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Rondo and Pierce shooting: Trend or Mirage?

Rajon Rondo is on pace to shatter the record for worst free throw percentage by a starting point guard on a contender in NBA history (I'm not going to look up the actual record, I'm just convinced that this is true).  Meanwhile, Paul Pierce is still on pace to obliterate his career high in field goal percentage even after a mini 3-game slump earlier this week. Are these trends that will continue, or are they mirages that are likely to revert to the mean?  Let's pull out some advanced stats and see what they say.

Pierce: Pierce has shot well over 50% from the field for the most of the season thus far, and even after his slump he is still shooting 49.4% right now.  But he’s a career 44.4% shooter who’s never topped 47.1% in his 11-year career.  What gives?  Well, let’s go  back to 82games.com for this one.  Pierce’s shooting history over the last 7 years show definite trends.  He tends to take jumpers on about 70% of his shots and play inside about 30% of the time.  His jump shot has gotten better as he got older and started getting better teammates, while his inside game was more potent when he was young and in his athletic peak but has slowed a bit in recent years.  Consider that from 2002 – 2006 Pierce had a composite EFG of 42.2% on his jump shots and 60.5% on his inside shots (3.3% of his shots were dunks).  From 2006 – 2009, though, Pierce’s EFG on jumpers rose to 49.0% while on inside shots his percentage dropped to 57.1% (with 1.3% of his shots coming on dunks).   So, what does Pierce look like so far this season?

This year, Pierce has a 53.5% EFG on jumpers and a 71.4% EFG on inside shots, with 4% of his shots coming on dunks.  In other words, at age 32 he is on pace to shoot his highest percentage ever on jump shots while simultaneously blasting the best shooting he’s ever done from the inside AND also getting more dunks than he did in his mid-20s.  In other words…it is pretty unlikely that he sustains all of these career-best paces over the full 82 games. 

Rondo:
Rondo is a tough nut to crack, because he is historically a poor free throw shooter (62.4% FT career) anyway.  This year, though, the floor has fallen out as he’s shooting a 40.6 free throw percentage that makes even Shaq wince.  All of the talk entering the year was that Rondo had worked out with Mark Price all summer working on his jump shot, and that this year his jumper would no longer be such a weakness. 

Instead, 82games.com tells us that Rondo is currently only making his jump shot at a 32.6% EFG clip.  That is much lower than the 39.9% EFG he has shot on jumpers in the last two seasons, and even lower than the 32.7% EFG he shot as a rookie when his jumper was so broken that it dropped him about 15 slots in the draft.  From watching the Celtics play, I think that Rondo is thinking about it too much.  He is like a golfer working on his swing…he is concentrating on his technique, has visibly changed his form at least once if not twice already this season, and he is hitting at least one shank for every good shot that he hits.  The good news, though, is that eventually the new swing (and new shooting form) should become second nature and when that happens things get better.

Conclusion:
I say that Pierce will continue to have a good shooting season for him…he’s taking fewer shots, and more high percentage shots on a potent Celtic offense where he doesn’t have to force the action.  He might even set a new career high in shooting percentage this year as a result.  But I doubt that he continues to go so far over his career trends in every area, and by the end of the year I expect his final field goal percentage to be closer to the 47% mark than the 50% pace that he was on through the first month.

Rondo, on the other hand, should eventually get better from the line.  He won’t be mistaken for Ray Allen anytime soon, but I’d be surprised if he’s not above 60% and closer to respectable by the end of the year than the currently putrid 40-percent pace he’s on now.

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