Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo walks through Quicken Loans Arena before the Lakers' game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 21, 2018.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

Rondo Progressing from Injury as Lakers Aim to Improve Ball Movement

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Losing a playmaker as gifted as Rajon Rondo obviously has its ramifications.

When the Lakers’ second-unit point guard broke his hand five games ago, he ranked second among the NBA’s bench players in assists. But since then the purple and gold have seen their passing numbers decline.

Fortunately for the Lakers, Rondo is working his way back to the court, as he was cleared for non-contact basketball activities and worked on his layups at Monday’s practice.

“I love it,” coach Luke Walton said. “To me, players should always want to take control and get back as soon as they can. … He’s very eager to get out and be in as much activity as he can, so when he is fully cleared he’s not as rusty.”

But Rondo — who, after surgery, was expected to return around mid-December — is currently without a timetable for his return.

In the meantime, the Lakers will need to clean up an offense that ranked fourth in scoring (116.9) and fifth in assists (26.0) before Rondo’s injury, but just 22nd in points (106.6) and 29th in assists (18.6) in five games since.

“By the end of the season, we will be a team that is constantly making those extra passes,” Walton said. “When you make the extra passes, your assists go up. It’s the way the game should be played.”

Indeed, the Lakers have been making fewer of those extra swings since Rondo went out.

Prior to the injury, they made 278 passes per game — 42 more than they have with Rondo sidelined.

Part of this issue, according to Walton, is that the ball has tended to stick when players think they have a favorable matchup.

“We have guys that are really good at taking advantage of mismatches, but when you have a mismatch it’s not for you,” Walton said. “It’s for whatever the best play is. If they collapse or come to double, then we got to make those passes out and be ready to knock down shots.”

That being said, the Lakers’ distribution issues have not put them in a slump, as they are still 3-2 post-Rondo injury.

But that has more to do with the team’s defense, which is ranked seventh over the last five games (104.0), after placing just 19th prior to that (108.7).

Brandon Ingram — who has been largely filling Rondo’s role as second-unit point guard — said that ball movement was a focus during Monday’s practice.

Ingram has been scoring well, totaling 41 points on 15-of-28 shooting in his last two games; but has just one assist against 11 turnovers in that span.

However, the Lakers’ passing problems extend beyond one player, as Walton said that Sunday’s loss to Orlando could be attributed to “turnovers and selfish/dead possessions on offense.”

“We didn’t get the ball movement, the penetration that we were getting early,” Walton said. “We watched it in film today and we’re addressing it.”

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