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The Education of Rajon Rondo

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Rondo1.jpg Speaking as someone who has a bad case of Rondoism, I've told anyone that will listen that I have no worries about our starting point guard position.  That does not, however, change the fact that he is still a second year point guard in a league where it typically takes three years to develop at that position.  So there will be moments when Rondo shows flashes of future dominance and moments when he looks like a boy amongst men.

It is fascinating listening to Bob Cousy, the Sultan of Distribution himself, discuss the young man.  Like the rest of us, he's impressed with Rajon's quickness, passing, and defense.  However, like a grumpy old professor with high standards and little patience that has seen far too many pretenders stumble upon the parquet that he once waltzed upon, he gives out praise sparingly.  His prime complaint is that Rondo is perhaps being too patient, to the point of being passive at times.  Or as Trey and Sue might say, "you've got these claws, and you're asking yourself ‘how do I get the bunny?'" (I'm not sure how I was able to transition from Cousy to Swingers, but let's just roll with it shall we?)

Perhaps it is a function of playing with 3 potential Hall of Famers.  Who wouldn't defer to them?  Or perhaps it is because he's trying to so hard not to make mistakes that he's afraid to push the issue.  Playing for Doc Rivers (another former point) can do that to a young player - ask Marcus Banks.  Personally I just think it has more to do with everything that goes with learning the point position in the pros.

It isn't just about calling the play and making the first pass.  It is about knowing not just the tendencies of each of your teammates, but all the opponents as well.  It is about reading the flow of the game and reacting on the fly in order to dictate the pace that benefits your team.  In short, it an art form.  Rondo is already a beautifully skilled artist.  But even the most brilliant prodigies need to practice and push themselves to be at the top of their field.  This year is Rondo's education.  He just happens to be learning in a pretty high profile and high pressure classroom.

Rondo2.jpg What dawned on me the other day was the fact that Danny Ainge might have planned this all along.  I was lamenting the lack of a veteran backup point guard all preseason, but think about what would have happened had we picked one up.  Do you think Rondo would be out there at the end of close games, in particular after he gave up a turnover and an offensive foul early in the fourth like he did on Friday?  House was in for a couple minutes at most before Rondo had to be reinserted.  And he responded by hitting a huge baseline jumper.  The lack of a veteran presence means it is Rondo's job through his ups and downs.  I think there was a conscious decision to let the young man take his lumps early in the season in order to prepare him for the playoffs and future years with this group.

Rondo certainly shows enough brilliance in short waves that it makes up for the occasional mistakes.  My favorite play that I've seen a few times now is what I'm calling the NHL 95 play.  Those that played that game like I did (all through college) will remember that if you take the puck with your fastest player ("it's not so much me as it is Roenick") over to the right side of the screen and then quickly back to the left side, the defense and goalie are too slow to react and it is a goal every time.  Well, Rondo will dribble off to the right side, free throw extended, turn on a dime and sprint back to the left.  He's too quick for his man to keep pace and stay between him and the basket.  Not to mention the fact that he's running through several bodies from both teams that work as natural screens.  At some point Rondo turns the corner and starts scampering full speed towards the basket.  The help defenders, knowing that they are guarding future Hall of Famers are typically slow to rotate.  Either Rondo is going to the front of the rim or he's passing back to the right where the help defense is busy going to the left, leaving an open look for the shooter.  And of course all of this takes about 3 or 4 seconds to develop.

What will take a little longer to develop is Rondo's assertiveness.  He's got it in him to be a floor general, but he's going to need to take his time and go through the normal learning curve of NBA point guards.