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Inside the Game: Rajon Rondo and the art of passing

01.12.10 at 11:58 pm ET
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Last week, Rajon Rondo helped pull off one of the most memorable plays of this season ‘€” an inbound lob from Paul Pierce with 0.6 seconds left that Rondo converted for a basket to force overtime against the Heat. The scheme worked because Rondo was the most unsuspecting target on two fronts: Not only was he the smallest player on the court for the Celtics, he usually is the guy dishing, not receiving.

Rondo considers his passing skills to be a natural ability. He didn’t grow up studying point guards. He didn’t even grow up watching basketball at all. Finding the open man was just something that came to him on the court.

‘€œI don’t know if it’s a skill. Maybe it’s just natural,’€ he said. ‘€œI think it’s just like a natural feel for the game. I pride myself on making guys better, so I would rather do that than score the ball.’€

Rondo set the school records for most assists in a single game (31) and season (494) at Oak Hill Academy in 2004. He went on to lead the SEC in dimes (4.9 APG) as a sophomore at the University of Kentucky.

Now in his fourth season with the Celtics, Rondo is seeing the court better than ever before. He leads the Eastern Conference with 9.6 assists per game and ranks fourth among all players ‘€” behind only Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He has already recorded 336 assists in his first 35 games of the season, closing in on his mark of 393 from the 2008 championship campaign and more than half-way to last season’s tally of 659. (The Celtics currently rank second in the league with 23.83 assists per game.)

As part of WEEI.com’€™s ‘€œInside the Game’€ series with the Celtics, Rondo talked no-look assists, alley-oops with Kevin Garnett, the impact of Ubuntu, and the art of passing:

Wait for it: Identifying who is open is only half the battle. The key is knowing when to dish it.
‘€œIt just depends on the defense, where he’s at on the court. You can’t really predetermine when to make the pass. It just has to be like a natural instinct. Sometimes you can try to predetermine and it can go either way. It can be a turnover or it can be a good pass. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to make the decision at a certain time.’€

No formula for the no-look: Rondo has a way of baffling his defenders by making the pass they least expect.
‘€œMaybe just practice, try [no-look passes] every once in a while. But not now. You try to be solid and not make the home run pass, but it’s just natural for me. I don’t really try to do it to get the oohs and the ahhs. It’s the play I feel I need to make at the time. I may not be able to make the simple pass and it has to be the trickery bounce pass or the no-look pass to confuse the defense.’€

Dynamic dunking duo: The chemistry on the court between Rondo and Kevin Garnett makes alley-oops look effortless. But as Rondo explains, it takes a certain kind of player to pull off the dunk.
‘€œEverybody can’t do it. There are guys in the league that can do it, but it may be four or five things ‘€” you’ve got to have the athleticism, perceptiveness, the setup, knowing when to do it, you’ve got to be a good player. Part of the reason why [Garnett] gets so many lobs is because people fear him getting the ball. If he gets the ball, he’s going to score, so they try to deny him the ball. He has great coordination, great timing. When he spins out, he loses track of the ball, so after he turns around he has to go up and find the ball and then find the rim. It’s not as easy as it looks. He does a great job at it.’€

Passing off the credit: Rondo draws a direct correlation between his stats and his teammates’ offensive performances. The Celtics are ranked second in the league in field goal percentage (48.7 percent) this season, helping Rondo rack up the assists.
‘€œYou know what’s different? Guys like Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, they’re making shots. It’s pretty simple. I may be making a couple better plays, my assist-to-turnover ratio, but other than that, guys are making shots. [Kendrick Perkins] is shooting at a high level, KG is shooting at a high level, Paul went 100 percent from the 3 (twice in December). Guys are making shots. Not that we didn’t in years before, but this time I’ve got to give them all the credit, really. Without them making shots, there’s no assists.’€

Ubuntu = APG: He may only be 23, but Rondo learned an important lesson early in his career. Now he wants to share that with his younger fans.
‘€œI think that stands out the most on the court’€” unselfishness. It’s not necessarily ballhandling, it’s being unselfish for your teammates, sacrificing for your teammates. My situation is me giving up the ball to make somebody better. KG and Perk just defensively helping out when I may get beat off the dribble, their unselfishness just to come over and help makes me look better or maybe not look as bad as I was on defense. So, for a team to be a great team, I think you have to have a lot of people sacrifice a lot of things. We had the Big Three that came in, all leading their teams in scoring, they all had to sacrifice shots. They all did a great job of it. It’s not just me. It’s the whole team. It’s the whole team concept. That’s where Ubuntu comes in. I can go on and on about it.’€

PREVIOUS ENTRIES

Inside the Game: Shelden Williams and the art of rebounding

Inside the Game: Paul Pierce and the art of versatility

Inside the Game: Kendrick Perkins on the art of shot-blocking

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