Rondo Welcomes Challenge of Heightened Expectations
WALTHAM - It's a good thing that Rajon Rondo doesn't feel any pressure.
He's talked about building his confidence in pretty much every interview he's ever done, and after the blockbuster trades that brought Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and championship dreams to Boston, expectations have changed overnight and the Celtics' point guard will certainly need all the confidence he can get.
Ready or not, Rondo will be in the spotlight -- and under pressure, whether he feels it or not -- as he starts this year as the Celtics' de facto "veteran point guard."
For the record, by veteran point guard, we mean that he's already played in one whole NBA season and started 25 games at the point.
He knows he's got a challenge in front of him, but after an informal workout with rookie teammates Brandon Wallace, Glen Davis and Gabe Pruitt on Tuesday, the normally soft-spoken Rondo sounded pretty confident that he's ready to quarterback the team come November.
"I'm the point guard on the team and I'm going to take leadership," Rondo said rather matter-of-factly. He always talks succinctly, and while in the past that might have pointed to discomfort with the attention of an interview, he seems more direct and self-assured these days. Rondo displays the confidence that a year under the belt provides a young player who now knows what to expect from training camp and the rigors of an 82-game season.
Being an NBA rookie is hard enough, but playing point guard in your first year might be the toughest gig in the league. The learning curve is steep to begin with, and when you factor in the injuries that shelved Paul Pierce, devastated the Celtics' roster and left Rondo playing alongside several other inexperienced players, it's not surprising that he struggled at times with his in-game decision-making when he was never really sure who could finish a play for him.
This year, however, Rondo suddenly finds himself with some intriguing options, surrounded by three guys who can all score at will. If anything, his biggest challenge may be resisting the urge of deference and seizing control of the offense. Rondo did make one thing clear: he's ready to call the shots on the floor this year, and he won't be shy when it comes time to give Garnett, Allen or Pierce a point in the right direction.
In just his second season, Rajon Rondo is being thrust into the role of starting point guard, but he's welcoming the challenge.
"When I'm out there playing with them, we're all basketball players. I don't look at how many All-Star (appearances) they have or how long they've been in the league. If they're in the wrong direction I'm going to speak up and direct them, whether it's Paul Pierce or an incoming rookie like Gabe Pruitt," Rondo said. "I'm just going to have to be more of a leader. Even though those guys have been in the league so long, I'm still going to have to direct them and tell them where to go."
Rondo says he learned a lot of the minutiae of playing the point last season, whether it was just picking up a crafty trick here and there by watching more seasoned players ahead of him or breaking down film with Head Coach Doc Rivers, himself a former point guard with plenty of big game experience. Rondo credits film work with helping him figure out details like where teammates likes to catch the ball or when he should be breaking off a play rather than sticking to the original diagram. And he's also learned to draw on his background as a high school football quarterback, and talked about being an "extension of the coach on the court."
When it comes to his own offseason decision-making, Rondo regularly talks about "settling for the jumpshot", which has become something of a catchphrase for him this summer. He's told reporters that he's focusing on his outside shooting rather than simply putting his head down and rumbling toward the basket. While he's confident in his ability to blow past defenders and finish at the basket, his outside shooting remains an Achilles heel.
Rondo's heard about it since high school and knows that the scouting report will follow him until he proves otherwise, so he's spent all summer working on his shot. He claims he hasn't made many mechanical changes aside from getting more lift on his jumper, but has instead emphasized shooting in game-like situations (simulated pick-and rolls, for instance) rather than just plucking Spauldings off a rack and letting them fly. Most of all, he's been working on repetition -- getting up as many shots as he can as he tries to build confidence in what's admittedly been the weakest aspect of his game.
"It's part of the game and the questions are going to come with the territory," Rondo said of the criticism.
But despite the persistent questions about his shooting, Rondo can take solace in the fact that there are plenty of people in the NBA who believe in his future. It was widely reported that Seattle and Minnesota both wanted Rondo as a part of their trade packages, but the Celtics steadfastly refused to part with him.
"I'm glad to still be here and I'm glad Danny has the confidence in me to become the up-and-coming point guard of the Boston Celtics," Rondo said.
Peter Stringer covers the team for Celtics.com. You can send him .