his quickness and the fact that defenses had to respect Boston's other weapons.
That shooting efficiency took a nosedive when Rondo came back from his ACL surgery however. In the two years since, his FG% has dropped to 41.8% and his 2P% has dropped from 49.9% to 44.5%. Rondo also drastically decreased the number of FGAs at the rim, from 46.5% of his attempts pre-ACL to just 32% since. That speaks to a lack of explosiveness getting to the basket, likely a long-term effect of the injury.
It should be noted that there are other factors involved as well; When Rondo came back from surgery, Boston's team was far different than the one he had left. Gone were Garnett, Pierce and Allen. The Celtics had begun rebuilding and weren't nearly as talented or experienced as before. Rondo had to carry more of an individual burden than ever before.
That burden was one of the reasons that going to Dallas was supposed to be such a great fit. In Dallas, Rondo would finally have the weapons he lacked in Boston. At the time of the trade, Dallas was sporting an offensive rating of 116.8 points per 100 possessions, the highest in the league. In the 55 games after the trade, Dallas' offensive rating dropped to 107.0 with Rondo at the helm. Rondo struggled to adapt to Rick Carlisle's more stringent system, and it led to some very public blow-ups, eventually culminating in him being benched during the playoffs and being voted out of getting any of the playoff money shared between the players.
So given the clear drop-off in production and potential chemistry issues, what's the upside here for the Kings?
The hope is that Rondo, now two years from his ACL surgery, can rediscover a little bit of the magic that made him one of the most popular players in the league. There's also the fact that he'll be playing for a coach in George Karl that will give him much more freedom to be himself and run the team rather than the stringent playcalling of someone like Rick Carlisle. Rondo also won't be expected to provide a ton of scoring either, as the Kings feature two of the NBA's premier scorers in DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. The Kings are hoping that Rondo can open up the floor with his playmaking ability, which is still top tier even after the surgery, His assist rate in Boston before the trade to Dallas was 49.3%, meaning he assisted on almost half of his teammate's field goals while he was on the floor. For reference, the highest Assist Rate in Sacramento Kings history was Reggie Theus at 38.2% in the team's first season in Sacramento.
Rondo's also still a very good rebounder for a Point Guard, and that's a big plus in George Karl's system that wants to get out and run after every opponent miss. The Kings finished the season 8th in fast break points last year, and that should go up with someone like Rondo running the offense.
Defensively, there's no doubt that Rondo's lost a step after the ACL surgery, but his experience and vocal leadership should be able to help on that end. The Kings have also shored up their interior defense big time this summer with the additions of guys like Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein and Quincy Acy.
The addition of Rondo was definitely a gamble, but the risk doesn't seem to outweigh the reward. At just one year, Rondo's contract is not an albatross, and the Kings do have a very good backup in Darren Collison. Should Rondo play well, the Kings will have some very good depth at the position and be a better team. I also think the team will have a very good chance to re-sign him to a longer term deal despite the fact that he'll be a hot commodity if he rehabilitates his image with a good year in Sacramento. Even if it doesn't work out, the Kings can cut their losses and call it a throw of the dice that didn't pan out.
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