Defending Rajon Rondo

Leave a comment

Rajon Rondo’s outlandish point guard-ery this season is even more remarkable considering his obvious offensive flaw; Rondo is five years into his NBA career and yet his jump shot is still weaning. There are other wildly successful NBA players with holes in their games, but in some cases, there are institutional limits to prevent teams from fully exploiting those flaws. Dwight Howard, for example, can only be sent to the free throw line so many times before fouling him intentionally stops making sense. Rondo has no such protection from the rulebook, and he’s left on an island each and every time he rises up for a jumper.

Yet Rondo averages 15.1 assists per game and attempts five field goal attempts at the rim per night, even without the threat of scoring from any kind of distance. His noticeably incomplete game hasn’t stopped him from being one of the league’s most dynamic forces, and oddly enough, one of the Celtics’ most potentially explosive scorers. Rondo showed in last year’s playoffs that he’s capable of detonating on a whim, and if teams give him access to the paint or the baseline, he’s as capable of putting up huge point totals as he is of reaching his typically excellent assist marks.

However, the very presence of those weaknesses makes Rondo a very different cover than other point guards. Opposing defenses may respect the jumpers of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Rondo’s other elite PG contemporaries, but the defensive options open up when Rondo’s shaky jumper becomes a prominent part of the opponent’s game plan.

The Dallas Mavericks bested the Boston Celtics 89-87 last week, and as Sebastian Pruiti pointed out at NBA Playbook, the Mavs were quite successful in defending Rondo. He finished with 15 assists in that particular game, but Rondo also shot just 3-of-11 from 10 feet out and committed four turnovers. Dallas focused on keeping Rondo out of the lane first and foremost, and in exchange, gave up a number of long two-point jumpers to the likes of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. That’s not an ideal concession, but statistically speaking, it’s the right play. Rondo can do so much for the Celtic offense when he’s given freedom of movement, and by going under some screens and switching on others, the Mavs were able to significantly limit Rondo’s dribble penetration.

That doesn’t completely shut down the Celtics’ offense, but it did make everything a bit more difficult against Dallas. Paul Pierce had to create more in isolation. Kevin Garnett had to work in the post more often against a pretty tough defender in Tyson Chandler. Ray Allen was forced to create off the dribble, when he’s far more comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations. The Celtics are far too good of a team to have their offense “solved,” in any way, but the Mavs did a great job of limiting Rondo’s impact, even if he still ended up with an assist total that would make a career night for many of the league’s point guards.

Pruiti wisely notes that having a big point guard (and thus one that can easily switch on the Celtics’ 1-3 screens without being exploited by Paul Pierce) is quite valuable in implementing the Mavs’ approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more teams try to replicate elements of Dallas’ overall game plan regardless of their PG’s build. Obviously not all of the facets of this defensive strategy will fall in line with other teams’ philosophies, but picking and choosing specific parts of this approach could definitely reap benefits for teams around the league.

Take notes, everyone. No one is stopping Rajon Rondo, but making his life difficult — even if he still ends up with 11 and 15 — can be a relatively straightforward endeavor for those willing to focus on Rondo and live with mid-range jumpers from the Celtics’ bigs.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

Getty Images
1 Comment

This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.