Getting to Know Rondo

During his 12 NBA seasons, Rajon Rondo has seen, learned and experienced a lot on the various NBA courts and locker rooms he’s occupied.

With training camp just one week away, I figured we'd get a head start in learning what the 32-year-old PG has on his mind. So I sat down with Rondo to discuss whether “Playoff Rondo” is actually a thing, how his game has evolved, how he watches film, how he and LeBron can control a game and his initial impressions of the young Lakers.

When talking about advantages gained while watching film, Rondo referenced his anger/respect after learning just before we spoke about how Kobe “figured something out” to beat Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals.

Here’s a transcription of our conversation:

MT: Most folks within the NBA community have heard of “Playoff Rondo,” but after looking at your Per 36 numbers, I wasn’t convinced it was a thing. Is it actually more about playing time? Is “Playoff Rondo” a myth?
Rondo: I feel that way. If given an opportunity, knowing I’ll play 36 minutes a night, I can perform at a high level. Spotty or inconsistent minutes, which have been the case in the past, then the numbers fluctuate. The people that came up with this “Playoff Rondo” name or title or whatever they may call it, obviously (it’s because) I’ve been on TV during the playoffs. In the regular season last year, I had some good games. It got a little bit of publicity, but I think I’ve had six (regular season) TV games over the last two years between Chicago and New Orleans. I’ll have more televised games this year than the last two or three years combined.

Regular Season:31.810.
Regular Season (per 36):-

MT: The maximum TV games allowed, in fact. So, where is your game now compared to five years ago?
Rondo: Every aspect of my game has gotten a lot better. As far as understanding the game, my knowledge of the game. But I think the biggest thing for me is just my growth as far as leadership. Being able to give as much knowledge as possible to the young guys, because that’s who I’ve been around the last five years of my career (in) Sacramento, Chicago, (and New Orleans). I believe everything in life happens for a reason. Me having great mentors that I had in Boston those five or six years, where it really was a pivotal part of my career, those guys helped me become the player I am today. It all kind of unfolds to today, me doing the same thing that was done for me.

MT: Speaking of narratives from your career, there were different ones coming out of Dallas and Sacramento than in your last two stints in Chicago and New Orleans, where a lot was said about your positive impact on young players. Do you feel like you’ve been the same person all the way through, and the situations have just fit in different ways?
Rondo: That’s pretty accurate. What I pride myself on mostly is making the game easier for my teammates. I don’t mind thinking up every play or possession for my teammates if that’s what’s needed. I’m an extension of the coach on the floor.

MT: How do you think you can apply that to this specific group of players?
Rondo: Seeing some of the young guys, it’s refreshing and humbling that they’ve reached out and asked me questions to watch film. They’re (taking in) what I see, the mental part of the game, from a standpoint defensively as far as communication on the court and talking. It’s humbling, but at the same time, that comes with the responsibility and the role I’ve been given with this team this year.

MT: I know Kyle Kuzma just watched film with you. What are the kinds of things you see now that you may not have when you were coming off your rookie year like Kuz?
Rondo: Attention to detail. Small things to look for. You can get caught up in making and missing shots, but the game is so much more. I try to break it down from that aspect to try and help him to be the best player he can be, to maximize his strengths and cover up a lot of the weaknesses.

MT: When did you really get into watching film?
Rondo: I was blessed to have film broken down to me at an early age … because I thought I knew it all. The best thing about film is it doesn’t lie. I watched film when I was 14 years old as a freshman in high school. My coach Doug Bibby broke it down to us as a team, and he would rewind the tape and ask me questions about what I was doing. So he brought that from a coaching standpoint as far as growth and learning, but also when knuckleheads at 14 years old think they know it all, but you can prove on film that you weren’t talking defensively and you weren’t playing help defense. Film doesn’t lie, and that’s the best thing that’s ever been given me, a gift for this game.

MT: Speaking of smart players that watch film, LeBron is now your teammate…
Rondo: Yeah, I’m excited about that...

MT: What can two basketball minds like yours accomplish on the court together?
Rondo: Control the game. Control the game. Those are the guys who win. It’s interesting, I just found out something about Kobe, what he did in the 2010 championship Game 7. How he broke the game down and figured out how to beat us. I can’t give you the insight on that, but I just found that out. Like, maybe 45 minutes ago. It kinda pissed me off a little bit. It’s part of it, but it’s craziness. It’s amazing how he thinks the game, and it’s fun to know that.

MT: Wait, wait … so in Game 7, Kobe figure something out during the game that helped the Lakers beat the Celtics for a championship, or did he do it between Game 6 and Game 7?
Rondo: I don’t know if it was going into the game, but it was told to me that he had to figure it out during the game. He wasn’t himself. So he had to figure out a different way to win the game.

MT: OK wait, so you heard it from Rob (Pelinka)?
Rondo: Somebody. (laughs) I can’t give you my source.

MT: What I remember most about that game was the Lakers couldn’t hit a shot*, especially Kobe, but he grabbed 15 boards, a bunch on the offensive glass. That’s at least one thing he did, but it doesn’t sound like what you’re getting at…
Rondo: Man, he did a lot. When you break it down, and you watch … he made game-winning plays, basically. Not just his shot, what people assume that he normally does.
*L.A. was just 27 for 83 (32.5 percent) as a team, and Kobe 6 for 24 in a game they won 83-79, thanks in part to a massive 23-8 edge on the offensive glass.

MT: He’s another instinctual basketball player who also watched a ton of film, of course...
Rondo: To be great, everything is off instincts. It’s like a boxer. It’s always countering. You don’t just go into a game thinking, ‘OK I’m going to go right two times and then shoot the jump shot going left.’ It’s all about feel. That’s what makes other players in this league great players. You never want to go into a situation robotic. It’s a matter of feel. But at the same time, when you correct your mistakes, the only way to do it is by watching mistakes.

MT: In that Game 7, you hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds before Sasha Vujacic hit the two free throws to seal it, but that hasn’t (been a strength) for your career. How much have you seen the importance of the long ball change in your career?
Rondo: It’s completely different. I was watching Hardwood Classics a couple weeks ago, and nobody shot threes then how we’re doing it now. Obviously the game has evolved and changed, and you have to adjust or adapt or get left out of the league.

MT: Your attempts from three were (double your career average, from 1.2 to 2.3). How do you keep adapting?
Rondo: I just continue to try do what I do best. Everyone can’t be the best at shooting threes, so I try to do the intangibles, bring what I do to the team and obviously try to get the W. There’s so many different ways to win and impact the game.

MT: What are your (way too early) reactions to seeing some of these young guys play?
Rondo: We’re going to have to ride the young guys throughout the regular season, even in the playoffs. They’re going to play big for us. My expectations are really high for the young guys. They’ll be where they need to be. Myself, LeBron, Lance, Mike, we’re all going to be vets that’s trying to instill greatness in these young guys. We’re going to push the (stuff) out of them. I’m sure they’ll rise to the occasion. That’s what they seem like so far. They’ve been in here working their butts off since I’ve been here in early August, so I look forward to getting them to the level they need to play at for us to be contenders.