Only the Kings could go from the brink of blowing up their latest ham-handed blueprint to believing everything is fine. A 107-101 win Sunday over the Raptors was the team's third in a row after a 1-7 start. While nobody is printing playoff tickets yet, the winning streak was badly needed after the drama the poor start caused.
DeMarcus Cousins' return to health has been the obvious difference. As he goes, so do the Kings. But over the past week, it's been the play of another temperamental talent that's put Sacramento back on track.
When Rajon Rondo signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Kings in the offseason, he did so because no one else wanted him. Mercurial point guards with broken jumpers aren't exactly coveted pieces. But no other teams target these kinds of players like the Kings, so Rondo was added to an already combustible mix of Cousins, Rudy Gay and head coach George Karl.
Through 11 games, Rondo is looking like the rare Kings gamble that's actually paying off. He's averaging 12.5 points, 9.5 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game this season. Better yet, he already has three triple-doubles, all coming in the last five games.
"I've had different types of point guards than Rajon, [but] the only guy I've coached who orchestrates a team as well is Andre Miller," Karl said Friday, via the Sacramento Bee.
Rondo once again looks like the player who helped end LeBron James' first run in Cleveland. His hulk-sized hands and octopus arms are everywhere, and he's been calm when initiating the Kings' offense. His array of scoops and awkward-looking floaters are making frequent appearances again.
Rondo is also again pulling down rebounds at a rate few point guards ever have. This is what impresses his new coach the most.
"Not many players play the ball off the rim, play the ball before it hits the rim," Karl said on Friday. "It's like [he's] a magnet."
By being a magnet, Rondo is able to kickstart possessions and repeatedly create easy points. That's especially critical for a team that lacks much half-court fluidity.
Rondo, now 29, still brings the same quirks he did in his prime. He's shooting just 42 percent from the field and a porous 35 percent from the foul line, where he rarely ventures. He's also turning the ball over nearly four times per game. Worse, his reluctance to even attempt outside shots still kills his team's floor spacing.
Statistically, the Kings are better on both ends of the court when Rondo sits. The Kings are still being outscored by six points per 100 possessions with Rondo in the game despite his impressive box-score numbers, per NBA.com
There are caveats to explain that stat, though. With backup point guard Darren Collison missing multiple games due to a hamstring injury, Rondo has been forced to play an obscene amount of minutes. He went the full 48 twice and hasn't played fewer than 43 minutes over the Kings' last five contests. This has left him on the floor with many weak lineups, especially since Cousins has also missed time. Collison is also a strong backup when healthy, so the team doesn't suffer much of a drop-off when he plays.
But when Cousins and Rondo have shared the floor, the Kings have become a team capable of scaring even the strongest of foes. Cousins is one of the 10 best players in the league and unleashing him is the key to the Kings' success. No one does a better job of this than Rondo.
Not only are the Kings 6.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Cousins and Rondo have shared the floor, but an incredible 27 of Cousins' 62 field goals this season have come via Rondo assists, per NBA.com. That's nearly 44 percent. By comparison, Chris Paul has assisted on just 25 percent of Blake Griffin's makes this year.
The chemistry that Cousins and Rondo have displayed in just seven games together is rarely seen in the NBA. Usually it takes weeks, if not months, for two players to get on the same page. Rondo and Cousins just needed a few games.
The two have been dominant in the pick-and-roll...
... and the pick-and-pop.
Sometimes they don't even need to run plays. Cousins can just run down the floor, get in position and have a perfectly placed lob pass land right in his hands.
Rondo is also enabling Cousins' newest habit, directly assisting on 11 of Cousins' 13 three-pointers this year. The majority of these have come in transition, where Rondo is an expert at gathering himself, surveying the defense and then hitting a trailer behind the arc.
Trouble is always around the corner for the mercurial Kings, but in Rondo and Cousins, they possess two powerful building blocks. They have a 6'11 beast capable of being the best player on the floor every night and a point guard that specializes in unleashing him. Rondo is far from a perfect player, but if he can continue making Cousins better, this Kings' season may end up in a happy place for the first time in a decade.
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