Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rajon Rondo — Worst Free-Throw Shooter Of All-Times?

Rajon Rondo at the free-throw line. He has hit 19 of 61 attempts this
season (31.1 percent). “I don’t have a clue, really,” Rondo said.
Credit Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE, via Getty Images

Free Throws Haunt Rajon Rondo

Illustrating just how bad Rajon Rondo has been from the free-throw line this season can prove difficult. His struggle to get along with Coach Rick Carlisle after a midseason trade to the Dallas Mavericks gets most of the attention, but when a former All-Star is missing nearly 70 percent of his shots from a spot on the floor known as the charity stripe, a closer look is in order.

Rajon Rondo — Worst free-throw shooter of all-times?

It would be an understatement to say Rondo has been bad. Connecting on just 19 of his 61 free-throw attempts (31.1 percent), Rondo would be on pace for the worst season ever if he had enough attempts to qualify. Never a good free-throw shooter — his career mark coming into the season was 62.1 percent — Rondo has begun to make Shaquille O’Neal look like Mark Price. And it seems to be getting worse.

Shaquille O'Neal's career FT% = .527

There were signs early on that something was amiss. After a November loss in which he missed two free throws with a little more than a minute to play in a tie game, contributing to a loss for the Celtics, Rondo was at a loss to explain his struggles.

“I don’t have a clue, really — still trying to figure it out,” he said. “I continue to work on my game, and especially get some more free throws up.”

Less than a month later, with his free-throw percentage at 33.3 percent, he was traded to Dallas, and things have somehow gotten even worse. Since the trade, he is 7 for 25 (28 percent) from the line.

Chris Dudley, who set the record for free-throw futility by shooting 31.9 percent in 1989-90, will not be challenged, as it will be nearly impossible for Rondo to get enough attempts to qualify. But Olden Polynice, who holds the record for players with 80 or more attempts, may be getting nervous. In 1998-99, Polynice hit 30.9 percent of his shots, which is a depth Rondo could sink to if his shooting continues to deteriorate. Polynice, amusingly enough, shot 31.1 percent from the line the next season, giving him a brutal two-season mark of 31 percent (57 for 184).

What makes Rondo’s struggles unique, however, is that he is a guard. Big men like Dudley, Polynice, O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell have often struggled from the line, but their smaller counterparts have rarely had as much trouble.

Only six guards have ever attempted 80 free throws in a season and made fewer than 50 percent of them, and only one of those players, Johnny High of the 1982-83 Phoenix Suns, did it in the past 40 years. The record low for a guard was set by Alfred McGuire of the Knicks, who hit 43.6 percent (58 for 133) in 1953-54, a full 12.5 percentage points better than Rondo this season.

With so many percentages now a part of the league’s vernacular — field goal, 3-point, true shooting, effective field goal — it is easy to lose perspective on what qualifies as bad. Perhaps the best way to illustrate how awful Rondo’s shooting has been is to compare him with DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers center widely regarded as one of the worst free-throw shooters in N.B.A. history.

Jordan, whose career mark of 42.2 percent is far below O’Neal’s relatively productive 52.7 percent, is up to his old tricks this season, shooting just 40.9 percent from the line through Friday. But if he were to miss his next 89 free throws in a row, he would still have the edge over Rondo, 31.2 to 31.1. — Benjamin Hoffman | New York Times

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