Questions are destined to be Rajon Rondo’s pet dog, following him everywhere no matter how productive and masterful he becomes as an NBA point guard. What if he added a jump shot? Why doesn’t he get to the line more often? What if he could attack the rim every night like he does on some? Why can’t he play just as well during a Wednesday night meeting with the Charlotte Bobcats as he does on nationally televised outings against the Miami Heat?
Rondo has matured (Sunday notwithstanding), boosted his consistency, become one of the NBA’s top point guard and entered the conversation surrounding the imaginary “Celtics team MVP” trophy. But still, his teammates wonder if he realizes the unique nature of his skill, intelligence and natural ability. (ESPN)
“But I don’t look at how good Rondo is, I look at how good he can be,” [Ray] Allen said. “The NBA isn’t about being drafted and being here. It’s what you can accomplish while you are here.
“I think if there has ever been any criticism from in our locker room [about Rondo], it’s ‘Dude, you realize how good you could be?’”
Jackie MacMullan tells the story of Rondo becoming his own man. Whereas he once copied Ray Allen’s pregame routine, arriving at the gym 3.5 hours early and hoisting a set amount of jumpers, Rondo no longer subscribes to the Ray Allen theory. Part of that is becoming his own man, finding his own lane, determining a pregame routine that is best for himself, rather than somebody else. Allen’s strict regiment doesn’t work for everybody. But Allen and his teammates seem to wonder how good Rondo would become if he worked a little harder, if his practice habits were a little different.
As MacMullan describes his teammates’ thoughts, Rondo sounds a little like Allen Iverson.
With that has come the need to establish his own identity — and generate some independence from the three Hall of Famers who have mentored him from the start. Naturally, that process has, at times, created some discomfort. Privately, his veteran teammates wish Rondo worked harder, longer. And yet, in the same breath, they laud his toughness, fearlessness and insatiable thirst for competition.
Iverson and Rondo are obviously completely different players — one enjoys passing to teammates even if he has an open layup, the other was dead set on scoring 40 or more points every night while ignoring Eric Snow and Aaron McKie on the wing. Yet they are similarly small packages of flamboyance, energy and resiliency which have never before entered the NBA and might never be replicated. They’re the types of players who hit the ground 12 or 13 times per game, drawing bumps and bruises after collisions with mammoths who carry 100 more pounds of muscle, yet they bounce to their feet every time — Rondo, often after staying on the ground for several seconds to dramatize the scene. Their competitive streaks will never be questioned because their passion is clear for all to see, like a neon sign flashing atop their foreheads. Yet both had their work ethics questioned — Iverson by everyone he ever played with and Rondo by his star teammates, privately.
I’m not saying Rondo is similarly adverse to practice, or that he’s going to destroy a press conference one of these days by repeatedly noting, “We talking ’bout practice. Not even a game, practice.” I’m not even necessarily agreeing with the Big Three’s reported stance that he spends too little time on his game. Just because the Big Three think you can work harder doesn’t mean you’re a slouch. Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are all among the NBA’s hardest workers. They could probably find fault in Rondo’s practice habits if he only practiced seven hours per day. In fact, John Calipari saw Rondo preparing during the offseason and predicted “a knockout year” for Rondo because “I can’t tell you how hard Rondo’s working. It’s incredible.” There’s other evidence Rondo works quite hard, too: He’s added quite a bit of muscle since arriving in the NBA and seems to return each season better than the last.
But if Rondo’s star teammates believe he could work harder, his habits have room for improvement. He could stand to arrive at the gym an extra hour earlier and shoot jump shots until the basket feels a little bit wider. His shot remains an exercise in inconsistency and his free throws have all the soft touch of a weight-lifter’s calloused hand.
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Rondo’s development and I imagine I will always thoroughly enjoy the unbridled nature of his game, as it relates to both his passion and his ability to thrive in moments of chaos. Other than watching the 2008 championship unfold, I’ve never been more thrilled by a Celtics game than the time Rondo returned to the court seven minutes after dislocating his elbow, with his arm dangling limply by his side. Rondo does not back down from anybody and plays through pain even Mr. Miyagi couldn’t cure. Despite his flaws, he’s capable of occasionally pretending to be the NBA’s very finest player.
But if Rondo’s teammates think he could use more hours in the gym, he probably could.