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Monday, July 13, 2020

George Karl wants a Rondo-Collison pairing, but it simply won’t work


The roster the Sacramento Kings have assembled this offseason seems like something concocted in a demented lab experiment. Head coach George Karl evidently wants to ensure that the experimentation spills over to the on-court product by virtue of his, shall we say, progressive rotational vision.

On more than one occasion this summer, Karl has alluded to the idea of playing the newly-acquired Rajon Rondo alongside incumbent point guard Darren Collison at times next season. Said the 64-year-old coach to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports in July: “Last year, our backcourt was — whatever — fragile, confusing, frustrating, and I think now we have great skills, different players, play-making players, and competition. Darren and Rondo can play together. We can play small.”

Karl then reiterated the idea to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe in an interview that was published on Sunday. “My feeling is that [Rondo’s] a pass-first point guard, which I think is important and I think in the end it really excites me,” he said. “We have two guys who can take control of the team and play together and keep the pace of the game. We can play with a lot of freedom and creativity but also play without turnovers.”

In theory, Karl’s dual point guard lineup scheme holds some water. Having multiple ballhandlers on the floor is an idea that is gaining traction in the NBA school of thought, particularly on Western Conference teams. Ditto for going small and running huffing opponents right out of the gym by pushing the pace with guard-heavy units.

But a quick look under the hood will tell us why Karl’s vision may be a little too idealistic.

For one, having two highly ball-dominant guards sharing the backcourt together is asking for trouble. We saw last season in Dallas how Rondo, one of the most ball-dominant players of this generation of NBA basketball, failed to find his niche playing next to another high-usage guard in Monta Ellis. We’ve also seen Collison gain a reputation as a player who is at his best with the ball in his hands. Easily forgotten is how great DC was in the 45 games where he had the keys to the Sacramento engine last year, before a hip ailment ended his season prematurely. Collison’s peripheral numbers in that half-season stretch (16.1 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, and 5.6 assists per game) actually topped what what Mike Conley put up in 2014-15. Not to mention that Collison managed to put those numbers up sharing the floor with two black holes in Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins.

At his core, Collison is a bulldog point guard in the mold of Kyle Lowry. He can be one of the fastest players in the league getting to the basket, slicing up defenses like mincemeat as either a finisher or a slash-and-kick playmaker. But stick Collison off the ball and ask him to play a more complementary role, and it’s a really poor utilization of his talents. He shot just 37.4 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts last season and tops out as a slightly above-average-at-best three-point threat. And playing next to Rajon “The Spacing Disaster” Rondo, those spot-up looks are going to be a lot more heavily contested and inefficient.

Though Collison has had his moments at the 2 in the past (see: Clippers-OKC, 2014 Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4), it’s a deployment that is best left to the history books. Especially so now in Sacramento where at 6-foot-nothing and next to a half-step slower Rondo, it’s going to be tough to ask Collison to guard opposing 2s. Even given Collison’s strong perimeter defense, wing players in the NBA are getting bigger and bigger than ever before, and it’s simply not feasible.

As for Rondo with his complete inability to play effectively off-the-ball, it’s seems fairly obvious that he’ll get the lion’s share of the point guard minutes and perimeter touches regardless of who he plays next to. But even so, someone has gotta compensate for his jump-shooting deficiencies. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be alongside a knockdown three-point sniper at the 2-guard like a Marco Belinelli or even a Ben McLemore rather than a Collison?

For my part, I would love to see Collison unleashed as a strategic missile off the bench, free to nuke the livelihoods of weaker second-unit guards. Collison wants to start and that’s probably only the reason why he left a bona fide contender in the LA Clippers to participate in the Vivek venture up north. But with the reality of Rajon Rondo’s arrival, perhaps a return to the bench is best. There, he would be free to create unilaterally as he pleases, and that would probably make for the best usage of his skillset in 2015 Cowtown.

Hey, the Rondo-Collison backcourt pairing might be able to work in certain crunchtime situations when the Kings need a jolt. But maybe Karl is better off keeping this one in his back pocket instead of trotting it out there regularly next season.

Nevertheless, Karl, of all people, will probably have bigger fish to fry in Sacramento next season than worrying about if Rondo and Collison can co-exist.

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com*

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