The 15-14 Celtics are struggling to manufacture points, scoring just in 80 last night’s loss to the Bulls. Indeed Boston’s place in the bottom third of NBA offenses may help explain why Rajon Rondo, despite scoring efficiently and dishing out more assists each game than anyone besides Steve Nash, was left off the All-Star team.
Rondo’s statistical profile has always been Stockton-esque–classic point guard. But he’s relied on thrillingly unorthodox methods to reach those totals. So maybe it shouldn’t shock us that the Celtics are now putting their six-foot point guard in the low post in order to kick-start their anemic offense.
It’s a sneaky way to help Rondo get closer to the basket and minimize the way his unreliable jumper negatively affects the team’s spacing. And while Rondo has a smallish frame, he actually has a nice array of post moves. His excellent core strength and footwork allows him to hold off or spin by defenders, and his long arms and huge hands help him find angles for the same clever flip shots and baby hooks he uses to finish over taller defenders on his drives.
Rondo is scoring at a high rate in limited opportunities on the left block, but in Chicago the primary benefit of his post ups was easy buckets for his Celtic teammates. In the second quarter, Rondo pushed Bulls backup John Lucas III under the rim, forced a double team and found Kevin Garnett wide open on the weakside for a jumper. Rondo was punishing Lucas so thoroughly that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was forced to sub in the beefier Mike James, who is playing on a 10-day contract and is basically learning the Bulls’ complicated systems on the fly.
In the fourth quarter, with James leaning on him, the Celtics again fed Rondo in the post, about 12 feet from the rim. Instead of letting Rondo go one-on-one, Chris Wilcox came down to set a screen for him. It was strange to watch someone with his back to the rim receive a ballscreen, but Rondo used it to set Wilcox up for an alley-oop dunk—it’s tough for the help defense tough to rotate when all the action happens so close to the rim. Two possessions later the Celtics went right back to that look, and this time Ray Allen drilled a wide-open jumper off a weakside screen, catching Chicago’s defenders monitoring the Rondo-Wilcox pick-and-roll.
If Rondo can provide a credible threat on the low block—and there’s a growing store of plays to support that notion–this could provide a welcome boost the Celtics’ offense. Boston’s big men and wings are almost all reliable shooters (this will especially be the case when Brandon Bass returns), and Rondo’s knack for finding passing angles makes sending any sort of double team his way a particularly unwelcome option.
This new Rondo wrinkle can’t cure everything that ails the Celtics. It was surreal watching the Bulls get lay-up after lay-up as Boston’s zone (zone?!) defense flailed about. But he can certainly provide welcome diversity to their attack and lighten the burden of creating one-on-one for Paul Pierce.
If nothing else, Rondo’s recent run in the post reinforces how singularly unique an athlete and ball player he is. Just when you think his game can’t get any more unconventional, he threatens to become the Celtics best post up player.