It didn’t take long for Rajon Rondo to prove his worth.
The Mavericks have certainly experienced some growing pains during the early stages of Rondo’s tenure with the team, but we’ve already seen significant signs of progress. After just five games with the Mavs, Rondo already looks like he has a connection with Dirk Nowitzki, and his command of the offense makes it seem like he’s been on the team all season and then some. The best part is there’s still room for improvement.
|Rondo’s Week in Numbers|
|15.5 PPG||8.3 APG (led team)||50.0 3PT% (tied for team lead)||1.8 SPG||2.36 AST/TO Ratio||100.1 Defensive Rating||6.7 Net Rating (led team)|
Dallas has faced all sorts of unorthodox defensive approaches since the acquisition of the new point guard. San Antonio played a 2-3 zone for the entire game last weekend. Atlanta and even the Lakers showed some brief 2-3 looks as well, and generally speaking every team has packed the paint in an effort to limit the drive-happy Mavericks’ attempts at the rim.
When news broke that Tyson Chandler would miss Sunday’s Dallas/OKC tilt, there was plenty of reason to be uneasy. After all, he’s the team’s defensive backbone and his rim rolls open up opportunities for other players on the floor, most importantly Dirk. Due to Chandler’s absence, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle turned to a three-guard lineup to start the game with Chandler Parsons and Dirk at the 4 and 5, respectively. That’s also the type of unit Dallas finished the game with, though Devin Harris replaced Barea.
That turned out to be brilliant move, as Rondo and the starters launched an early offensive blitzkrieg and that same three-guard group was able to close the game strong. Nowitzki at center opened up the lane for cutters and kept driving lanes open all around the perimeter. Rondo, specifically, was able to take advantage of that late in the game, when his slow, heady cut toward the basket while Russell Westbrook turned his head toward Nowitzki led to an easy bucket.
Just a reminder: These guys have only been playing together for a week and have had limited practice time together. Sure, Westbrook turned his attention away from Rondo and toward Nowitzki, but Rondo still showed a great deal of court awareness to continue moving all the way toward the rim without drawing too much attention to himself. Dirk saw him, delivered the pass, and Rondo converted the layup to put Dallas up five. The Mavericks scored 121.0 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor against Oklahoma City, an absolutely blistering rate.
Equally as important is his defensive prowess. Just this past week, Rondo did battle against Westbrook, perhaps the league’s best player over the last couple weeks, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe, and tomorrow night he’ll have another tough matchup against budding superstar John Wall. However, Rondo played excellent defense against Westbrook, especially, all game long, limiting the All-Star to 6-of-23 shooting.
Some of his best defense came late in the game, like on the play above. Playing without his usual pick-and-roll partner Chandler, there was even more pressure on Rondo to fight through ball screens and contest Westbrook’s shots. Fortunately, he’s quick enough to recover from going over a screen and long enough to contest shots if he goes underneath them, which makes him one of the more defensively imposing point guards in the league. In the play above, he went over the screen and recovered just in time to cut off Westbrook’s driving lane. Instead, OKC’s star was forced into a difficult, contested 15-footer.
Perhaps his most significant defensive play of the week also came in the Thunder game. With just over three minutes left and the Mavs up two points, Steven Adams was trying to deliver the ball to Westbrook on the left side of the floor, high above the three-point line. But Rondo, the pesky prowler that he is, was aggressively denying the pass, and it ultimately led to an OKC turnover. Nowitzki would score on the other end to put Dallas up four.
Defending like that takes a crazy amount of both physical and mental energy, not to mention cornerback-like instincts. Rondo effectively removed Westbrook from the play and it led to a bad pass. No matter how good NBA superstars are, they won’t hurt you if they can’t touch the ball. That style of defense is not something Rondo can play for 35 minutes every night, but it’s nice to see that he has the commitment and tenacity on that end of the floor to rev it up when the game calls for it.
He’s already given us about a million different reasons to be grateful for that trade. Give this thing another month or so and we’ll have even more.
STAT OF THE WEEK – 10+
The Mavs hit double-digit three-pointers in two games this week — against Atlanta and OKC. Dallas has now reached that plateau 14 times this season and is 12-2 in such contests, per Basketball-Reference. That means when the Mavs fail to hit at least 10 treys, they’re just 10-8. There’s no secret to their success: If their outside shot is falling, it’s gonna be tough to beat them.
Dallas is 15th in three-point percentage this season at 35.2 percent. That number figures to increase as the team grows used to playing with both Rondo and Ellis on the floor together. Carlisle’s three-guard, five-out lineup was able to generate plenty of good looks from beyond the arc, and Charlie Villanueva has brought another dimension to the offense when he’s on the floor.
The three is a huge part of the Mavs’ offense, as only Houston and Phoenix attempt more of them per game. If the past is any indication, once those shots start falling with more regularity, this offense could be unstoppable.
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