Rajon Rondo was built for the Tivo and DVR generation.
Only by rewinding and watching some of his plays in slow-motion are we able to come close to comprehending what we've just witnessed. It is a trait he shares with only a few other athletes.
Rondo sees the game on a different plane than the rest of us. It truly is impossible for fans to fully understand the depth of his court vision, because it is more than just vision. What Rondo sees is not all Rondo knows. As he has developed and grown as an NBA player, his senses have matured. This Rondo, now a six-year veteran, knows his team and the flow of the game so well that he doesn't have to see an opening to know it is there.
This is how he can make some of the split-second passes through passages that should not be there. He exudes extreme confidence in his game, and that confidence is noticeable both in fast breaks and the half-court offense. He has been learning for six seasons and justly, improved his assists per game each year. With an improved team around him, can he top his league-leading 11.7 per game last season?
For those of you who have played the point guard position in some capacity, you know the thrill of seeing something your defender doesn't. You complete a pass through a pin-hole opening once in a long while. This is Rondo, but for 37 minutes a night.
Rondo's court vision on the offensive end starts as soon as the Celtics get a defensive rebound, turnover or inbounds pass. Before he even touches the ball, he is aware of two things; how the defenders are running, and where they are running to. This is how he can make choices like pushing the ball, or pulling up for a set play. He is able to begin exploiting a defense before they know the ball has reached his hands.
When Rondo told Doris Burke at halftime of Game Four in the Eastern Conference Finals that Miami was complaining to the officials in transition, he wasn't attempting to be controversial. He was being honest in explaining how he was beating them. He recognizes when an opponent is unprepared. Like a quarterback targeting a slow or hobbling cornerback, Rondo can pressure a defense using his vision and awareness.
Court vision is really a culmination of different things. Rondo utilizes crisp communication and other-worldly patience in his game. Both of these things lead to his outstanding vision. The communication is just an effect of learning your teammates' habits and preferences. Right now there is no one in the NBA more in tune with what his teammates can do than Rondo.
The patience is something he has all to himself. In a fast-paced and hectic game like the NBA, a player should not appear so nonchalant. But there is Rondo, maintaining his dribble on the perimeter just waiting. The defense and the audience may not know what is going on but Rondo does, because he sees it all. He has become quite literally Pistol Pete-like in his ability to thread a pass through an impossibly tight and closing window. This is a virtue of his patience and understanding of defenders' habits.
In particular with Boston, Rondo's game could not be more in sync. Over the past couple years the Celtics have surrounded Rondo with a host of perimeter shooters. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, the rest of Boston's starting unit last season, are all above-average shooters. They also all have their "spots." Rondo knows to find Bass at the elbow and Allen for a kick-out, corner three.
This type of unit promotes floor spacing like no other. Rondo is free to move about the perimeter and paint because of what he sees and what he knows about his teammates. When he penetrates into the lane, he is going through a mental checklist to figure out which defender has collapsed and where his teammate has moved to. This enables him to make a decision in the time it takes to elevate to his apex, and whip the ball around to the open man.
Rondo's court vision extends beyond the Celtics' offense. What he sees on the basketball court has also enabled him to earn a spot on four All-NBA Defensive Teams.
By seeing a pass or two ahead of what we do, Rondo can cut lanes and be ready to intercept a ball that has not been thrown yet. In this little segment he did for ESPN on ABC, called "The Art of the Steal," he reveals a bit of his mental process and how he uses what he sees to make a steal.
There is a large portion of his defense that is just a result of gifted athletic ability and monster hands, (proportionate to a 7'6" man!). However, he relies on a lot of anticipation. His mind is always calculating and adding up what he sees so he can make the correct guess on a pass to swipe or a shot to block. As he says, "a steal is just the first pass to a transition bucket." This is the ultimate example of Rondo's court vision connecting his defense and offense.
Watching Rondo control a game with his court vision is as good as it gets in terms of basketball watching.
Just be thankful for the men and women who invented the ability to rewind live television.
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