By Peter F. Stringer
September 12, 2006
WALTHAM - Rajon Rondo does everything quickly.
In a recent game of pickup in Waltham, Rondo was beating his bigger teammates by blowing past them on the baseline. Just as quickly as he's past his opponent, he sails underneath the basket and uncoils a scoop-shot off the glass from the other side of the rim. It happens so fast that you're not sure you just saw it, or how he made it happen.
On another drive, Rondo takes a similar angle to the basket, but this time, he disappears and a basketball comes flying back out to the top of the key to find a wide-open Kevin Pittsnogle waiting to tee up a three.
"At every level, everybody gets more athletic, bigger and stronger," Rondo said. "So I've just got to find ways to get the ball off the backboard and get my shot off."
On this day, at 6'1", Rondo is the shortest guy in the gym. That's nothing new; he's grown accustomed to going among the trees in the paint and finishing at the basket, whether he puts it in himself or finds a teammate for an open shot. His style is drive and dish, but if you give him room, he's more than happy to drop it in himself thanks to a long pair of arms and some impressive mid-air body control.
He's especially effective with runners and floaters about six-10 feet from the basket, shots that catch you off guard after he just blew by you the last time down the floor.
Given his quickness and ability to finish at the rim, he knows that defenders will likely be tempted to lay off him and not risk watching him blow by them and instead challenge him to shoot the outside shot. So Rondo spent most of his summer working on his midrange and perimeter shooting, to ensure that he's a threat whenever – and wherever – he has the ball in his hands.
"I've been basically doing drills to work on shooting off the dribble. Not as much standstill shooting," said Rondo, who spent two-and-a-hald hours a day working on his shot at times during in the offseason. "I've done a lot of midrange shooting, and then a couple of spot-ups as well."
That certainly sounds like a long time to spend shooting a basketball, but when you're out of school, left without classes and homework and living on your own for the first time in your life, well, you're going to have some time on your hands. Rondo says he's been spending about six hours a day in the gym, whether he's playing pick up ball with his teammates, hitting the weights or working on improving his conditioning.
"It's all about basketball now," said Rondo, who admitted that he's still adjusting to life as a professional basketball player.
Watching Rondo with the ball is certainly fun, but he may be even more dangerous as a defender. Those long arms and big hands that scouts drooled about all summer make him an intimidating man-to-man defender. He plays the up-in-your-jersey style of defense that all coaches love, and says his penchant for playing stifling defense came when he first arrived at Kentucky, when he realized that he'd have to earn his playing time from Tubby Smith by making his mark on defense.
As far as earning playing time with the Celtics, Rondo thinks it will be an interesting training camp come October as he battles Sabastian Telfair and Delonte West for playing time at the point guard spot.
"There's going to be plenty of competition," said Rondo. "If we all deserve to play, coach is going to find a way to get all of us on the court. All three of us are great point guards, I believe, and that will make this team a lot better. I'll do whatever I've got to do to help this team win and get back to the playoffs. Whether I start or I'm the guy to come off the bench, I'll do whatever it takes."