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.