Post-ACL Rondo is Shooting the Lights Out

WALTHAM, Mass. – Rajon Rondo is a different player nowadays after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Jan. 25, 2013.

That statement would lead many to believe that the point guard has lost the explosiveness that helped him become a four-time NBA All-Star, but that is far from the case.

There are no noticeable differences in Rondo’s speed and athleticism as he glides on the court since his return. In fact, teammate Jared Sullinger says Rondo “hasn’t skipped a beat.” What is different is the fact that Rondo is no longer just a great orchestrator of the offense. He has become a deadly shooter, too.

Rajon Rondo's shot chart since returning from injury.

Rajon Rondo's shooting percentages, especially from the left side of the floor, have seen a noticeable uptick since his return from ACL surgery.

In hindsight, Rondo’s torn ACL may have been a blessing in disguise. He was forced to keep himself occupied during a year without NBA basketball. He used that time wisely, putting in countless hours of work to sharpen his release from the perimeter.

“Ultimately you never know how that’s going to work itself out,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “but that was kind of a part of the big picture plan, is using that rehab time to spend even more time shooting the ball. That’s the one thing that’s been pretty consistent since he’s gotten back, is his outside shooting, both from long 2 and from 3.”

With that consistency in tow, Rondo is working on a career year shooting the basketball from the perimeter. He is excelling as both a midrange shooter and a 3-point shooter.

The biggest addition to Rondo’s game this season has been his 3-point shot. He entered this season as a career 24.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc. That number has skyrocketed this season all the way up to 36.4 percent. He has played in only 15 games thus far but already sits just one made 3-pointer shy of his career-best mark for a season, which is 17.

Take a moment to internalize that fact. Rondo, who has played in 85.1 percent of his team’s games since he entered the league in 2006-07, has never made more than 17 3-pointers in a season. He has nearly surpassed that mark already in 2014 after appearing in just 15 games.

The majority of Rondo’s 3-point work has been put in at the top of the key, where he has made six of his 11 attempts this season. He has made 37.8 percent of his 3-point shots from above the break in 2014. To put that number into perspective, he entered this season as a career 24 percent shooter from that area of the court.

While Rondo is cashing in on his 3-pointers at a career-best rate, that isn’t the only area of the floor in which he’s excelling. He is also continuing the tendency he set last season of being an elite midrange shooter.

Many (with the exception of Kirk Goldsberry of forget that Rondo made 48 percent of his midrange shots last season before he went down in late-January of last year. As Goldsberry pointed out, Rondo ranked fourth in the league last season in field goal percentage from the elbows among players who attempted at least 100 such shots.

A year had passed since Rondo set that lofty bar but he picked up right where he left off when he returned to Boston’s lineup on Jan. 17. He has made 47.5 percent of his midrange shots this season, including a ridiculous 54.8 percent rate from 15-19 feet.

Rondo is proving to be better than most in this league at shooting from the outside. Synergy Sports ranks him as excellent in short jumpers (less than 17 feet), very good in medium jumpers (17 feet to the 3-point line) and good from long distance (behind the 3-point line). Rondo is shooting better than the league average in six of the eight shooting locations on the left side of the court.

This fantastic stretch of shooting is beginning to put defenses in a bind. How does one go about defending a point guard who can both nail the outside shot and blow past you off the dribble?

“It’s kind of hard for teams to go under him now (on pick-and-rolls),” said Sullinger. “I see a lot of teams kind of fighting over the top now because he will stop behind the 3-point line to shoot it. He’s been hitting it this year and now teams are kind of worried.”

Stevens has seen the same thing, and he believes this development is benefitting Boston’s entire offense.

“It makes the defense make a decision,” Stevens said. “I’ve seen the last couple of defenses really pick and choose a little bit differently than maybe the first couple of weeks. It’s not a coincidence, then, that… our offense is better.”

Boston’s offense was going to be better with Rondo in the lineup whether he became a reliable shooter or not. The fact that he has added the art of shooting to his arsenal pushes his impact to a whole other level.

Injuries can oftentimes change the trajectory of a player’s career. More often than not, it will do so in a negative fashion.

Such is not the case for Rondo. He took advantage of his time off and turned himself into a different player. One who is even more difficult to defend than he ever has been before.