The Los Angeles Lakers will have to wait a little longer to find out who their second-round opponent will be as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder head to a Game 7 on Wednesday.
The Western Conference Semifinals won’t start for the Lakers until Friday, which should be a welcome delay for one player in particular: Rajon Rondo. He has been out of action since the middle of July due to a fractured right thumb suffered in the team’s second practice in Orlando.
Rondo healed quickly and was poised to return during the Lakers’ first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers — recovering ahead of schedule — but back spasms put him back on the shelf.
Now having returned to practice, it would appear likely that Rondo’s Lakers playoff debut will take place on Friday.
The only question is, what exactly are the Lakers getting?
During the regular season, the 34-year-old rated last out of the team’s rotation players in net rating. He provides veteran leadership and can be helpful with organizing an offense, but lack of shooting ability makes him a floor-spacing nightmare and his defense is nowhere near where it once was.
Yet, despite what the advanced stats tell us, there have been recent instances where the Lakers offense looked like they were missing someone to steer the ship when LeBron James is not on the floor.
While the advanced stats tell us the Lakers are better off turning to other options, perhaps the passing skill that Rondo brings can help unlock easier opportunities for his teammates.
Of course, there is also the legend of Playoff Rondo to consider.
As the story goes, when the playoffs appear and the stakes are high, Rondo transforms into a different kind of player. A difference-maker. An impact player. A game-winner.
How much of the legend of Playoff Rondo is based on fact and how much is just another tall tale?
A look at the stats reveals that Rondo’s increased effectiveness in the postseason is a real thing, though not to the degree that some would expect.
While it’s true Rondo played well for the Boston Celtics when the lights were shining their brightest, much of the Playoff Rondo talk was generated in 2016-2017, when Rondo’s new team, the Chicago Bulls, put a major scare into the top-seeded Celtics.
In that series, Rondo’s per-100 possession stats went through the roof compared to the regular season. His scoring jumped from 14.7 points per game to 17.9, while assists jumped from 12.6 to 15.6. He was aggressive looking for his own shot and a factor on the boards with 13.2 rebounds.
The only problem is, the sample size was tiny. Rondo suffered a broken thumb (might be a pattern there) after Game 2 and the Bulls would go on to lose the series despite holding a 2-0 lead.
In the 2016-2017 season, there was a nine-game sample size of Playoff Rondo when he teamed up with Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, but the results were mixed. His rebounds and assists again shot up, but Rondo’s net rating was actually worse in the playoffs than it was in the regular season.
Though, that could be partially attributed to the Pelicans running into a ridiculously stacked Warriors team in the second round.
Given the small sample size of Playoff Rondo’s ride with the Bulls, combined with his overall poor play this season, it’s hard to be optimistic that he will make an impact for the Lakers in the playoffs.
And yet, we saw a glimmer of hope this season that there just may be a little bit of that magic left.
It was on Jan. 11, in the second game of a back-to-back on the road in Oklahoma City. That night, the Lakers would be without both stars in James and Davis, plus Danny Green was also out of action.
It was a game that screamed “scheduled loss.” But then, Playoff Rondo saved the day.
Thrust into a starting role, Rondo erupted for 21 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, as he and Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers to an improbable victory. He was aggressive attacking the basket and finding his own shot to put the Thunder on their heels.
Then, Rondo made one important play after another to guide the team to an improbable win, leaving Lakers fans amazed.
Can Rondo still turn it on in the playoffs and be a difference-maker for the Lakers? With Round 2 just days away, we should have our answer soon.
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