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Question of the Week: Rajon Rondo’s Impact

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

As Rajon Rondo slowly increases his role for the Pelicans what is one area you see that will be impacted?

Jake: I’ll let everyone else tackle ball movement, turnovers, etc., but I have hope he can make the Pelicans’ fifth starter (whoever that may be) a viable player on offense. Dante Cunningham scored 10 points while only making one three-point shot. That’s…really good for him at this point. Once Rondo forced the defense to react through his dribble penetration, Cunningham was able to find cutting lanes he hadn’t seen before. In a way, that helps space the court for the Big Birds.

Fernando: It seems like the easy answer would be that the pelicans will cut down on the turnovers as Rondo gets back into the flow. I personally think he will impact Holiday more than anything. I saw Holiday cut more to the basket in the first quarter against the raptors than I have seen all year. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me but it seemed to help him get going and have a pretty decent game. When Jrue can just focus on scoring he will be a better Jrue. Also with the attention Boogie and Davis will draw, guys might get a lot more WIDE open shots with Rondo doing the creating.

Jermaine: For better or worse, I had tickets to the Pelicans and Raptors game last night. Rondo’s presence in limited minutes was enormous. Despite foul trouble for both Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins in the first half, our offense kept humming along. Rondo was talking to guys on the court; at dead balls; on the sidelines; and at some point it seemed he was even making player substitutions (no…really). He has a truly remarkable basketball IQ, and his ability to let his teammates know where to be and when paid immediate dividends in the first half. Amp up his playing time to 30+ minutes a game and this team is scary effective, even while missing some complementary players.

Alex: The rest that Davis and Boogie can take. Through the 14 games Davis has played, he’s averaging 37 mins on the court, including the injury shortened game against Portland. Boogie has played in 15 games and is averaging 37.6 mins on the court. Neither of those numbers are sustainable for the long-term. But as Jake has mentioned before, the Pels need the stars to play big minutes now so the Pels can be in contention in March and April. Seeing how the offense looked with Rondo on the court, he brings creativity that allows the role players to step up in the absence of the bigs. As the Pels go into this painful stretch of 10 games against other Western Contenders (9 contenders if you don’t count the Suns), the Big Birds will need to rely on the whole team to come through unscathed and Rondo makes them less reliant on Boogie and Davis.

Jason: Rajon Rondo’s return significantly impacts the turnover rate, which was one major improvement that got lost among the many negatives in Wednesday night’s game. The Pelicans finished with 17 turnovers, which about lines up with their bottom-five in the league average of about 16.4 per game. But it’s important to look at when those turnovers occurred as well as individual numbers. Noted on the Locked on Pelicans podcast Thursday was Jrue Holiday’s 0 turnovers for the whole game, certainly an improvement. But what was also significant was the amount of turnovers while Rondo was on the floor. Only one turnover was committed by the Pelicans while Rondo was on the court, and that was committed by Rondo himself. DeMarcus Cousins had six for the game, but only two in the first half (where Rondo logged all of his minutes), both occurring when Rondo was on the bench. Definitely look for the turnover margin to start favoring the Pelicans as the season goes on and Rondo’s minutes increase.

Rory: Ball movement. It’s almost too obvious to say, but the ball movement dramatically improved when Rondo was on the court. The team had shown flashes of elite ball movement without him, but with Rondo you can see what the Pelicans have been getting at all season. An extra pass or two would break down a defense and either lead to a beautiful Holiday cut to the rim or an open man on the perimeter. And for once, that movement didn’t end with a painful Cunningham three point attempt (“attempt” being the operative word). The much-improved ball movement with Rondo should open up the offense and show us what this team was meant to be. If the Pelicans can execute this offensive game plan on a consistent basis, we could really be in for something special.

Raby: I’ll admit, leading up to Wednesday night’s game I was feeling a little uneasy how quickly the fanbase had leaned on Rondo as a crutch so far into the season. As Rory excellently stated in yesterday’s article, it’s dangerous to put the hopes of an entire team on the shoulders of one man. But the Raptors game showed me that the impact is real, and the biggest impact may not be ball control, but confidence. When he was in the lineup, the players trusted he would make the right play, and so they moved, cut, and screened their way into the right play as well. Something I noticed that impressed me was the instances where Cousins immediately looked for Rondo to dump off the ball to start a play. How many times have we seen Boogie wave off Holiday or Nelson to initiate his own offense? That sort of confidence makes a team play better and smarter, and can only improve as his minutes get extended.

Luis: I mentioned this in my piece on Wednesday, but the thing that I’m hoping for is better minutes distribution. If you look at the top 13 in Minutes Per Game (MPG), it breaks down to 2 individuals (Lebron and Paul George), 4 duos (McCollum & Lillard, Harden & Ariza, Butler & Wiggins, Middleton & Giannis) and one trio being the Pelicans big three. It’s still early and the Pellies have been hurt by injuries but the hope is with Rondo getting more minutes, there’s a chance for Jrue to get out of the top 5 in MPG, at worst. Best-case scenario Rondo getting more minutes ripples out to other spots and leads to some reduction in AD & Boogie’s minutes as the rotation expands a bit.

What do you think Rajon Rondo’s biggest impact will be? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jake J. Madison is the host of the daily Locked on Pelicans podcast. Covering the Pelicans and NBA since 2010, you can catch him on various sports programs around New Orleans and nationally.

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