Game is up to 11. Full court. Ones and twos.
If I had the first pick on the playground, my No. 1 draft pick would be Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. I know he can't shoot, but the guy is as good as it gets at his position.
If that last statement seems a little backhanded, it's because it certainly is. When a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan decides to write a piece heaping praise on his arch-rival's point guard, even the most encouraging of compliments has to be a little backhanded (it says so in the fine print of the rules every sports fan must live by).
Sure, I would love to have Kobe Bryant on my team. He can win the game single-handedly, but he would take most of the shots too.
I don't want Kobe taking all the shots. This is pickup basketball. I want to be the a$$hole jacking up the three-pointers screaming "RAIN DANCE!!!" like Phillip Seymour-Hoffman in Along Came Polly.
And who better to get me all these open looks to brick off the backboard than a point guard who only wants to pass? Rondo can get to any spot on the floor, and when he does, he usually kicks it out.
Granted, in our pickup games, he could probably run a layup drill because half the team sucked down a Marlboro Red before the game, but that's beside the point. (Get it...beside the "point"? Never mind.)
But in all honesty, Rajon Rondo is a true position player. He's not a hybrid guard. He's not a guy who can get you 30 points a night. But he is a guy who can get your best player 40. Rondo runs the point to perfection. He's an exceptional defensive player and an unbelievable passer; the only thing he does out of the ordinary for his position is rebound well...but here lies the problem.
No. The problem isn't that he rebounds well. That's ridiculous. The problem is why he rebounds the way he does. It's because nobody puts a body on him. They leave him open to force him to shoot, but when a shot goes up, he's free to weave into the paint and snatch up the ball.
While this is a great trait to have in your point guard, it still brings us back to a major flaw. The boy just can't shoot the damn ball. He couldn't shoot fish in a barrel. He couldn't shoot a hibernating bear with a machine gun. He couldn't shoot me with a better analogy than the two terrible ones I just typed and don't feel like deleting.
Now I know I just said he doesn't have to shoot well, but that's for our pickup game. This is the NBA. And it doesn't help your confidence as a player when Kobe Bryant is playing 10 feet off of you in Game 7 of the Finals.
It doesn't help you when nobody on the Dallas Mavericks team paid any attention to you at the three-point line with the game on the line the other day because they think you won't/can't shoot. He was wide open...I mean by like 10 feet...and he was open for what seemed like a full minute. It was awkward. There was no play available...he had to shoot...he did...Clang!
Still, this isn't his fatal flaw. The Boston Celtics don't need any clutch scoring from Rajon Rondo. They have Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Celtics only need Rondo to initiate and maintain the offense and the flow of the game. However, it's not so much his inability to knock down field goals, it's his inability to knock down free throws.
That is his fatal flaw. Maybe he can't knock down a pull-up J or a three, but there is no excuse for being a 63 percent free-throw shooter. And that's for his career!
Rondo doesn't need to hit big shots. He doesn't need to nail threes in transition or drop in baseline fade-aways. Hell, the guy had one of the most unbelievable triple-doubles in the playoffs that I have ever seen. It was amazing. I don't care what team you like...that game against Cleveland was awesome, in the true definition of the word...as in awe-inspiring. But still...
If you ask any Celtics fan—any real Celtics fan—they'll tell you it doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile...wait...sorry...they'll tell you that the Celtics have a propensity for blowing big leads. They'll tell you that their offense stalls like...(<—insert another bad analogy).
Because Rondo stops attacking late in the games. He stops doing what he does best...probing the paint, weaving, driving into the lane...he stops attacking because he is afraid to get fouled and placed on the line. And even though they have Pierce and Allen and Garnett, the offense still runs through Rajon Rondo.
It didn't matter in 2008, because he wasn't the main guy, but it's his offense now. He has to have the ball in his hands to keep that offense moving, but he slows down because of his 63 percent clip from the line.
Rondo's new teammate, one of the greatest centers of all time, Shaq, has had the same blemish on his record for his entire career. He couldn't be the crunch-time guy, because he bricks everything from the line, hence, the Hack-a-Shaq.
Free throws require a ritual-like behavior. They require a routine. Every player has his own little nuance. Karl Malone would talk to himself at the line. Rip Hamilton bounces the ball twice in front of him and once at his side. Gilbert Arenas does the merry-go-round with the ball.
Whatever Rajon Rondo's routine is, he obviously needs to change it. Maybe it's because he has freakishly large hands and it makes it harder for him to shoot. I don't know, but the basketball people around him should figure it out.
This is the only criticism on his game. It doesn't matter if he can't shoot well from the outside, but he needs to be able to hit free throws. He does everything else so impossibly well that it's a shame that one of the best point guards in the game has a problem that almost no other point guard has.
It's the one thing that is unusual for him at his position, and if he got it right, there's no more slowing down at the end of fourth quarters and no more fear in being put on the charity stripe with the game on the line.
But still, even though I bleed purple and gold, I would still pick Rajon Rondo over any current player on my pickup basketball team. He's a truly gifted basketball player, an exceptional passer and even though he has only one glaring weakness, like I said...the game is only up to 11...
And we don't shoot free throws.