One of the more depressing things to happen last NBA season was the disappearance of Rajon Rondo, who began the season as a bad fit on a young Celtics team and accelerated toward oblivion after a midseason trade to the Mavericks. Rondo was so out of sorts last season that it was hard not to wonder if he was ever any good at all, or if those boom years with the Celtics had been some kind of mirage. When he joined up with a dysfunctional Kings team this offseason, he seemed destined for more bad times.
But look at Rondo go! That play in the clip above, from last night’s game against the Jazz, is some vintage Rondo. The flair is important, sure, but what really makes this a Rondo Play is the strangeness of it. Watch it again, and notice how Trey Burke is shading to his left as Rondo bears down on him, opening himself up to be beaten by a right-to-left crossover or behind-the-back dribble. Rondo sticks the ball behind his back, but instead of bouncing it over to his left hand and beating Burke with a simple dribble that every point guard has pulled off 1,000 times, he keeps carrying it all the way around his body—here’s where Rondo’s long, long arms set him apart—bouncing it right in front of Burke and back into his right hand. Burke didn’t have the posture of a man who was beaten by a crafty guard who knows how to use his opponent’s weight and momentum against him; he looked like a guy who had just been dazzled by an oddity.
Rondo’s been making plays like this all season. They make you say, “Hold on, he did what?” and then, “And also, why?” after you watch the replay a few times. This is what has always made Rondo so fun, his ability to see and exploit the angles that aren’t so readily apparent to the rest of us.
All of this could be a source of frustration when you discover that Rondo, while averaging 12 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds per game, is actually making the Kings a little bit worse when he’s on the floor. But that’s all part of the Rondo Experience, too. He’s never given us an easy answer to the question that’s always asked about him: “Is he even that good?” The fun starts when you ignore the question entirely.