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The Rajon Rondo Experiment Hasn’t Worked

When Dallas swung a deal to acquire four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, it was a calculated risk by Mark Cuban to launch his team to the Western Conference elite. While giving up Brandan Wright, a perfect bench fit in their up-tempo system, and some picks, the Mavericks saw an opportunity to upgrade at a premier position and grab the incumbent advantage to signing a pending free agent. Nearly 30 games into Rondo’s tenure, it’s clear that he’s not the answer they were seeking.

Although he has always had the reputation of a reluctant shooter, pre-ACL tear Rondo was consistently an above-average shot maker, with only one season below 47.5 percent shooting from 2007-08 to 2012-13. He has never been even an average free throw shooter, but his rate at the line rarely dropped below 60 percent until this season. With every other member of Boston’s Big Three glory days gone, the Mavericks gambled that the post-injury Rondo in Boston was complacent and had another gear waiting in the wings. Except he doesn’t.

Simply put, Rondo has been abysmal this year, particularly in Dallas. His scoring, passing and rebounding averages have all dropped to their lowest levels in five years or longer. After grabbing 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in Boston earlier this season, that number has plummeted to 5.8 in Dallas. Even more alarming, Rondo’s assists per 36 minutes have dropped to 7.6 as a Maverick after never averaging less than 9.6 from 2009-10 to 2013-14, according to Basketball-Reference.

As both a member of the Celtics and Mavericks this year, Rondo’s shooting numbers have never been uglier. While Rondo is a career 49 percent shooter on two-point field goals, that number has fallen from 44.2 percent last year to 42.6 percent this season after the ACL injury. Overall, Rondo is shooting 41.3 percent and an impossibly bad 31.1 percent from the stripe. At 32.8 percent from long distance, I’m guessing Rondo is the only player in the NBA who shoots threes better than free throws.

Rondo’s horrific free throw shooting has become such an issue that he seems afraid of taking them. This has yielded a career worst free throw rate (the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt) of .128 for a player whose career average is .269. In Dallas, this has been even more drastic, as Rondo has only drawn free throws at a paltry .091 rate, per Basketball-Reference. Having never been a three-point threat and facing a declining ability to score inside the arc, the free throw line is an area where Rondo needs to be gearing his game toward. Instead, he has reached catastrophically low rates that are affecting his confidence and playing style.

While Rondo’s defense has certainly been an upgrade, there simply isn’t much evidence that his presence has helped the team overall. In 27 games as a Maverick, Rondo has an on-court net rating of 4.1 while his back-ups, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris, sit at 5.9 and 5.5, respectively. Overall, the Mavericks have a net rating of 5.7. Dallas’ offense was blazing through the league before the trade, and still sits third overall at 108.3 points per 100 possessions. But with Rondo on the court, that number slips to 104, per NBA.com.

As we see more and more teams resort to Hack-A-DeAndre, it’s really only a matter of time before we get Hack-A-Rondo. If Rondo can’t even make half of his freebies, let alone 40 percent, he’ll become a massive liability for Rick Carlisle down the line. With Barea and Harris outplaying Rondo already and better fits for the Mavericks’ ball-spacing system who won’t complain about play-calling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a decrease in Rondo’s role if things don’t pick up soon.

When Rondo was traded, it was assumed he would be a sought-after free agent that the Mavericks would have to work hard to retain. While there still may be a deal of interest in the veteran, it seems unlikely Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle will place much importance in continuing this doomed marriage. The Mavericks took a gamble and it didn’t pay off … but that’s the price of doing business in a high stakes league.

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