Rajon Rondo can steal the rock, drop a dime, and make defenders look downright foolish going behind-the-back. He also studies plenty of film, which is why he’s always on point.
Rajon Rondo thinks he does something most other NBA players don’t. He watches film -- hours upon hours of it. “I think a lot of players just go out there and play off raw talent and seeing players play every once in a while,” the All-Star point guard says the day before the Celtics play host to the Denver Nuggets. “But I like to dissect film. I watch the point guard position and see how they play. I’m always watching and trying to figure out how I can get better as a point guard and what other point guards do out on the court.”
Through his film study, Rondo has been able to pick up the patents of NBA champion guards like Dwayne Wade and Manu Ginobili. He’s also wise enough to incorporate some of their moves into his own game.
The film study certainly seems to be paying off for Rondo. Entering Wednesday’s game, the fifth-year pro is No. 1 in the NBA in assists per game, total assists and triple doubles. He’s also in the Top 10 in steals per game, total steals, minutes per game, assists per turnover and double doubles.
“I’m always watching and trying to figure out how I can get better as a point guard and what other point guards do out on the court.”
Rondo’s doing all this while averaging a double-double (13.8 assists per game and 11.4 points per game) and leading the Celtics to a 16-4 record, which is the best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference.
Beyond his film study, Rondo has something else many other players don’t -- an unquenchable desire to win. The 24-year-old studies the competition so he can beat them. Through his study, he probably knew that Orlando Magic guard Jason Williams wouldn’t go to the floor during the Celtics’ Eastern Conference Finals in May.
So, when the ball squirted out with 8:45 left in the second quarter, Williams jogged after the ball while Rondo launched himself onto the floor and at the rock. Rondo scooped it up, juked a stunned Williams and tossed a bank shot up against the glass, giving the Celtics a 36-17 lead. Rondo simply wants it more than his opponent.
“I love competition,” says Rondo, who in 2009 became the first NBA player to sign on as a Red Bull athlete. “I want to be the best. I love competing every night. That’s just been instilled in me since Day One. I don’t like losing in anything that I do, whether it was racing while I was growing up or riding a bike. Whatever I did, I always tried to be the best. That’s the chip or edge that I have on my shoulder. I have it when I play any position or do anything, whether I’m playing cards, driving a bicycle. I just always wanted to be the best. That’s why I think I’m so competitive and I love to continue to get better.”
Rondo’s growth as a player has been augmented by career stability: Even though he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 NBA Draft, he has remained a Celtic since the team acquired him in a draft-day deal. He’s also in the fifth year of Head Coach Doc Rivers’ system, which has created a comfort level Rondo is now taking full advantage of on the court.
“I have it when I play any position or do anything, whether I’m playing cards, driving a bicycle. I just always wanted to be the best.”
“I’m becoming more and more familiar with the system,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing, being in the system for so long. It’s kind of funny, I was listening to [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger talk [Wednesday] night about how he was going to miss this entire week but that he knows the plays and he’s been in the system for seven years and he’s pretty much ready to play [past Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens]. So for me, playing for Doc for five years, there isn’t a play that he can draw up that I don’t know already. It’s helped me know where guys should be on the court and where I should deliver the ball.”
Knowing the system and his own players’ tendencies have been key components to the remarkable start of Rondo’s 2010-11 season. He says that, as a point guard, knowing your personnel is the key to limiting turnovers. Thus, with his intimate knowledge of Rivers’ system, he knows where guys are going to be on the court and now that he’s getting more and more comfortable with the Celtics’ new players, he knows that it’s OK to throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal and that Jermaine O’Neal prefers the ball away from the basket.
Despite his top-tier play, Rondo knows that he needs to improve his free throw percentage, which stands at a lowly 44 percent. Given that he knows he needs to improve his game (he also says he needs to be a better leader and not settle on anything), Rondo isn’t ready to label himself a complete player, even though his stats suggest otherwise.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m complete, but I’m trying to get there, to be as close as possible,” he says. “I’m trying to be as solid as possible and do the best and play the best role I can for my teammates because I don’t need to be the scorer or the rebounder. I’m just trying to be the best I can. That’s what a team is about. We’ve got five players on the court, so I’m trying to play the best position and the best role that I can as a point guard for my teammates and that’s why I think I’ve been successful so far.”
Follow Soren Baker on Twitter: @SorenBaker