Rajon Rondo expected to increase minutes to 14-16 Wednesday vs. Toronto

by Jim Eichenhofer

A mere eight seconds into Rajon Rondo’s official debut as a New Orleans Pelican on Monday, the point guard caught a pass from former and current teammate DeMarcus Cousins and dropped in a layup. Only 23 seconds after that, the pair reversed roles, with Rondo finding Cousins for a three-point basket, which was assist No. 6,076 of Rondo’s NBA career.

The 31-year-old hadn’t played since an Oct. 6 preseason game at Oklahoma City, but in his brief five-minute cameo vs. Atlanta, he made a rapid impact. The Pelicans believe it’s a sign of things to come for a savvy, 12-year veteran and four-time All-Star who was projected to be the team’s starting floor general before a core muscle injury sidelined him.

“We want him out there, and obviously he’s going to be an integral part of what we’re trying to do,” Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said. “You can see, just in the few minutes he played, that he can do a lot of things from the standpoint of keeping us organized and putting us in certain situations. I think he’s going to be really good at that.”

Rondo was restricted to a maximum of six minutes Monday and ended up playing the final 4:56 of the first quarter. Gentry said after Tuesday’s practice that his minute allotment Wednesday vs. Toronto will be between 14 and 16 minutes. The guard was pleased to be back in action, even if it was only for a brief spell.

“It was a great feeling, just to be out there with my teammates, instead of cheering the entire game,” Rondo said of being in uniform for the first time in 38 days. “I got my feet wet. Due to the schedule, we didn’t have a lot of time to practice (recently), so I’m using the game as my practice to get my rhythm and get better.”

New Orleans (8-6) has won five of its past six games, but one common critique of the team’s recent play has been its mistake-plagued offense. The Pelicans beat the Clippers and Hawks to begin a three-game homestand, but coughed up a combined 42 turnovers in those victories, their worst two-game tally of 2017-18. Rondo, who has a career 2.93 assist-to-turnover ratio, should help clean up some of the turnovers, which have come partly from shaky decision-making.

“(Watching) from the sideline, we’re trying to make the home-run pass, instead of the simple pass,” Rondo said. “We’ve just got to continue to learn, watch film and get better. It’s going to work itself out. Turnovers don’t last long at this high of a level. We’ve just got to be consistent and keep it simple.”

Rondo served as a mentor and an “extra assistant coach” on the bench during the team’s first 13 games, but he’s eager now to help teammates with on-court contributions. He was pleased to see New Orleans prevail Monday partly due to a series of valuable performances beyond what Cousins and Anthony Davis produced. That will be crucial to team success when opponents swarm the All-Star bigs, as the Hawks consistently did, sometimes surrounding them in the paint with four defenders.

“For us to go as far as we want to go, it’s going to take everyone, 1 through 15,” Rondo said. “It’s a great feeling to be back out there playing basketball again, especially with this group of guys. They are very unselfish. I came here for a reason. This is a special group of guys, and my expectations are pretty high.”