The Evolution of Rajon Rondo

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2013

If adversity truly breeds evolution, Rajon Rondo is not yet done growing as an NBA player.

When he was drafted in 2006 with the No. 21 pick, there wasn't a whole lot of optimism surrounding Rondo. Danny Ainge had gone 0-of-4 in the previous draft, and the Boston Celtics finished 33-49, missing the postseason. Not to mention, people seemed to like what a 22-year-old Delonte West was bringing to the position. 

Of course, after the Marcus Banks whiff, Ainge trading on draft day for a scrawny point guard with zero shooting abilities didn't help swing his popularity meter.

His sophomore season with the University of Kentucky saw him shoot just 27 percent from the three-point line and 48 percent overall. He also posted a shockingly poor free-throw percentage of 57 percent.

Still, all were enamored by his 6.1 rebounds per game from the point guard position and how he used his long arms to wrap mind-boggling passes around defenders on occasion.

All that was enough for Ainge to make a play for him on June 28, 2006, but not enough to earn him an easy ride to NBA stardom. 

Few players receive the kind of love/hate differential that Rajon Rondo has faced over the past couple years. His attitude and temper have been the cause of a lot of that grief, and another suspension in the 2012-13 season continues to cloud fans' judgement of him.

Even though he is at or near career highs across the board, it seemingly isn't good enough.

There is no denying his evolution as a player over his six-plus years in the NBA. Everything from his body type to shooting abilities has changed. Even if he continues to be the temperamental personality that alienates some and endears others, the simple fact that his game has grown remains.

"Rondo can't shoot" has to be the most maddening throwaway argument one can hear tossed out when trying to knock the player. Especially in 2012-13, this simply is not true. 

According to (as of Dec. 17), Rondo is hitting 57 percent of his shots from 16 to 23 feet. That is easily the best mark of any starting point guard in the league. All those teams that opt to sag off him defensively are slowly being burned by it.

Playing off Rondo doesn't help obstruct his passing lanes; he is good enough to avoid that. It also is opening up that long mid-range jumper that he is connecting on twice a game this season.

Slide it in, and Rondo shoots 64 percent at the rim, where he is averaging 4.3 shots per game. That is on par with offensively gifted players like Tony Parker, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.

Rondo is shooting 49 percent from the field this season.

Among guards, that places him ninth in the league. Among guards who play significant minutes, he is behind only Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Steve Nash (who has played only seven games).

Rondo's evolution into a guard who can shoot has been a slow, steady process. As his confidence in those jump shots has increased, so has his attempts.

As a rookie, Rondo shot just 27 percent from 16 to 23 feet. Thus, he attempted only 1.1 of those shots per game. His 3.5 attempts in 2012-13 and his 1.4 three-point attempts tell us his confidence in those shots has grown.

This is not a low-IQ basketball player we are looking at here. He is still immature from a leadership and temper standpoint, but don't ever mistake that for intelligence on the basketball court.

He knows what he can and cannot make. We've even seen a couple game-winning attempts from Rondo this season, another positive sign in the confidence and growth of the player.

His evolution in other areas is more apparent.

He remains one of most fun players to watch in person that the league employs. What used to happen once or twice a game—a twisting layup, needle-threading pass or quick offensive rebound—is happening with a greater occurrence. Those are the plays worth the price of admission.

They were all on full display at the TD Garden, albeit in a losing effort on Jan. 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

That game marked the return of Avery Bradley, who is looking to be Rondo's running mate of the future. In the first quarter, right at the 11:00 mark, the Celtics scored their first basket.

It was Bradley's first points of the season, and it came on a flashing cut to the basket. Rondo hit him in stride, and Bradley laid it in before Mike Conley or Tony Allen could blink an eye.

This is a play that is going to mark the evolution in their relationship as the starting backcourt of the Boston Celtics. A play that they ran numerous times a season ago is a play that they must now perfect. 

Bradley offers Rondo's evolution something it has never really had: A player who can run with him while also covering for his gambles defensively.

Ray Allen and Jason Terry can't take the opposing team's best guard like Bradley can, leaving Rondo free to roam and look for his offense. Nor do they offer the dual threat Bradley does on the fast break.

Both are trailing set-shooters whom Rondo had to kick out to. Bradley can sit in the corner or flash to the basket with Rondo. 

He has been gifted with a lot of the things that facilitate evolution.

He played his formative years with three future Hall of Famers. He has a players' coach who also happened to be a very good point guard in the NBA. He went through the trials and tribulations of trade rumors galore, but he still remains with the franchise and city that took him home on June 28, 2006.

Evolution has been slower than most would like with the overall game of Rajon Rondo.

Perhaps unfairly so, he is judged under a microscope with players who are simply more gifted in certain areas. Strides are being made, though.

It is a scary thought, but perhaps the game's most unique player is still evolving.