LAS VEGAS, Nevada (But The Game Is On) – At the top of the NBA’s point guard class we have a Chris, a Deron, a Steve, a Derrick, a Russell, a Jason. And a Rajon.
Even the name is unique.
Everything about the six-foot-one point guard that just finished up his fourth season with the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics is different. In a good way, obviously.
In those four years, Rondo has made the transition from a college player that couldn’t shoot, needed to improve his understanding of the game and his defense, and wasn’t a complete point guard that could dictate an offense (all of things are listed as weaknesses on his NBADraft.net profile), to a key role player on the 2008 NBA Championship team and now to one of the best point guards and overall players in the world that nearly won a second title this past season as the best player on his team.
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
And unlike most of the young guys here at the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, that have looked up to some of the older players in the NBA and tried to emulate their performance, Rondo has created his own brand of basketball. One we haven’t seen before.
“No,” Rondo replied when I asked him if there was any veteran point guards in the league that he has taken moves from. It’s certainly not a bad thing to admit to something like that. Kobe Bryant has said multiple times that he has stolen all his moves like the baseline turnaround (from MJ), his post-game (Oscar Robertson), his footwork (from Elgin Baylor) and his pull-up jumpers (from Jerry West) and nobody gets on him for that. But Rondo’s gone the opposite direction. He’s introduced some things to the NBA that we have never seen before and that’s part of what makes him, well, him.
“You never know what (Rondo)’s going to do,” said Oklahoma City Thunder Small Forward and new face of Team USA Basketball Kevin Durant. “Of course, you just got to get used to him because he can go down the lane and you think he’ll pass and lay it up, where the next time he could wrap it around to you and throw it to you on the other side of the court.”
Durant, who is thought of as the only lock to make the 12-man squad that will head to Turkey in August for the World Championships, endorsing Rondo is almost like Kobe calling one of the kids in his basketball camp by name and saying he is impressed by his play. Obviously, Rondo is not a camper in comparison to Durant but because Kevin is seen as the leader of the team and someone the coaching staff talks to about the team on a daily basis, having his endorsement is a big plus.
“(Rondo)’s kind of unpredictable. That makes his game unique. But, at the same time, everybody has to be ready for his passes and what he’s going to do because he’s such a great player,” the Thunder superstar continued.
If you’ve watched any game of Rondo’s over the past couple of years, you’re bound to have seen one of his unorthodox moves that makes him such a tough player to defend. Creativity is the name of his game and he shows off his gifted ability to fake out any opponent with a quirky dribble or a “H-O-R-S-E” shot off the backboard on a game-by-game basis.
“That’s just my personality,” Rondo said of his devotion to being a unique breed. “I’ve always been myself. I just try to stick to being me and do what I do best. You definitively try to take stuff (tips) from other players, but as far as minting my game I just do what I do best.”
The best part about Rondo’s game is that he doesn’t even work on the stuff that he does in games like behind-the-back dribbles or crossovers. “It’s natural,” Rondo said. “I don’t practice that stuff. I may horse around with “H-O-R-S-E” shots but not practice-practice. … The behind-the-back fake is my favorite fake.”
Even though Kobe Bryant did a pretty good job on Rajon Rondo in the 2010 NBA Finals (with a lot of credit also going to Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum for protecting the rim), the rest of the league has not had much success defending Rondo. Opposing teams often try to place a bigger guard or forward on Rondo in hopes of stopping him from getting to the rim and forcing him to either take long jumpers or defer too often. While its a nice plan, with all of the plays the Celtics can run to free him up, the Lakers are really the only team with the personnel to cover each option and even the defending champions had trouble stopping Rondo in the Finals as he went on to average 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds while also recording a 19-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist triple-double in game two.
“It’s hard,” Derrick Rose, who went up against Rondo in an epic seven game series to start off the 2008 NBA Playoffs and is now competing to play on Team USA with him, said about guarding Rondo. “Its very hard. He’s very quick. He’s got big hands so you gotta watch it, he’s very tricky … He’s kinda like a veteran player (in terms of his basketball IQ) and he’s been playing on a good team almost ever since he came into the NBA. (The Celtics) won the championship (in 2008), so he has a lot of experience as well.”
Rose also believes Rondo is in the upper echelon when it comes to NBA point guards.
“He’s one of (the best),” the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year said. “There are a lot of point guards. All of them are better than me. I’m just trying to get up there. But he’s one of the best for sure.”
Rose may be selling himself too short by saying every point guard here is better than him but he is definitely right about Rondo. Any list involving the top five or so point guards in the NBA has to have Rondo in consideration at the very least.
Its not only his play and fancy moves that sets Rajon apart from the rest of the players here with Team USA, it is also his attitude. That’s not to say he has a bad attitude, far from it, but there is no denying that he has an edge about him, something most likely derived from his NBA title in 2008. While guys like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant find it hard to admit they are some of the best players in the world or that their teams are among the best in the NBA, Rondo has a supreme confidence in himself and in his team that resembles the mindset of Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest competitors and champions in the history of the league.
When asked if he felt threatened by the “new Big Three” in Miami as the defending Eastern Conference Champions, Rondo responded quickly and tersely: “No.” When asked whether or not he was nervous about facing the new NBA’s newest trio, Rondo answered with a more definite: “Hell nah.”
“Be nervous why?,” Rondo asked.
“I mean, I’m worried about the Lakers. That’s the team we have to beat. Miami looks really good on paper and I’m sure they’re gonna be good. But they gotta come together as a team. I’m not saying they won’t, but only those guys will tell. Of course they have a big target on their back with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, but its still a team game and its gonna take five guys.”
“They ain’t done nothing yet,” Rajon added with a chuckle. “They ain’t done nothing.”
Rondo’s uniqueness and ability to get the best out of his teammates figures to be a very big attribute and reason for addition to the United States squad should he make the team. Rajon has been a pass-first, pass-second, shoot-third kind of point guard during his time in Boston and, even though becoming more aggressive is something that Rondo needs to improve on (as well as his mid-range jumper and free throw shooting), having a facilitator’s mentality with such a complete team like Team USA around him.
“There are a lot of guys that can score the ball (here),” Rondo said. “I’ll just try to be a more vocal leader and keep everyone happy.”
Rondo’s experience with the Big Three in Boston will undoubtedly help him in Turkey (again, should he make the team) because he has been distributing to the talented trio for years now and feeding guys like Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay and Lamar Odom the ball an equal amount of time is an advantage he has over someone like Derrick Rose who hasn’t had many offensive options to defer to with the Bulls.
Additionally, the Celtics were at their best when they got out in transition and gave Rondo the basketball. Whether it was faking someone out and getting to the rim himself, tossing up a lob to Kevin Garnett on the break, or finding a sagging Ray Allen for a wide open three, Rajon got his team the best look possible anytime he had the ball in the open court. In the International Game, the style is much more up tempo and with athletes like Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala around him, expect a lot of alley-oops when Rondo is leading the break.
“I’ve played in (the international game) before and I had a little bit of success so I’m looking forward to it,” Rondo told me.
Rajon strives to be the new kid on the block, the next generation point guard, and a unique talent. His individualism, his confident attitude and his breathtakingly fresh basketball abilities give Rondo a pretty good shot at representing his country in the 2010 World Championships as well an opportunity to become one of the faces of the NBA as the game adapts to fit the style of quick, athletic point guards like Rondo.
Then again, there is nobody like Rondo. Because just like the custom made Beats by Dre headphones, this edition golden with a touch of Celtic green, Rajon walked into the Thomas & Mack Center sporting today, he is one of a kind.
And he’d have it no other way.