by: Scott LaPeer
July 8, 2007... Milton, Massachusetts... Suburban Boston.
I'm talking with a friend about the Celtics. A footnote: this is roughly 3 weeks before Boston acquires Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, thus comprising the "Big 3" with Paul Pierce. The conversation turns towards young C's point guard Rajon Rondo. And this is when I say one of the dumbest things in my entire life.
Let me rewind for a quick-sec to provide background. Little known fact: If I wasn't a sportscaster, the next best job for me would probably be in basketball, either as a coach, President/GM, or, at the very least, a talent scout. Needless to say, I have a strong opinion of my ability to evaluate players. Been doing it for years. I try to hold off on forming an opinion until my gut chips in to confirm or dis-confirm. It's usually a stone-cold, lead pipe lock. On this day, however, I am epically off the mark. What I say next, I will never forget because with each passing season, the sheer stupidity of my words are forcefully and, in a strange, almost karmic way, rightfully slammed in my face in a sort of continuous lesson in humility.
Again, the topic gets to Rondo, when I boldly declare, "I'm sorry, but there is no way the Celtics, or any other NBA team, for that matter, ever wins a championship with Rajon Rondo as its starting point guard."
Almost 3 years later, that statement already belongs in the upper echelon of the sheer asinine. Now, however, it continues to resonate as one of the dumbest things I've ever said, and actually believed at the time I said it.
Here's the deal...
In his 2 years at Kentucky, I watched Rondo play many times. He was fast, crafty, and more than anything else, stood out as a strong defender. His jump shot, however, was flat broke. He shot 18-66 from 3 his sophomore, and final season, including a mind-bending 57% from the free throw line-- as a point guard! In a nutshell, I just didn't see him panning out at the next level.
Comparatively speaking, Rajon Rondo is not a big man. Neither am I. It's said it takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. Therefore, I guess this is about as close as I'm ever going to get to being a "big man".
In the nearly 3 years since, Rondo HAS won an NBA title as a starting point guard. He's become an all-star. His offensive statistics have improved each season to the degree he's now absolutely part of the "Best Point Guards in the NBA" discussion. He has now become the most important player on a team that boasts 3 sure-fire Hall of Fame guys. Finally, he's recorded the 4th most triple-doubles through any player's first 50 career playoff games in league history, behind only 3 guys who were the size of a small forward or bigger (Wilt Chamberlin, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson).
Pardon the pun, but at 6'1", this is no small accomplishment. On the heels of a near-absurd 29 point, 18 REBOUND, 13 assist performance in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semis, Rondo clearly displayed he is a COMPLETE basketball player. What obviously jumps off the stat sheet, at his size, is, again, the EIGHTEEN REBOUNDS! Let's go deeper for a moment...
Six-foot-one is not even big for an NBA point guard, never mind the fact Rondo is listed at a paltry 171 pounds. At a sturdy 6'3", Utah's Deron Williams can barely get a driving shot to reach the rim against the size of the L.A. Lakers. What is truly most remarkable about Rondo is the combined physical and mental aptitude that make him one of basketball's biggest anomalies. It's what makes him so much fun to watch.
Ranking first this past season in steals, Rondo made the NBA's All-Defensive First-Team for the first time. In fact, he was runner-up to Dwight Howard for Defensive Player of the Year.
The rebounding, surprising to some, is nothing new. I remember, at the time, marveling at the skinny point guard in Kentucky blue when he set a Wildcat record for rebounds in a game by a guard with 19 against Iowa. That's a Big 10 school, by the way. Blessed with almost freakishly long arms and large hands, Rondo also moves laterally, and gets off the floor faster than most athletes anywhere. Coupled with hard-nosed and fearless instincts, the Louisville, KY native simply attacks loose balls faster than most others. It's the reason he averaged 6 rebounds per game his sophomore season, competing largely in the never-soft, SEC.
What he manages offensively is probably even more impressive.
From a purely fundamental standpoint, Rondo's jump shot is still pretty busted. It's not pretty, rarely accurate, and, without a doubt, the Achilles' heel of his game. That said, he shot over 50% from the field for the second consecutive season. MADE over half his shot attempts in the NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION with little, to no semblance of a jump shot!!!
The key here is discipline. Rondo knows his limitations. He took a career-high 80 three-point attempts this past season. Just 80. Out of 904 shots from anywhere on the floor. That, is smart AND efficient.
As for the high field goal percentage, he's mastered the running floater. Shoots it better than any other guard in the game, save for the possible exception of Chris Paul. Rondo's speed and court vision allow him to get easy lay-ups in transition. And again, his quickness and long reach enable him to convert around the basket, even with the imposing length of seven-footers.
I would say I've clearly come 180 degrees on Rondo, but in truth, Rondo has forced me to recognize and finally truly appreciate his talent. I doubt I'm the only one. He is simply a unique and artful basketball player unlike most others in an uber-talented league of spectacular athletes. Whether or not you're a Rondo fan, Celtics fan, or, especially in these parts of the country, a Kentucky fan, it's impossible to deny the skinny kid's got game.
Game that makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in all of pro hoops.
Rebound, Rondo, rebound.