I wasn’t a point guard for the majority of my career. I was a scorer who loved to pass.
When my high school team made it to the state championship in 2009, I had to play some PG for the first time. Our starting point guard was battling a chronic hip injury and required a minute limitation, so my coach picked me to help bring the ball up – I was a decent ball handler and, like I mentioned, I loved to pass.
There were several times (especially as a high school sophomore) where I would pass up a wide open shot for a dish. My coach would get on me for it. Here is a picture of him shouting at me to ‘shoot the ball!’ mid-title game.
Even with my confusion around my new role, we ended up winning. Further, I ended up falling in love with being point guard. The following summer, the head coach of one of the most respected AAU teams in the state reached out to me, asking me to play point guard for them. Without hesitation, I accepted.
That was the best summer of my basketball career, in many facets. I really embraced being the leader on the floor, and I grew to treasure taking command, getting my teammates easy shots, and having the ball in my hands every possession. Both my game and my confidence in my game sky-rocketed. This was due to many factors – I had a coach who believed in me, I had teammates who were extremely talented and made my job easy, and I had a unique player on my favorite NBA team to model after.
Every chance I got, I would watch and learn from Rajon Rondo.
My dad is a life-long Celtics fan, so I was born into bleeding green. But, full disclosure; I was sort of a fake supporter growing up. I would claim that Boston was my team when someone asked, and I owned a Paul Pierce jersey (duh), but I didn’t really follow the NBA much until my dad sat me down in 2007 and said to me, “You need to watch this guy.”
The first time I ever watched Rondo play, I felt this strange but genuine connection with him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him (completely realizing this is beginning to sound disturbing, but stay with me). He was a magician with the ball. He had the entire defense on a string.
A lot of professional athletes try to out-muscle or out-athlete each other. Rondo has never been into that. He’s always been more concerned with out-smarting his opponents.
Rondo is flashy. He’s extremely skilled with the ball. He often does something mystical that ends up on a highlight reel. But as a 15-year-old girl aspiring to play basketball at the collegiate level, I watched Rondo, absolutely mesmerized by his ability to place both his own teammates and his defenders exactly where he wanted them to be, with just a subtle ball fake or brief moment of eye contact.
Watch the slo-mo of this next one. Dwayne Wade goes over the screen (not sure why), Shane Battier shows, and one tiny movement of the ball makes 1) Dwayne Wade leave his feet and 2) Battier slide aggressively back to his guy, turning the back of his head to Rondo completely.
This uncanny skill isn’t something that just fell into his lap. Rondo knows he’s not a go-to scorer, and he knows he’s undersized. So for every hour he spends in the gym, he spends 2 watching film, breaking down player tendencies, studying the intricacies of game.
He gets a lot of criticism for his inability to knock down open jumpers (among other things), but don’t be fooled – Rajon Rondo puts in the work. His impeccable basketball IQ feeds into his ability to make his teammates look like veteran all-stars, even if they are rookies coming off the bench.
I wanted to do the same.
I went on to play college basketball, but was shifted back to more of a scoring guard position. My junior year, however, both our starting point guard and our backup point guard went down with injuries (freakishly enough, in the same week). Once again, I was chosen to temporarily fill that role.
One would think that I would be completely comfortable with this, but there were a few apprehensions. For one, I hadn’t played point guard since high school, so bringing the ball up and calling the offense versus collegiate-level pressure on every possession was as huge a adjustment of me. Moreover, I was fresh off of my 3rd knee surgery, feeling slower, less mobile, less athletic, and less confident than ever.
I looked it, too.
Regardless of my shaky ball handling and my massive knee brace that I was lugging around, I knew my team was relying on me. So I went back to the drawing board, and I watched video clips of Rondo.
I first focused on his court vision.
You hear and see how certain NBA players use specific body parts to their advantage. Kawhi Leonard has giant hands that help him get deflections and blocks on defense. LeBron James has massive shoulders that help him power through contact and finish.
Rondo’s best physical asset? His eyes.
Sure, this is an incredible pass. But Rondo is only able to complete this pass because he’s literally turning in mid-air, as he’s pulling down the rebound, to take a peak down the court. He sees Butler before he even hits the ground.
You’re taught to keep your eyes up when you first learn how to dribble. Then, you learn look ahead before you even put the ball on the floor. But this? This is next level. And not many can do it.
He’s always thinking 1, 2, sometimes 3 plays ahead. Watch here – you can audibly hear him yelling at KG for the outlet pass, and he’s already passed half court when he receives the ball.
It takes him less than 2 dribbles to size up his options. He knows he has Avery Bradley in the corner and Pierce trailing, but he waits just long enough to see if a defender follows Ryan Hollins to the hoop. He notices that Spencer Hawes isn’t matched up on anyone for just a split second, and he throws a perfectly timed pass for Hollins to grab and slam.
Rondo uses his eyes not just to look, but to see. He can visualize scenarios unfolding and then react to them at such a fast rate because he’s spent so much time training his brain to do so.
This next one is initially jaw-dropping. You watch this and think, “This guy has a 6th sense.“ But when you actually break it down, the secret to Rondo’s seemingly inhuman aptitude is incredibly simple.
With 24 seconds on the shot clock, the instant he receives the outlet pass, Rondo knows exactly where Ray Allen is, and exactly where he’ll be. He decides right then which play to call and execute. Watch as he passes into KG, then immediately cuts off of him. He knows that if KG gets him the ball in the paint, the defense will collapse, leaving Ray wide open in the corner.
So while this behind-the-head, no-look, left-handed jump pass is impressive (extreme understatement), Rondo didn’t need to look at Ray Allen in order to know where he was or realize that he was completely unguarded. He had already assessed the situation, several seconds beforehand.
Next, I picked up on Rondo’s knack to KYP – i.e., his knack to ‘Know Your Personnel’. If a shooter prefers to catch his passes an inch to the left of his numbers, Rondo knows that. If a big favors a lob to a bounce pass in traffic, Rondo knows that. He knows which guys want the ball in the short corner with the shot clock winding down – and, equally crucial, he knows which guys don’t. He knows which guys can use their athleticism to salvage a risky pass, and he knows which guys require more precision.
He takes the time to study his teammates separately in order to optimize their individual strengths and put them in positions to succeed.
This was a huge takeaway for me personally.
I had 2 post players that I absolutely adored playing with as a point guard in college – Hannah and Jen. They were both extremely talented, but they were very, very different players. There was one specific play that we would run against a zone that required me to throw a pretty tough lob pass to them on the backside.
Hannah could jump out of the gym, so on this play, I could pass it anywhere within a 10ft radius of her, and she’d go and grab it. I knew this, so even if Hannah didn’t have great position in the post (she was pretty scrawny compared to other girls her height), I would throw her the pass anyways.
Jen, on the other hand, had a very specific ‘sweet spot’ where she liked to catch this pass. Jen could hold a post position like no other, so when she did, I wanted to reward her. When I was able to hit her in this sweet spot, she would finish the play (often with an and-one) every single time.
Here is a clip of that pass, with Jen on the receiving end:
Kid you not, there were several games that we ran that play at least 15 times. And it kept working – mainly because Jen and Hannah are absolute animals, but partially because Rondo inspired me to KYP.
Rondo also taught me how to be tough. How to find a way, no matter my circumstance. I will never forget Game 3 against the Miami Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals.
This man dislocated his left elbow in the 3rd quarter, got it popped back into place, then came back and played the rest of game with one arm. Not only that, but he led them to a win, sacrificing his body and going after balls like this without hesitation:
He knew that, if his teammates saw him making these hustle plays through intense pain and impairment, they had no excuse not to.
He got interviewed after the game.
“I’m sure I’ll be ready to go in a couple days. I’ll be limited, but not defensively. I’ll be able to pressure the ball, get deflections, rebound the ball, and give it to the Big 3 and the rest of the guys on the floor to score the ball.”
My on-court days are over, but I’m still learning from him. Although I’m a Celtics fan, I’m lucky enough to currently live in the city where Rondo plays, and I try to make it to as many games as I can.
The other night, I got the opportunity to attend a Bulls Playoff game (ironically, against the Celtics). Rondo was unfortunately sidelined due to a broken thumb, but I was able to capture this. He’s in the grey suit.
He could barely sit down, all game. Just itching to be out there, teaching, making his teammates better.
Rondo continues to take a game that I fell in love with at a very young age and treat it like a piece of art. He analyzes it from different points of view, and he displays it in ways for the onlooker to enjoy. He appreciates its beauty, and he does everything in his power to pass it along. He cherishes it, and he puts it before himself. For that, I have always been and will always be a huge fan – through all of the highs, and especially, through all of the lows.
From the bottom of my heart – Thank you, Rondo.
One last clip because an undisciplined LeBron brings me delight.