Rocky Widner

Rondo Shares Keys to Resurgence

The Kings point guard dishes on thriving under George Karl and forming a tight-knit bond with No. 15.
by Alex Kramers
Writer, Kings.com

The last player in the visitors’ locker room, Rajon Rondo adjusts the collar of his turquoise button-down shirt and neatly packs his belongings into a canvas travel bag, nearly an hour after putting the finishing touches on what’s become a routinely-masterful on-court performance.

Two years removed from a devastating knee injury and barely six months after being maligned and written off by countless NBA pundits, the 10th-year veteran has regained an effervescent hop to his step, swiftly quieting his doubters by returning to his vintage All-Star form.

“It’s pretty much been fun watching him recreate his career a little bit,” says Kings Head Coach George Karl. “He’s kind of seized the moment and played at a high, high level.”

No. 9 – who not only ranks second in the League in assists (10.1 per game), but joins Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook as the only other player currently averaging over 12 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds per contest – recently became the fourth player in the last 18 years to rack up four triple-doubles in a six-game span.

As he effortlessly finds open teammates and rewrites Sacramento-era annals with stunning assist totals, the Louisville, Ky. native credits Karl’s tutelage and trust for the rapid career resurgence.

“Coach. It has to do with Coach, it has to do with your team, it has to do with freedom – they all play a role,” he says. “I worked my (butt) off this summer and I’m continuing to get better.”

Although Rondo also leads the NBA in assist points created (24.3 per game) and passes made (76.4), according NBA.com, the 29-year-old humbly shifts the conversation to areas he’s dedicated to perfecting.

“I still have room to improve,” says the Kings guard, who’s connected on nine of his last 17 three-point attempts. “I want to improve my shooting, my free throw shooting, keeping my turnovers down. I still have a lot of room to grow, but it starts with your coach (believing) in you.”

Karl – who recognizes the 2008 NBA champion would gladly exchange his box score contributions for additional victories – has been content with his team’s ball movement and the way his cunning floor general has commanded the offense.

The Kings’ most-frequently-utilized five-man unit – featuring Rondo alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and Willie Cauley-Stein – has recorded a 43.6 net rating –125.8 offensive and 82.3 defensive – with a 61.2-percent true-shooting percentage in 33 minutes of court-time, according to NBA.com.

“I think (Rondo’s) play is very encouraging and positive for everybody,” says the 2012-13 Coach of the Year. “He makes people better, he makes the game happen and he makes the game work.”

No Kings player has been a bigger beneficiary of Rondo’s court vision and basketball IQ than Sacramento’s All-Star big man, who’s notched 41.2 percent of his field goals off Rondo’s assists. With the dynamic duo sharing the court, the Kings have outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions, forced a team-leading 10.9 turnovers and posted an overall 5-4 record.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Rondo of his rapport with Cousins. “I’ve admired DeMarcus since he’s been in the League. I think he’s the best big man, hands down, by far. There’s nothing he can’t do on the court. As you guys have seen, this year, he’s improved his range and he’s getting better by the day. He’s continuing to grow mentally, he’s a great kid and he’s a great leader. A lot of people don’t know what he does for this team, but he’s very positive and he has a lot of great things to say.”

An avid film watcher and relentless gym rat, Rondo is focused on continuing to build team chemistry and improving his squad’s execution in late-game situations, hoping more of the Kentucky alums’ motivational speeches and devoted practice habits will lead to postgame celebrations.

“We just want to start doing it by example,” says the four-time All-Star. “Our actions – not just our words.”

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