Rajon Rondo made his impact in NBA minds during the 2009-2010 playoffs more than any other player. Rondo put up 15.8 PPG, 9.3 APG, and 5.6 RPG. He did all this while adding 1.9 steals and only committing 3.0 turnovers/game.
In his best series of the Celtics run to the finals, Rondo mystified the Cavaliers in the Conference Semifinals, putting up 20.7 PPG, 11.8 APG, and 6.3 RPG. In game four of the series, Rondo churned out one of the best performances in playoff history with 29 points, 13 assists, and 18 rebounds. He joined Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robinson as the only players to post these totals in all three categories.
Rondo's 19 assists in game two against the Cavs were the most by any PG in the playoffs and tied a franchise record. Rondo logged two triple-doubles including one in game two of the finals against the Lakers.
Still, the team that USA basketball will be sending to Turkey in a couple weeks is stacked with talent. Even without Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and several other players, there is little shortness of skill and scoring ability.
In the early weeks of the summer, as Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski formed his team reports were coming out saying that Rondo might not make the final fifteen man roster. Where these reports stemmed from left me completely clueless and I didn't let it bear any weight on my opinion of Rondo's role on the squad.
To the surprise of some, Rondo has started both of the team's first two games. With games of only 40 minutes, Coach K is allowing several players to log minutes.
Rondo played 18 minutes in a 31 point massacre of France on Sunday. He finished 3 of 4 with 6 assists and 2 rebounds in the short time. If he had played his normal 36 minutes/year, he would have beaten his assists average for last season handily. Its not possible, but it demonstrates his current level of play.
So why has the staff decided to start Rondo with the likes of Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook waiting in the wings? The answers are simple.
Team USA is small.
Without some of the biggest and best beasts in the league(Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer), the team is starting 7'1” Tyson Chandler at center. Chandler, one of the newest members of the Mavericks, has impressed team USA in tryouts and exhibitions demonstrating some quickness.
Behind Chandler, Lamar Odom and Kevin Love are the next two tallest players at 6'10”. Odom and Love can be dominant on the boards but the team does not have an ultra strong center nor a true backup center at all.
Being so small, team USA needs to rely on speed and creativity to help find open shots. The team is full of jump shooters which is why Chauncey Billups is more useful playing alongside Rondo as a SG. Chauncey's speed is not the same as they used to be but he has shot around 40% from three over the past several years and knows how to knock down open looks.
Chauncey recently complemented Rondo's play to A. Sherrod Blakely from CSNNE.com,
“I like playing with Rondo,” Billups said. “He’s a winner. I love playing with winners; guys that know how to play the game. Guys that every possession know what it means.”
Rondo is a pass-first point guard and has the burst and direction-changing ability to draw attention running up the court to kick the ball to his shooters. With pure shooting forwards like Kevin Durant, Danny Granger, and Rudy Gay as well as a slew of more than capable guards, Rondo has the passing repertoire to kick out to these players or find them cutting to the rack.
In the same report, Tyson Chandler had similar remarks.
“He’s looking every single time,” Chandler said. “For the big man, sometimes you’re guessing, ‘Is he shooting? Should I attack the boards, or is he passing?’ So it’s good to know, he’s looking to pass first.”
Without the star power of the 2008 Olympic squad, the team needs to rely on their ball movement, transition, and what Coach Krzyzewski loves to see, DEFENSE.
Rondo is without a doubt the best defensive PG in the league. Averaging 2.3 steals per game to lead the league last year, he has the ability to be quick in transition and has seems to be magnetic to loose balls. His quickness and pursuit of the ball is a menace to any team he faces.
Coach K emphasizes defense to the highest level at Duke and his mentality is a perfect fit for the international game. It is also partially responsible for 2008's gold medal win.
The coach shared his opinion on this aspect of the game regarding Rondo,
“It starts with Rondo,” said Team USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He wants to play defense. And he knows that the people behind him are playing defense, too.”
Derrick Rose makes for a perfect backup to Rondo with some added scoring ability and the bench is full of other high quality point guards looking for their opportunity, but Rondo's playing style just happens to be the perfect puzzle piece to this year's team. Don't expect anything to change leading up to the championships in Turkey as it is very unlikely that Rondo will suddenly begin to disappoint.