Toward the beginning of the season, Rajon Rondo made it known that he wanted to average 20 assists per game. In the end, Rondo finished with 11.2 assists per game and a ridiculous assist rate of 79.0, which was second behind Jason Kidd's 81.0. That 79.0 was a huge jump from two years ago when he posted an assist rate of 62.3, even more so considering Rondo's usage rate dropped from 20.2 in 2009-10 to 18.3 last year. Nonetheless, Rondo struggled a bit last season, especially when it came to taking care of the basketball. Rondo saw his Turnover Rate jump to 24.3, the highest of his career, and a big jump from his turnover rate of 19.3 two seasons ago.
What's the reason for the increase? Rondo turned it over much more in pick-and-roll situations and transition last year than he did two years ago. In 2009-10, Rondo ran the pick-and-roll on 29.8 percent of his possessions, turning the ball over on just 15.7 percent of those possessions. Last year, Rondo ran the pick-and-roll just 24.9 percent of the time, but the turnovers increased, as he gave the ball away 21.1 percent of the time.
When looking at the numbers and watching the tape, you notice that Rondo's inability to make a jumper, or even shoot one at times, really hurts him in pick-and-roll situations. Opposing teams started picking up on Rondo's unwillingness to shoot and they started going under ball screens at an extreme rate. In 2009-10, defenses went under Rondo's ball screens 38 percent of the time. That's a pretty high number and that increased during the course of last season as defenses went under screens 50 percent of the time this past season. With defenders going under screens, Rondo was forced into turnovers:
There are a couple of reasons why going under screens can lead to turnovers. First, it allows the man covering Rondo to get in better position to cut him off and keep him from getting in the lane. If Rondo's forcing the issue, that could lead to an offensive foul. Also, with Rondo not being allowed to drive, it makes everything easier for the rest of the defense. They don't have to help on Rondo's dribble penetration and that allows them to be in better position to defend the rest of the Celtics. This is an important thing to take away from any offense, but it is even more vital to a team like the Celtics that has a lot of secondary movement. The pick-and-roll isn't the only action taking place on the court; there is other movement on the back side, but when Rondo can't force the defense to collapse and help, it is harder to get the ball to these secondary options as the defense fills passing lanes and gets their hands on the ball.
In addition to the pick-and-roll, Rondo also saw a jump in his turnover percentage in transition. Two years ago, Rondo used 18.9 percent of his possessions in transition, turning it over 21.5 percent of the time. Last season, Rondo used 21.1 percent of his possessions in transition and he saw his turnover percentage rise to 25.6 percent of the time. Again, it was his unwillingness to look for his own offense that lead to turnovers:
In transition, Rondo is very quick, good with the basketball, and can get to the rim rather easily. However, when he gets to the rim, he is way too passive. Instead of looking for his own shot and taking the layup, Rondo is almost too unselfish and he passes to teammates who are expecting him to take the shot. Since his teammates are unprepared, you see the ball bouncing off their legs or out of their hands. Additionally, Rondo gets so deep that he takes away passing angles and makes the pass even tougher on himself, resulting in some bad passes.
Rondo is a very good point guard, but he needs to work on his shot. Not only will that help his game at an individual level, but it will help the Celtics. With more makes and more confidence, Rondo will be more willing to take shots and that will prevent defenses from going under ball screens and baiting him into turnovers.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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