It is no secret to anyone who has watched the Lakers this year that Rajon Rondo does more harm than good for this team. He has been the worst performer on the Lakers among those who get regular minutes. And yet, he gets the de facto backup point guard minutes for the Lakers. Why? Because he looks pretty good once a month? Because he makes flashy passes occasionally? Is it because LeBron James and Anthony Davis respect him? Is it ego management? Who knows. Anyone with common sense would agree that Rondo shouldn’t play any meaningful minutes but he often does.
Playing Rondo is made easier because there are not any truly great or respected point guards on the team. Alex Caruso is a better player than him, but he clearly doesn’t have the same levels of respect that Rondo has from the coaching staff and star players. The other point guard, Quinn Cook, is better than Rondo, but he isn’t obviously better. And because of that, he will not get the same chances that a respected veteran like Rondo receives.
While there are a lot of politics in play here, and possibly some nostalgia causing blind spots by the coaching staff, Rondo is nearly unplayable. He is a disaster on most nights, and will often have the worst plus-minus on the team. He is a bad player on both ends of the court. For the constant talk about his basketball IQ, it is rarely shown. He constantly loses his man on defense and will get bodied on a nightly basis by the bigger guards he always faces. He’s better on offense, but not by much. His only apparent strength is dribbling the ball up the court and being able to make a couple of decent passes. That’s it. He doesn’t do anything else well. Sure, he will have nights when he shoots well, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that he is left wide open, which hurts a Lakers team already starved for spacing.
A recent game the Lakers played against the Nuggets is a prime example of just how damaging the Rondo minutes are. He played fourteen minutes, scored two points, had one assist, one rebound, three personal fouls, and was -5 in a game the Lakers only won by four. The other point guard who played minutes, Alex Caruso, played twenty two minutes. He had ten points, six rebounds, four assists, and was a +23, which lead the team. Most recently against the Pelicans, Rondo was a -17 in just 12 minutes while Caruso was a team-leading +20 in 17 minutes.
Caruso won’t lead the team in plus-minus every night, but he has proven that he is a consistently good player that knows his role. Caruso’s role is to do all of the little things like play great help defense, set screens, throw the extra pass, and hit timely shots. He does all of that and more that is asked of him, which is why the team looks lively when is he on the court. He brings an energy and winning mentality that is always needed, and is one of the reasons why he has become such a fan favorite.
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On the other hand, Rondo brings very little to the table in terms of winning. His style of play, where he dribbles the air out of the ball until the Lakers frantically rush into a play with little time left, hurts the Lakers. Not only is he not a good player, but his style of play is also the antithesis of what the Lakers need. Rondo is clearly respected by the players and coaching staff. His continued playtime is only a function of said respect, and not any actual on-court production.
The Lakers need to stop playing Rondo in favor of more helpful players like Caruso. Maybe the Pelicans game, where it was abundantly clear Rondo was the worst player on the court, will be the first step to easing Rondo out of the rotation. I have my doubts, due to his veteran status on the team and the respect he seems to garner. But if the Lakers want to seriously contend for a title, Rondo can’t play. Even the small amounts of minutes he gets in a game are harmful. Playing Rondo is self-sabotage, and in the playoffs, every minute counts. The Lakers have talked all year about the ultimate goal being a championship. If they are serious about that goal, removing Rondo from the rotation has to be done.