There were no coaches around and it was weeks before New Orleans training camp was set to open, so Rajon Rondo figured he’d start mentally putting together a playbook. As Pelicans players scrimmaged against each other in Lexington, Ky., last month, the 11-year NBA veteran drew up some offensive sets for teammates to execute.
“Everybody was listening to him and getting in the right spots,” marveled Pelicans rookie wing Jalen Jones, a two-way contract signee. “That’s what you have to have at point guard, because if no one is listening to you, the team is all over the place.”
“He’s a smart player who knows everything that’s going on on the floor,” said New Orleans free-agent addition Ian Clark, who also attended the Lexington voluntary workouts. “He’s a vocal leader and a competitor. I’ve been talking a lot to him – that’s one guy I think I can learn a lot from.”
As brand-new teammates of the 31-year-old Rondo in the Crescent City, Jones and Clark are experiencing what Pelicans guard E’Twaun Moore realized himself as a Boston rookie in 2011-12, when he played one season with Rondo. Moore describes it an invaluable year in his development as an NBA player, even going as far as saying that Rondo helped Moore to cement himself long-term in the league.
“From being around him, even though it was only one year, I learned a lot,” said Moore, who also gleaned pointers from Celtics veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. “It helped me throughout my career, going to other teams. Maybe if I had been in a different situation as a rookie, I might not have picked up as much as I did. It definitely helped me to stay in the NBA. I don’t know if I’d still be here.
“I felt like if I could play there in Boston, one of the best teams in the league at the time, I could play anywhere. My confidence went up.”
Another Pelicans player who has familiarity with Rondo is forward Darius Miller, a Kentucky native who grew up rooting for Rondo during his college career with the Wildcats. Miller went on to play for UK himself, winning a national championship in ’12.
“He pays attention to every little detail,” Miller said. “It’s crazy. I think that will be huge for the team, just his leadership. His experience is incredible – he’s played with some of the greatest guys, Hall of Famers, won a championship (in 2008, as a second-year pro). Him spreading that knowledge, teaching everybody and showing people how to play, what to do, where to be, is going to be huge.”
“He studies other teams and pays attention to detail,” echoed Moore. “A lot of times you will hear him say (about the opponent), ‘I know what set they’re running! Watch for this, this and this coming.’ ”
Speaking of being ready for what’s coming, Pelicans second-year reserve forward Cheick Diallo realized quickly in Lexington that it’s important to be prepared for deliveries from the point guard. Rondo’s ability to distribute to cutters and shooters (career average of 8.5 assists per game) means New Orleans players must anticipate the ball arriving, even if they don’t necessarily think they’re open.
“That’s an elite point guard with good vision,” Diallo said. “Every time I get a rebound, I try to get out and run, so I like a point guard who sees the floor so well. (In halfcourt offense), every time I pick for him, the pocket (pass) is open, so he throws it to me every time. Your hands have to be ready.”