How will the Lakers defend Rajon Rondo?

Look for the Lakers to use Kobe Bryant extensively on Rondo, or so says Basketball Prospectus:

There’s been some debate in the last few days about whether the Lakers will deploy Bryant or point guard Derek Fisher to defend Rondo, but to me it’s not even a question. I suspect Jackson was being coy when he told reporters that Bryant would spend some time defending Rondo. Other than the second head-to-head meeting during this year’s regular season, when Bryant was injured, the Lakers have used the same strategy against Rondo the last two years. The belief in backing off Rondo is so strong that Minnesota’s Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers assistant, even employed a similar philosophy when the Timberwolves faced the Celtics this season.

Here’s the funny thing about Rondo’s rapid development over the last two seasons: It has little to do with his shooting. According to, Rondo shot 43.0 percent on long two attempts in 2007-08, which is actually pretty good. This year, that percentage plummeted to 33.0 percent. Yes, Rondo is now a tiny bit of a threat from downtown, but really what has happened is that Rondo has learned how to work around his weakness and get into the paint anyway, creating shots for teammates and boosting his assist rate.

We certainly saw that in the game between these two teams at the TD Garden this season. Rondo was 1-of-5 on long twos, but he still shot 9-of-16 from the field and dished 12 assists thanks to his ability to get into the paint. Transition will be big for Rondo in this series, since he can create easy shots in the early offense when the Lakers haven’t yet had a chance to wall off the basket. He can also take advantage of switches that put slower defenders on him on the perimeter.

I’m not sure that Jackson and company will make a switch defensively, because the way they’ve defended Rondo brings other benefits–as Gary Collard pointed out on Twitter, Bryant doesn’t have to chase Ray Allen through screens this way, and his ability to give help can be disruptive to the rest of the Boston offense. Still, don’t expect the strategy of backing off Rondo to be nearly as effective as it was in 2008.

Rondo has a way of making teams pay for playing off of him on the perimeter. His jumper is shaky, but when his defender is off of him, it’s very difficult to box him out, which is why he’s so good at retrieving long offensive rebounds. Playing off of Rondo also allows him to get into the paint with relative ease, which puts pressure on the defense and opens up passing lanes to open shooters or to guys cutting to the basket.

With the “Big 3” all two years older, the onus for the Celtics is on Rondo. If he has a great (Finals MVP-type) series, the Celtics have a good chance of winning their second title in three years.

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