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Regardless of how you feel about the Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to sign Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, those moves likely won’t have long-term consequences. They’re all coming aboard on one-year contracts, and they shouldn’t get too many minutes at the expense of the young purple-and-gold core.
“If the young holdover Lakers can’t execute the way [LeBron] James needs, the incoming veteran Lakers will get more of the opportunities,” Lakers.com’s Kevin Ding wrote. “Lakers coach Luke Walton, [Magic] Johnson and [Rob] Pelinka are already saying no one but James is promised a starting spot.”
This isn’t too troubling with regard to Stephenson, McGee and Beasley, all of whom are built to fill more minor, specialized roles. But Rondo has a legitimate chance to win the starting nod from the get-go now that Lonzo Ball is spending the offseason recovering from knee surgery.
That could be quite problematic if he ends up inhibiting the development of a special talent at point guard.
Ball was far better as a rookie than his basic numbers might indicate. He struggled to find any shooting rhythm and never put up big scoring tallies, but his defensive brilliance and passing wizardry allowed him to make a significant impact all the same. Ball finished the year ranked 20th among point guards in ESPN.com’s RPM, and his DRPM trailed only Dejounte Murray and Tyus Jones at the position.
Just as significantly, Rondo wasn’t as stellar as his reputation might indicate. RPM had him grading out as a negative on both ends of the floor, and his overall score left him behind 43 other players classified as point guards, sandwiched between Jarrett Jack and Austin Rivers. As Grant Hughes made clear for Bleacher Report, a competition between Ball and Rondo shouldn’t exist, particularly on defense:
“The on/off splits also favor Ball’s defense. Los Angeles’ defensive rating was 2.7 points better with Ball on the floor, whereas New Orleans’ was 1.3 points worse when Rondo played.
“The 6’6″ Ball is bigger and a better rebounder, and he projects as a superior switch option. The 6’1” Rondo is notorious for quitting when posted up by a larger opponent, and his consistent failure to fight over screens up top compromises his team’s pick-and-roll defense. Rondo ranked in the 50th percentile as a pick-and-roll defender last year. Ball was in the 66th.
“It’s damning for Rondo that Ball is already so clearly a superior defender.
“Rookies are supposed to get abused on D, but Ball’s physical profile and high intelligence contributed to his positive impact on that end. It seems reasonable to assume there’s growth ahead for Ball, and legitimate All-Defense production could arrive as soon as next year. Meanwhile, Rondo is entering his 13th season, having not played well on defense since roughly 2011.”
Rondo earning minutes at Ball’s expense wouldn’t just inhibit Ball’s development, preventing him from gaining chemistry alongside LeBron James and the other up-and-comers in Tinseltown. It would also make the team significantly worse, thus diminishing the appeal it needs for the big-name signings it covets in the summer of 2019.