While it’s easy to get carried away with a lopsided result in the Mavs’ favor, Rajon Rondo does appear to be growing more comfortable in his new system on his new team.
The strides he’s made have in many ways become more apparent since Chandler Parsons returned from injury. That’s an interesting coincidence, too, because it took Parsons a bit to get comfortable when the season started, but once things finally clicked for him, he’s been an extremely dynamic player. The hope is for that to be the case with Rondo as well, and we might be seeing that come to fruition.
It would be easy to think that, for a player like Rondo, less would be more in terms of the amount of playmakers desired around him in an offense. The Mavs have four players you can run offense through in the starting lineup alone, including Rondo, Parsons, Monta Ellis, and of course Dirk Nowitzki. That hasn’t really been the case for Rondo throughout his entire career; he spent his best seasons playing with catch-and-shoot guys like Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and only next to one true ball-handler, Paul Pierce, but even he scored a fair share of points off of Rondo passes. But his average time of possession per game has dropped from 6.5 minutes in Boston this season to 5.2 per game in Dallas and his passes from a league-leading 76.1 per game to 57.8 in Dallas, per SportVU, indicating that he’s spending much less time on the ball here.
I think this is the best I’ve been since I’ve been here.
– Mavs guard Rajon Rondo
Rondo is at his best when he’s making plays for other players, but in this case, those “other players” are guys who also like to make plays for other players. That was the struggle early in Rondo’s tenure with this team: It seemed like everyone wanted to pass the ball instead of shoot it, which is a unique problem to have. That mentality springs from most of all from unselfish tendencies, but also perhaps from playcalling, confidence, familiarity, and so on.
That goes a long way in explaining why the transition period once acquired by the Mavs took several games. Rondo missing games in February due to facial fractures and other starters dealing with their own injuries didn’t make matters any easier, either. But now the starting five is finally completely intact, and the rest of the team is almost completely healthy, as well, though reserve Al-Farouq Aminu did not play Friday night against the Clippers.
Now that his team is healthy, the challenge for Rondo and head coach Rick Carlisle is getting on the same page when it comes to gameplanning, and putting their heads together to devise the best playcalling strategy possible for a given opponent. Rondo, for one, liked the results against the Clippers.
“The trust is becoming more and more better between coach and I,” he said. “It’s tough to give a guy keys to the cars when he first gets there. Tonight, we were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game as far as the playcalling he wanted to stick with. We were very locked in this morning during shootaround and it continued over tonight into the game.”
Added Carlisle: “I thought our guard play was tremendous, really fantastic on the ball. Rondo had a fantastic presence in the game at both ends. He’s really developed a good handle on this team. With 15 (games) left, I love the way he played tonight.”
Rondo also hinted that diversifying the offense has helped him grow more comfortable, as well, which typically isn’t the case. Normally you hear guys preach simplicity when they’re in a new or challenging environment, but that isn’t the case for the Mavs’ cerebral point guard.
“I think this is the best I’ve been since I’ve been here (calling plays),” he said. “Charlie (Villanueva) got hot, CP got hot. I knew the right plays to call to get those guys shots, not necessarily the same playcalling every time down the floor because teams obviously load up on the same plays that you run. I was able to give different playcalling signals and give guys those looks.”
There’s the key to this team moving forward: Rondo must find a way to share the ball with everyone who needs it and spread the ball around in a way that will keep the defense guessing. He’s certainly got a very deep menu of options to choose from, as the Mavs have rolled out more and more new plays as the season has worn on, and his teammates are capable of running the offense themselves, too. In many ways, Rondo has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, but it’s up to him and Carlisle to figure out where to invest.
One problem that fans, observers, and analysts have run into when trying to figure this team out is determining the quality of offensive looks the Mavs have been able to generate. While those conversations are only academic, as all that matters is what the team thinks about its offense, it’s still been an interesting discussion to follow as Rondo has been in Dallas. The Mavericks have been able to generate more and more open shots as the season has unfolded, but some nights the team just hasn’t been able to knock those shots down. Against the Clippers, though, everything clicked. Shots were open, they came at a comfortable time in the shot clock, and the shots were knocked down. The Mavs shot 27-of-42 on uncontested shots, per SportVU, good for 64.3 percent. If they do that every night, this team is going to be ridiculously good.
Quality of looks is not just limited to how open they are, though. Rondo hinted at that himself. The best point guards are able to keep feeding the hottest players, no matter who they are. That was Jason Kidd’s hallmark in Dallas. If Dirk was hot, Kidd would get him the ball. If Jason Terry had it going, the JET would get the ball. Rondo made it a point to mention that Villanueva and Parsons were on fire, and those guys got the ball. Rondo led the team in touches in that game with 57, but tied for second were Parsons and Villanueva with 42 apiece. That’s some quality game management.
Obviously who’s hot will change from game to game. It could be Parsons one night, then Ellis the next, then Dirk, then Rondo, even. The NBA season is 82 games long and different guys go through hot stretches at different times. The point guard’s job is to take the pulse of the team and deliver the ball to the guys who are playing the best.
Rondo has grown more familiar with his teammates, his teammates are finally healthy, and now it’s a matter of diversifying the offense and keeping things rolling. The Mavericks played some of their best basketball of the season in a very important game against a very good team, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. We’ll see if they can keep it up against Oklahoma City on Monday night in what is another difficult contest. Perhaps it’s time, though, to trust Rondo with the keys to this thing. This team will go where he takes it.
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