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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Rajon Rondo has surpassed J.J. Redick (left) and countless others picked ahead of him in the 2006 Draft.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Once-overlooked Rondo ends up being an all-time Draft steal


Posted Feb 17 2011 8:05AM

LOS ANGELES -- Adam Morrison....

.... Tyrus Thomas....

.... Shelden Williams....

"No, I haven't looked at the draft list," Rajon Rondo said recently. "But I've got a pretty good memory. Of everyone that went in front of me."

Patrick O'Bryant....

.... Saer Sene....

.... Cedric Simmons....

"A lot of guys aren't even in the league anymore," Rondo said. "A lot of guys didn't sign extensions."

Oleksiy Pecherov....

...Renaldo Balkman ...

.... Quincy Douby.

Rondo is not just the steal of the 2006 Draft ... he is a steal for the ages. That he will play in the 2011 All-Star Game while most other '06 arrivals are struggling to play anywhere (or have already washed out of the league) is what makes Rondo and Danny Ainge look better by the day.

It was Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, who targeted Rondo and found a trade partner in the late-teens or early-20s, the projected landing spot for the then-Kentucky sophomore Rondo. Ainge arranged a deal with the Suns: If Rondo was there at 21, Phoenix would take him and trade Rondo and Brian Grant's weighty salary to the Celtics for a 2007 first-round choice.

Done.

"I didn't see it early on," Boston coach Doc Rivers admitted. "Danny loved him right away. Obviously I didn't watch as much [of Rondo in college] as Danny did. Danny really pushed him. Danny thought instinctively that he had a chance, with his athleticism, to be a great player. And he was right."

Some 4 seasons later, that No. 21 pick has merely become a stellar two-way point guard -- the quarterback of a championship team at age 22 in 2008, an All-Defense selection last season, this season's league-leader in assists and a an All-Star for the second consecutive year. Plus, there is his growth into a presence on a team that had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and the move that took Rondo from supposed weak link when Boston's Big Three was formed.

"He's always been a great passer and he's always had great instincts," Rivers said. "I think his biggest improvement is how to run a team and how to command a team and organize a team. I think he's the best in the league at doing that."

It's shocking that Rondo went 21st. It's laughable that he went 21st in that draft. That mudslide of mistakes.

The top 10 of the 2006 Draft reads like this: Andrea Bargnani to the Raptors, LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers, Morrison to the Bobcats, Thomas to the Bulls, Shelden Williams to the Hawks, Brandon Roy to the Trail Blazers, Randy Foye to the Timberwolves, Rudy Gay to the Grizzlies (a deal made official a couple weeks later), O'Bryant to the Warriors and Sene to the SuperSonics.

The next 10: J.J. Redick to the Magic, Hilton Armstrong to the Hornets, Thabo Sefolosha to the Bulls, Ronnie Brewer to the Jazz, Simmons to the Hornets, Rodney Carney to the 76ers, Shawne Williams to the Pacers, Pecherov to the Wizards, Douby to the Kings and Renaldo Balkman to the Knicks.

The last 10 of the first round: Rondo, Marcus Williams to the Nets, Josh Boone to the Nets, Kyle Lowry to the Grizzlies, Shannon Brown to the Cavaliers, Jordan Farmar to the Lakers, Sergio Rodriguez to the Trail Blazers, Maurice Ager to the Mavericks, Mardy Collins to the Knicks and Joel Freeland to the Trail Blazers.

(And, reaching into the second round, let's not forget Paul Millsap at 47 ... the Jazz got a decent return on that investment.)

Roy was once Rondo's lone '06 Draft contemporary capable of staying with him as an All-Star regular and perhaps as a central figure in long playoff runs. Now, that's a fading concept for Roy because of his gimpy knees.

Aldridge and Millsap are realistic candidates to eventually make the midseason showcase, and Gay and Bargnani are possibles, but none as a constant like Rondo. Perhaps only Sefolosha, who made the All-Defensive Second Team last season, could one day join Rondo on the All-Defensive First Team.

But the list of anyone from the '06 Draft sticking by Rondo in impact and prestige is already dramatically shrinking. Of course he thinks about it, he said. How could he not think about it? Twenty players were picked earlier. And he's got a pretty good memory.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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