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Friday, March 18, 2011
Breaking down Rajon Rondo's slump

By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPNBoston.com

Something's amiss with the Boston Celtics' floor general, and it can be summed up with the simplest of statistics: Four points in three games.

That's all Rajon Rondo has scored in 85 minutes of action since Sunday. Over that stretch, he's just 2-for-18 (11.1 percent) from the field on his way to 1.3 points per game.

It's not often that a Celtics starter has a similar stretch of scoring futility.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the fewest points over a three-game stretch for a Celtics starter since Brian Scalabrine in January 2008. Scal put up only three points while starting three straight in Kevin Garnett's absence. In 2007, Scalabrine actually went scoreless in three straight starts.

Those stretches were largely due to a lack of offensive touches. Rondo, on the other hand, is in near constant possession of the ball.

You have to go even deeper into Elias' archives to find a starting guard for the Celtics with a similar low scoring stretch. In 2001, Randy Brown, filling in for an injured Kenny Anderson, started three straight games in which he managed just four total points on 2-for-14 from the field.

Needless to say, Brown and Scalabrine are not names you want to be mentioned with offensively.

For Rondo, it's his fewest points in any three-game stretch since February 2007, his rookie season.

Entering Wednesday having missed 16 of his previous 18 attempts, Rondo only attempted two shots (both misses) against the Indiana Pacers.

He wound up scoreless for the first time since the final game of the 2009 season, a game in which he played less than 10 minutes. Not since March 2008 had he failed to score while playing a full game.

Rondo also failed to grab a rebound, becoming the only Celtic in the past 25 seasons to go without a point or a rebound in 30 or more minutes of action.

Whispers of an injury are inevitable, especially after Kevin Garnett's postgame comments to that effect on Wednesday. However, Doc Rivers has denied any injury, instead pointing to a slump.

So what's going on with Rondo?

The blame doesn't entirely fall on his much maligned jump shot. Instead, Rondo hasn't been able to finish around the rim, an area where he typically excels.

Entering March, Rondo was a 66.0 percent shooter from inside five feet. Among guards, that was the third best in the NBA behind a pair for 6-foot-7 swingmen in Kevin Martin and Landry Fields. Standing only 6-1, Rondo's efficiency around the basket was unparalleled for a non-dunker. Consider that Blake Griffin actually has a lower field goal percentage (63.3) from that range.

However, since the start of the month, Rondo has only converted on 13 of 28 (46.4 percent) from inside five feet. In the past three games, he's missed five of six such attempts.

In fact, of Rondo's last eight field goals, five came from outside 15 feet. It's inside that distance where he's hit just three of his last 16 shots.

Whether due to an injury or a slump, Rondo just isn't taking the ball to the basket with the same assertiveness.

The result? A 36.6 field goal percentage so far this month. That puts him on pace for the worst March shooting percentage by a Celtic (min. 100 attempts) since Todd Day (34.8 percent) in 1996.

This isn't Rondo's first subpar March. Almost exactly a year ago, he endured a three-game stretch averaging 3.3 PPG on 30.8 percent from the field. Rondo's a 44.3 career shooter in March, easily his lowest for any month.

Concern over Rondo's slump is mitigated by the fact that the Celtics actually won two of their last three. Indeed, Rondo's scoreless output against the Pacers was in part due to his sitting the entire fourth quarter, though he still played 30 minutes. It's worth noting, however, that Rondo is shooting 52.1 percent in wins and 41.4 percent in losses.

Of course, scoring is not the primary function for a player known for his passing and defense. If Rondo's slump was restricted to points, it would again be easier overlook. But he's also in the midst of his worst assists stretch of the season.

Rondo has gone six consecutive games without reaching double digits in assists. In the midst of a historic season of ball distribution, Rondo hadn't previously gone more than two straight without reaching 10 assists. The current stretch is his longest since December 2008.

Even during this relatively poor stretch, Rondo is still averaging 7.0 assists per game. That one can consider that a slump shows just how high of a bar he's set for himself.

Yet, it's a continuation of a season-long trend. From 16.7 apg in October to 9.1 apg thus far in March, Rondo's assist average has fallen every month this season.

That's an alarming trend for Boston when you consider this: The Celtics are 31-5 when Rondo has 10 or more assists. Even with Wednesday's win, they are just 10-9 when he doesn't.

Beginning Friday against the Houston Rockets, Boston plays three road games in four days. The Celtics are counting on Rondo's offensive reemergence -- whether scoring or distributing -- to complete a successful trip.

Jeremy Lundblad is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.