Few NBA media members are more familiar with brand-new New Orleans point guard Rajon Rondo than Celtics.com host/writer Marc D’Amico, who covered Rondo in Boston from 2009-14. As a second-year pro, Rondo was a full-time starter for the 2008 Celtics, a team that captured the franchise’s first NBA championship since the mid-1980s. He was also a key member during Boston’s trip to the NBA Finals in 2010 and advancement to the Eastern Conference finals in ’12.
D’Amico breaks down some of Rondo’s characteristics and what the Louisville native brings to an NBA team, including his knack for being at his best during big games:
Pelicans.com: People often describe Rondo as a unique player, someone whose strengths and skill set aren’t comparable to many point guards, especially as more prolific scorers play the position. How do you best describe what he brings to a team and what makes him stand out among his counterparts at the 1?
D’Amico: Rondo’s greatest strengths are his leadership and his basketball IQ. He gets flak from the media for not being the most cordial guy around, but within the locker room, his teammates typically love him for his ability to lead both on and off the court. His basketball IQ might be tops in the NBA; he could easily become a coach someday. He is a true floor general who understands the intricacies of his team’s offense and will put his teammates in the best position to succeed within the constructs of that offense. Couple his leadership and his basketball IQ with his vision and passing ability, and you have one of the top assist men in the league. Not many point guards can do what he does, but due to his scoring limitations, he also can’t do what many other point guards do.
Pelicans.com: On the court, what did you feel was the most underrated trait or contribution he brought to those great Celtics teams?
D’Amico: Rondo was known as the floor general for those great Celtics teams, but he was also quietly a great finisher. That finishing ability has waned a bit since his knee injury but he has shown flashes over the last couple of seasons of being able to get back to finishing at a high level around the rim.
Pelicans.com: There have been profiles of Rondo in the past that describe him as possessing a kind of genius on the court, in terms of memorizing large playbooks and studying opponents to the point where he even knows their obscure play calls. What was most impressive about his basketball IQ when you watched him with the Celtics?
D’Amico: The guy knew the offensive and defensive schemes as well or better than every single teammate and every coach. That’s not an everyday thing. He loves to study film. He is a basketball junkie. He has a photographic memory. Since moving on from the Celtics, even this past season as he was with the Bulls, I’d oftentimes hear him calling out our plays to his teammates, and getting it correct every single time. How often does that happen in the NBA?
Pelicans.com: He’s been gone for a few years now, but what’s been the reception of Boston fans to Rondo when he comes in as a visiting player?
D’Amico: Anytime you help to raise a banner in Boston, you’re going to be celebrated when you come back. Rondo is no exception. He still has plenty of fans here, especially considering all of the things he did off the court and in the community while he was a member of the Celtics.
Pelicans.com: It was brief, but during the playoffs this spring, Chicago took a 2-0 lead on Boston in the first round, with Rondo nearly averaging a triple-double (11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists). What made his presence so important to the Bulls? After he was sidelined by injury, the Celtics won four straight.
D’Amico: He knew our plays. It was that genius that we talked about before. It came into play and was affecting the series. He was also playing at his highest level maybe since suffering the ACL tear, as he was shooting the ball well and running Chicago’s offense at a high level.
Pelicans.com: Speaking of the postseason, he seems to have upped his production in the playoffs during almost every year he was in Boston. For example, he never averaged more than 13.7 points in a regular season with the Celtics, but did so four times in the postseason, averaging between 14.0 and 17.3 every spring from 2009-12. How do you explain some of those increases?
D’Amico: There’s this thing we used to say here in Boston: there’s Playoff or National TV Rondo, and then there’s regional sports network Rondo. He plays better – and maybe harder – when the lights are shining at their brightest; the stats support that. He is a better player in the playoffs, during nationally televised games, and when he takes on opposing All-Stars. I think it’s a mental thing for him. He just gets more juiced up for the big games.
Pelicans.com: What’s one thing even avid NBA fans may not know about Rondo?
D’Amico: He is a basketball genius, but he’s also a Connect Four genius. I’m pretty sure if you asked him, he’d still claim that he’s undefeated all time. And even if you catch him playing against kids at a community event, you won’t catch him taking it easy on them.