Back in March, when Los Angeles Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank traded Lou Williams and two second-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks for Rajon Rondo, there was plenty of chatter around the league that L.A. had shot themselves in the foot.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger, a former executive with the Memphis Grizzlies, said he didn’t “understand the Clippers’ interest” in Rondo, and ESPN’s Sean Marks, also a former executive, used the term “horsesh**” when describing Rondo’s performance this season, speculating that if Rondo couldn’t elevate his game the trade would be a “complete disaster.” Williams, after all, had been a fan favorite among Clipper Nation, and on paper, his 12.1 points and 3.4 assists exceeded the usefulness of Rondo’s 3.9 points and 3.5 assists.
Three weeks later, however, few, if any, are still doubting the wiseness of Frank’s decision.
The Clippers are 7-0 since Rondo first suited up (April 4) and they’ve outscored their opponents by 71 points when he’s been on the floor.
Rondo is His Name, Facilitating is His Game
Rondo is obviously not entirely responsible for the Clippers’ perfection over their last seven games, but the timing is surely more than just a coincidence. In addition to playoff experience, the two-time NBA champ was largely brought aboard to help take some burden off of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Lacking a true point guard this season, the two have often been tasked with additional ballhandling and playmaking responsibilities, and while they’ve both done well in those regards, the extra effort required has sometimes negatively impacted their defense and resulted in stagnation on offense.
Rondo, of course, was well aware of his expected role.
“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”
George, in particular, has seen his numbers skyrocket since Rondo arrived. In each of his last four games, George has scored 32 or more points while shooting a combined 55.2% from the floor and 60.0% from three. George even noticed a difference after just one game with Rondo, a 104-86 victory over the Lakers.
“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said in the postgame presser. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”
Bringing Bounce to the Bench
Rondo is not just helping out L.A.’s two biggest stars, though. He’s also brought guidance and confidence to the Clippers’ bench, which was already performing well before the trade, but has been nearly dominant with Rondo in the mix.
Since he’s arrived, the Clippers’ bench +/- is +7.5 — best in the league and a big jump from the +1.0 registered in their preceding 50 games. The bench’s assists have also ballooned, from 7.9 before Rondo to 10.6 afterward. The uptick in both categories are clear indications of better ball movement and cohesion, and they point to another reason Rondo was brought on: his basketball IQ.
Following the Lakers game in early April, head coach Ty Lue, who was an assistant with the Celtics when Rondo was the starting point guard, said he fully expects Rondo to be “an extended part of the coaching staff when he’s on the floor.”
And while youngsters Luke Kennard and Terance Mann have both spoken glowingly of Rondo from Day 1, veteran Nicolas Batum is perhaps seeing the greatest bench benefit from the addition of Rondo. Batum is averaging 13.0 points over the Clippers’ last four games (including 10 blocks) and when he and Rondo are on the floor together, per 100 possessions, the Clippers are +37.7 points.
Horsesh** has never smelled so good.