Rajon Rondo Has a Knack for Making Things Easier

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Published: July 24, 2017

Rajon Rondo is well known for his ability to pass. But just how good is he at getting his teammates looks that are easy to convert? I took a look at his passing statistics over the last two years and put them up against those of Tim Frazier and Jrue Holiday. What you will see below is the effective field goal percentage of the player over the course of the season, the effective field goal percentage after they receive a pass from the guard in question, and the color coded difference (+/-). I chose effective field goal percentage because of its ability to properly weight the contributions of three point makes. The data available did not allow me to take free throws into account. Furthermore, any players that had less than 20 field goal attempts after a pass were not included in measurements.

Sacramento

Rondo had one of his best years in recent memory while he played in Sacramento. His passing statistics indicate that nearly everyone on the roster benefited from Rondo’s ability to create good looks for his teammates. Naturally the 3.30% bump that Cousins saw is an encouraging sight as the Pelicans are hoping to recapture some of that magic. However, the massive increases big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos see are extremely promising for those envisioning Rondo setting up Anthony Davis with good looks near the basket. One thing I would like to call out is that guards such as Collison, McLemore, and Belinelli also saw moderate to large increases in eFG% when receiving a pass from Rondo. This potentially has some bearing on Rondo’s ability to make similar players in Holiday and Moore better as well.

Chicago

Rondo’s time in Chicago was rife with drama, spacing issues, and more drama. The Bulls opted to construct perhaps the worst shooting wing situation of all time behind Rondo, Wade, and Butler. Yet despite the court being more crowded than the neutral ground side of Muses, Rondo still managed to create easy looks for most of his team. Perimeter players Butler and Wade were both better off after receiving dishes from Rondo. Bigs Lopez and Felicio saw huge gains as Rondo set them up under the basket. We can only hope this trend of making perimeter players (particularly starters) and big men better continues with the Pelicans.

Tim Frazier

Since the Rondo signing was announced, a lot of comparisons to Tim Frazier have been made. The line of thinking behind such comparisons states that Rondo is essentially a better Tim Frazier, offensively and defensively. To make this analysis more robust, I included how Frazier impacted the Pelicans this past year. At a glance, Frazier had mixed results setting up players for good looks. Davis remained largely neutral, but basically every other big aside from Jones got worse. Cousins seeing a 2.22% decrease is not great. Other players who saw gains didn’t see massive ones like those we see with Rondo above, but rather modest improvements (mostly under 4% except for Michael Jordan Crawford).

Jrue Holiday

In an effort to untangle the effects of the Pelicans’ generally poor offense from Tim Frazier, I felt it appropriate to add Jrue as a frame of reference. As you can see, Jrue was much more successful at setting the table for his teammates than Tim. This sort of puts to rest any concerns regarding the Pelicans’ poor overall offense making things difficult for Frazier. Jrue made every big man on the team much better with his passes save for Motiejunas who played more like a perimeter player anyway (over a third of his shots following passes from Jrue were three point attempts. Dude you’re 6’10” and a savant in the post, come on). This should come as no surprise as Jrue is extremely adept in setting up players out of the pick and roll. When only accounting for passing (with 100 minimum possessions), Jrue ranked as the 8th best facilitator in the Synergy data base. For reference, Chris Paul ranks 10th, LeBron James ranks 11th, James Harden ranks 15th, Steph Curry ranks 16th, and Kyle Lowry ranks 17th. All those stars also have much better scoring options to pass to than Jrue (though Davis is arguably the best roll man in the game).

Closing Thoughts

The idea behind Rondo is a relatively simple one. The Pelicans want to add another adept ball handler next to Jrue, particularly one who sees the game on an entirely different level than most NBA players. The hope is that Rondo’s game breaking court vision coupled with his experience should not only alleviate the pressure on Jrue but also on our dominant offensive bigs, Davis and Cousins. The Pelicans will really look for Rondo to maximize their bigs in ways Frazier could not. Statistically, both Holiday and Rondo have a history of setting their teammates up with good looks, but it remains to be seen if the combination can overcome what looks like a lack of spacing in the starting lineup. As bad as Rondo’s season was in Chicago, the results shown above were still encouraging. The Pelicans also have, in my opinion, a much better lineup than Rondo was dealt last year. Hopefully Alvin Gentry and his coaching staff can make it work.

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