Post-game Reactions

Preface: I love Rajon Rondo. He does almost everything well on both sides of the ball, but the one knock the NBA Talking Heads have against him—and something that’s been recited so often it’s now Conventional Wisdom—is that he gambles and wanders too much on defense.

This is a case of the conventional wisdom being more true than false. Rajon goes through games in which his defense is damn near perfect, and we have to accept and even encourage a certain number of Rondo gambles, since the guy leads the league in steals and all. But what follow are some examples from over the weekend of Rondo wandering in ways that just don’t help the team.

First, from the Portland game Friday:

At the start of this clip, Rajon is guarding Andre Miller at the top of the key.

Miller passes off to Brandon Roy and jogs over to the right wing. Rajon appears to think Miller is headed for the right corner, because he points in that direction (to Ray Allen) indicating that Allen should pick up Miller on a switch and that Rondo will pick up Allen’s guy. Except Miller hangs out on the wing instead of cutting to the corner.

Rondo notices this but pays Miller little attention as Roy handles the ball at the top of the key. Rondo turns and glances at Miller a few times, but by the time Roy drives toward the foul line, Rajon has forgotten about Dre completely. He lunges toward Roy and takes a half-hearted swipe at the ball that he must know will do nothing to deter Roy. Meanwhile, Miller has cut back door, and you see what happens from there.

Here’s Rajon losing track of Miller again about 90 seconds later. Watch Rajon on Miller in the left corner:

As Roy works the ball at the top of the key, Rondo initially sticks close enough to the baseline and to Miller should the Blazers swing the ball his way. But as Roy drives right and kicks to Martell Webster, Rondo drifts up the left edge of the paint about halfway to the foul line. He’s not helping on anyone or rotating as part of the C’s larger scheme. He’s not really doing anything, except preparing to run out in transition and take an outlet pass should the C’s rebound Webster’s three-pointer.

And in his defense, when the shot goes up, there isn’t a single Blazer in the paint to compete with Perk and KG for the rebound. But Miller’s a tough, sneaky dude, and he slides in front of KG and grabs the rebound. As Dre controls the ball, Rondo is all the way out to the three-point line.

This is the kind of thing we forget about if KG corrals the board and kicks to Rondo for a transition bucket. But sometimes gambles don’t pay off.

And sometimes helping your teammate can be counter-productive and (arguably) unnecessary. Check out this play from Sunday’s loss at Denver:

The impulse to help one’s teammate is generally a good one, but Rondo’s wandering hurts the team. Chauncey Billups is taller than Rondo, shoots 42 percent from deep and needs very little space to get his shot off cleanly. You need to take extra care guarding a guy like Billups.

As Nene moves toward the middle of the court, you’ll notice Billups slide a couple of steps to the right along with the big fella.

This gives Nene an easy passing lane, but it also means Rondo has to turn his body a bit more to recover and find Billups once Nene kicks the ball out.

Again, it’s nice of Rondo to show concern for Perkins, and he’s certainly capable of stealing the ball from a dribbling big man who doesn’t see him coming. But you have to pick your spots, and this strikes me as a bad spot to wander and gamble. Nene dribbling East-West across the paint at the dotted line does not concern me; he’s not going to score from there, and he’s only going to hurt the C’s if they give him an open man to whom he can pass the ball.

And Chauncey Billups is the worst possible guy to leave open on this possession.

Again: We wouldn’t make any negative comments about this play had Rondo darted in and stolen the ball from Nene. But that’s the nature of gambling; sometimes it’ll cost you, like when one of my buddies bet all of his NFC championship game winnings on the Falcons to cover against Denver in the Super Bowl (he tossed a Gatorade bottle at the TV screen and left at halftime).

You’ve got pick your spots, Rajon.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jason

    These are good examples, but there are plenty of examples, too, just from two these games even of him being beat off the dribble rather easily. It seems more a matter of effort than ability because in these cases he’s usually upright and not moving his feet. It’s casual and it’s unacceptable.

  • Jay P

    You’re also comparing a game which he guarded Chauncey Billups, one of the premier point guards in the league. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s athletic, and you can’t play off him because he’s an incredibly jump shooter.

    Rondo has to play him close to respect his shot, and when you do that, yes, sometimes he’s going to get the step on your and get into the lane, he’s just that good. You can’t expect Rondo to shut down a player like that, all he can hope to do is harass him a bit, limit his jump shot, and hope the help defense is there if he gets beat.

    Portland is different, but I don’t remember seeing a ton of him getting beat off the dribble in that game, maybe I’m wrong, I haven’t look at the tape much… or at all.

    All in all, I’m willing to accept Rondo’s gambling on D, the steals he gets lead to quick transition points, and are incredible momentum boosters. This team prides itself on being the best help defense in Basketball, you can’t make that claim if you’re unable to recover when one guy gets beat (or misses on a gamble.)

    Damn the critics, I love Rondo’s game. All of it… ok well I wish he had a 70%+ 15-foot jumpshot, that’s my only gripe.

  • @JayP: I love Rajon, too, and there’s a certain cost-benefit analysis that goes into this–do the occasional gambles/wandering produce more positives than negatives? I think they do. But there is always room for improvement and better judgement, even for someone as great as Rajon.

  • Jason

    Miller, Bayless, Billups and even Lawson all did much of what they wanted against Rondo. There didn’t seem to be that much resistance.

  • Trashandsend

    Good points, including the responder re Rondo’s occasionally being beat off the dribble, sometimes w/o even a credibe pick-threat. Question: how much of this is the function of tiredness? They guy plays hard on offense, maybe saves energy on defense (or is simply distracted/unfocused). If so, managing minutes may become easier w. Robinson to spell him.

  • @trash: Rondo has been playing HUGE minutes for two months. He’s young, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s tired. Lots of responsibility on him this season.

  • CG

    I could not agree more strongly with this point. For all of Rajon’s amazing physical gifts, they are often mis-spent by undisciplined play. He is far more focused on getting a steal, rather than staying in front of his man. Guys get by him because he lets them, often going for his semi-trademarked wrap around steal. That works sometimes because he is so freaking quick and his arms are so long, but it is horrible defense. Much of the time just keeping he other team from getting a good shot, so they have to force it at the end of the clock, is a way better outcome. Rajon has not learned that.

    There are a lot of ways this general phenomenon plays out. He regularly gets beat downfloor by his man because he tries to steal it from the guy who got the defensive rebound. He goes ball-hunting and loses his guy. He stands up on D and goes for the poke steal, letting his guy by, and forcing a rotation chain reaction.

    Rajon’s D is over-rated because it is flashy. When was the last time you saw him just lock somebody down? Never. That isn’t his goal. He claims he is learning, but I don’t see it much.

  • GranTur

    I feel good that Rondo will tone down the gambling and roaming a tiny bit in the playoffs when everybody steps their intensity up to maximum.

    That said, the Celtics have been the best defensive team all year and Rondo’s gambling messes up shots and plays for the other team even if he doesn’t get the steal. Help defense will be better also.

  • hallik

    Consistency. Rondo has been consistant all season. A couple of gambles here and there i dont mind, getting beat off the dribble by Collison (Hornets)was unacceptable. Chauncey and Miller are Zack put it ‘sneaky’ veteran players, Rondo will learn.

  • Jeff Lyons

    I didn’t see the problem on any of these plays so much where Rondo went — these are kind of standard help positions throughout the NBA — as head-turning. Those “sneaky” vets got into his blind spot when he turned his head and kept slowly sliding to stay in it. Then he never fully committed to helping/doubling, but couldn’t return because he didn’t know where to go. Between is the worst place to be, and it’s the head-turning that got him there.
    Re the on-ball defense I think people are unfairly picking on him. None of those guys can stop him either, and he doesn’t shoot J’s. No premier guard stops any other single-handed because they can’t hand-check. I’d like to see his #’s vs. his average compared to theirs vs. theirs.

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  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    great post. would love more of these video breakdowns. unless you put on steve nash goggles, its impossible to pick this stuff up in real time. sometimes its fun to do the ‘watch one player’ thing, but then you miss the rest of the game.

    i think the steals is the most over-rated measure of defense. sure, there is value in getting the extra possession + transition opportunity, and getting in the head of the offense by making them think about a possible pick (rondo is a master at both), but at what cost? its almost the same logic as with blocked shots….to leave your feet and send a message, or to stay at home with a hand in the face. but like you say, its all about using them in the right situations. rondo is so bloody fast i wouldn’t mind him staying home more….at least in crunch time.

    my favorite defensive memory of this season was scal totally shutting down josh smith. it was a virtuoso performance (note: i am the biggest critic of scal). there is no way that should ever happen but scal just kept his body in front of him and smith was so intent on winning the matchup with a stiff that he made countless low% decisions.

    i consider battier and iguodala elite defenders because they know exactly when and how to balance the value/risk….there is no stat for that yet…..well, maybe the rockets have one.

  • nice use of video. on the first play rondo definitely wandered mentally.

    on the second play i like how rondo played it despite some lazy body language. the odds are very low the ball will ever work back to miller on the perimeter given how portland’s offense is set up and how little they trust him on the perimeter. even if miller does get a skip pass boston is happy to play the percentages and let him pop from deep. rondo is positioned (not ideally but in the vicinity) to corral any weakside tips off a long carom among the bigs or race out like you mentioned. the real risky play here is miller who gives up the potential for a transition run out to crash the boards against much bigger players. here he got unusually lucky. if played out 10 times i’d rather have rondo’s actions than miller’s on that play from a risk/reward perspective. i guess to sum it up i’d rather a point guard wander on weakside defense leaving a poor shooter than wander into the paint for offensive rebounds leaving his man a huge head start going the other way.

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  • was up rondo your hot…

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