Before the season started, the Boston Celtics were the biggest threat in the East to a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh oligarchy set to control the NBA for the next few seasons. In the off-season, Kevin Garnett re-signed, Paul Pierce was still staying svelte, and even though Ray Allen went south to join their arch antagonists, they picked up Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to expand their offensive capabilities and, specifically, give them a bit more spacing on offense. They drafted Jared Sullinger to help spell Garnett, who turns 37 in May. Plus, they have who many analysts consider, one of the top point guards in a league increasingly more dominated by guard play. But Rajon Rondo‘s inability to create offense for himself has been a large reason the Celtics have struggled, and in particular, his abhorrence of contact while in the act of shooting is irksome for even the most devout followers of his game.
Rondo largely obliged his preseason fawning after an incredible 2012 playoffs by taking on more of a leadership role with the team. He brought most of the team out to the West Coast for a flag football bonding trip in the offseason, and made himself a tad more available to the media; although, he’s still just as likely to waylay the press for an extended stay in the trainer’s room. Regardless, all signs pointed to a year where Rondo became a peripheral MVP candidate while leading the Celtics to a 2 seed in the East and a rematch against those men down near the beach.
Except, things haven’t really turned out that way.
Through 28 games, the Celtics are stuck at .500 and in eighth place in the east, just ahead of the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers. After flashes of brilliance earlier in the year, Rondo’s shooting has tapered off slightly while his assists have dropped and his turnovers increased. But that’s mere grousing compared to his inability to get to the free-throw line, and how that affects the rest of an aging team over a long regular season. It’s also a key factor when judging Rondo’s staying power as a franchise point guard on a team with very real title aspirations.
Per hoopdata, Rondo isn’t even in the top 50 guards in free-throw attempts for those averaging over 20 minutes a game. In fact, this season Rondo is averaging 2.6 free throw attempts in over 37 minutes of action. For comparison’s sake, Chris Paul — and a janky knee that limits him to usually just the fourth quarter when he can attack the rim with frequency — still manages to get to the line 4.4 times a game, and Kobe, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving are all more than 5 free throw attempts per game. So what’s the difference with Rondo?
It’s not like Rondo can’t get to the rim. He’s one of the fastest players in the league and possesses an almost other-worldly quickness that allows him to get into the heart of just about every defense, even those keyed to stop him. There is one rather large caveat to this, and it’s his so-so jump shooting. But even that is a fallacy because per NBA.com, Rondo is shooting 57.9 percent on shots between 5-9 feet, 44.7 percent from 15-19 feet and 50.9 percent between 20-24 feet. True, he’s only shooting 27.8 percent between 10-14 feet, but he’s only attempted 18 shots from that range this season. He’s also shooting 32.4 percent from three-point range (below the league average, that’s a little over 34 percent, but still better than someone like Deron Williams, who is below 30 percent on the season). That’s not even factoring in his 64.7 percent shooting at the rim, which is a career high per hoopdata. So why is Rondo only averaging 13.6 points per game, a figure that’s at least 4 or 5 points below here he needs to be if he wants to be considered a heavyweight star?