Rajon Rondo wasn’t part of the Boston Celtics’ late-’00s “Big Three,” but he was the engine that made Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go. It was easy to push aside just how good Rondo was in those years as he made each of his teammates better, from the big names on down to guys like Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tony Allen and Eddie House.
But Rondo never really found a way to stick after the “Big Three” broke up and he worked his way through a number of teams – the Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans. Rondo’s on his next stop now, the LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led Los Angeles Lakers, and it might be Rondo’s return from a midseason injury that determines how the NBA Finals plays out by providing an extra ball-handler for a team in desperate need of one.
Celtics era Rajon Rondo made everyone better
Rondo has been one of the best passers in the NBA for more than a decade. He led the NBA in assists in 2011-12, 2012-13 and again in 2015-16, averaging more than 11 dimes in each of those seasons. Despite being 6-1, Rondo often flirted with triple-doubles. He was never a game-breaking scorer, mostly due to a jump shot that usually seemed broken. But it didn’t matter when Rondo was on the Celtics.
In Boston, Rondo could be a true point guard, setting up Pierce and Allen and Garnett. Scoring was a bonus. Grabbing more than 1.5 steals per game in each of his first seven seasons with the league certainly helped, too.
In just Rondo’s second NBA season, at 21 years old, he piloted the Celtics to an NBA championship. In Boston’s first win of the series, Rondo scored 15 points, then he dished out 16 assists in their second win. Rondo was awful in Boston’s Game 4 win to go up 3-1 in the series, but after the Lakers won Game 5, Rondo came back with 21 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals in the clinching Game 6.
Maybe Rondo was never going to be the best player on a title team, but he certainly was a point guard you could do a lot of winning with. The “Big Three” Celtics didn’t win another title, but from 2007-2008 to 2012-13, the Celtics always had a winning record and Rondo was a starter at point guard in every game he was healthy for.
Rondo bounced around
In December of 2014, with the Celtics floundering after the “Big Three” era had ended, Boston traded Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs were good that year, and Rondo played a key part, but rumors about Rondo’s tough personality and possible stat-chasing began to paint a negative picture around him.
Rondo joined the Sacramento Kings for 2015-16, and he led the league in assists on a team that missed the playoffs. The Bulls signed him to a multi-year contract for 2016-17, but Rondo was waived after a single season. He played for the Pelicans the following year.
While Rondo struggled to make the same impact he had in Boston with less talented teammates around him, he did do something that went unnoticed but that helps him matter to the 2020 Lakers – he improved his shot. After never shooting better than 31 percent from 3-point range in his time in Boston, Rondo has shot 33 percent or better from 3 in every season since 2014-15.
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Rondo’s ball-handling can win the Finals for Lakers
When the Lakers came to the NBA’s bubble, Rondo was unable to play – he was recovering from surgery on his fractured right thumb. It wasn’t immediately obvious when Rondo would be able to play again. L.A.’s offense suffered as a result – LeBron James has usually served as the starting 5’s point guard for much of the season, but the bench unit was without a similar creator. Backup point guard duties usually fell to Alex Caruso or occasionally Quinn Cook, not exactly the former All Star that Rondo is.
Rondo made it back for Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets and his impact was felt immediately. Post entry passes to Anthony Davis were on time and on target. The Lakers could run more in transition with the second unit. Alley-oops were thrown to Davis and James in the halfcourt based off just simple eye contact. The Lakers even used Rondo deep into the fourth quarter on a couple of occasions.
Against the Rockets, Rondo had a 21-point, nine-assist game and followed that with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists the next time out. Rondo isn’t stat-chasing, though. He’s simply utilizing the talent he’s always had on a team with greater aspirations than he’s been a part of for a while. Having Rondo as a secondary ball-handler could be exactly the edge the Lakers need, and the Lakers seem to be exactly what Rondo needed.