Why Boston Celtic's Rajon Rondo's Court Vision Is the NBA's Best

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics looks to pass the ball against the New York Knicks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 22, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Boston CelticsRajon Rondo has become something of a cult favorite in NBA circles, and for good reason.

Steve Nash won two MVP awards, Chris Paul was crowned heir to his throne, and Deron Williams has become the face of a franchise. Even shoot-first guards who play the point in name only (Russell Westbrook) get more attention than Rondo thanks to theatrics alone.

Slowly but surely, all that discussion about the best point guards in the league is changing.

Rondo's 44-point explosion in Game 2 of the 2012 Conference Finals was a defining moment, but it's been his steady ability to distribute the ball so effectively that's caught the eye of so many onlookers—a product of the fact that just about everything catches Rajon's eye.

His passing technique is second-to-none, but those passes all have a vital common denominator, an antecedent that ensures those passes actually produce results. After all, every player in this game makes his share of passes.

But only one led the league in 2011-12 with 11.7 assists per game.

It's not just about making good passes; it's about making the right passes. That requires an ability to see what's happening in a game—Rondo's built his legacy as a facilitator by reading defenses, knowing his teammates and understanding the options available in every offensive set. 

He plays the game like a quarterback, so it's no surprise that it's his court vision that fundamentally sets him apart from so many of his peers.

No, that doesn't speak to the man's ability to flawlessly read off of an eye chart.

It speaks to a number of skills, none more important than the fact that his eyes are always moving and know exactly where to look. While defenders are focused on a play's primary action (e.g. a shooter coming off a double-screen), Rondo splits his focus between multiple options.

Whereas so many teams rely upon a go-to scorer in key situations, Boston's clutch shots were actually divided pretty equally between Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the Big Three era.

A team so committed to sharing the ball between great scorers requires a point guard who's looking for those scorers—all of them.

You can't knock Chris Paul's point-guard skills, but it's worth acknowledging that he's never been in a position to make the most of so many different weapons. It's one thing to keep Blake Griffin happy, but it's quite another to keep three all-stars happy by looking for them (literally) in so many different scenarios.

His unique court vision is also evidenced by the spots on the floor from which he makes his plays.

While someone like Tony Parker has become an absolutely dominant drive-and-kick guard, Rondo does his damage from the perimeter, mid-range and painted areas alike. And in each of those situations, he keeps the entire floor in play rather than just looking to dish the ball to whomever might be standing in the corner.

In recent years, the only floor general with that kind of passing versatility has been Steve Nash.

Nash also shares Rondo's penchant for patience, a willingness to let plays develop whether that means waiting for a scorer to get in position or for a passing lane to open up.

You'll notice that with pick-and-rolls especially. Instead of trying to rush a pass or using the pick and driving immediately, the way Nash and Rondo use the space created by that pick depends on how defenders react.

It might take an extra second or two, but that patience has a lot to do with why Rondo's 3.21 assist-to-turnover ration ranked fourth in the league. He waits to make the right pass. 

In many respects, Rondo's vision is even more impressive than Nash's because it has to keep up with so many moving parts.

In Nash's world, he is the moving part—probing defenses and moving to spots on the floor that afford him the perfect passing angle. But you'll often notice Rondo standing relatively still while shooters come off screens or cut to the basket. He's not just a quarterback; he likes passing from the pocket.

No point guard does a better job of keeping up with so many moving pieces. Rondo isn't just tossing lobs to dominant finishers. He's hitting jump-shooters more often than not, and he's hitting them in just the right place at just the right time.

He can do that, because he sees things happening before they actually happen, making his court vision seem the prescient kind.

This much is certain—it's certainly the winning kind.