Coach, fellow players see potential in Rondo
As he watches the development of 21-year-old Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett has visions of a bright future for the Boston Celtics point guard.
"I love the young guy,'' Garnett said. "He's great. I said if he's not the best point guard (in the NBA) in four or five years, it'll be because he doesn't want to be.''
Executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge thinks so much of Rondo that he refused to include the Kentucky product in the two blockbuster trades last summer.
Now, it is a matter of Rondo, who played his 100th NBA game on Sunday, gaining experience and refining his game.
There figured to be speed bumps along the way, and that has been evident this season, even as he's contributed to the Celtics' sensational 20-2 start.
Like most young point guards, Rondo has been inconsistent, showing flashes of brilliance at times and struggling at others.
Last Wednesday night, Rondo was held scoreless in 27 minutes against the Sacramento Kings, but he bounced back to deliver a combined 31 points and 12 assists in weekend wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.
"He's been up and down,'' Coach Doc Rivers said. "Rajon is like a really good roller coaster, the ones you like. He's had some really good highs and he goes up and down, but that's expected.
"For the most part, he's been there, he's doing what we want him to do and he's improving every game. So I'm really happy with where he's at right now.''
Rondo, who is averaging nine points, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals, shared time at the point with Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West during last season's 24-win horror show.
Telfair was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Garnett deal, and West went to the Seattle SuperSonics in the Ray Allen swap.
That left Rondo, who emerged late last season as the starter, with Eddie House, a shooting guard, as his backup.
Instead of trading for or signing a veteran point guard, Ainge decided to stay with Rondo, "giving him the keys,'' as Paul Pierce said.
"Sticking with me throughout all the trades gave me more confidence,'' Rondo said. "If they would have gotten a veteran point guard, I can't look at that and have hard feelings. It's part of the business.''
Instead of having a mentor at the point, Rondo has Garnett, Pierce and Allen -- the three All-Stars -- in the starting lineup with him.
Garnett can be seen having side chats with Rondo, boosting his confidence and giving him tips.
"They help me a lot,'' Rondo said. "Mentally, when things aren't going so good and I don't have a good game, they are there to talk to. They've gone through the same situations what I'm going through now, so it helps.''
Having a former point guard as a coach can make things interesting, as Rivers has been known to be demanding of his players at that position.
He was constantly on Marcus Banks and Telfair, but Rondo welcomes the lessons he receives from Rivers. The coach told Rondo after he was left standing at the point this summer, "The ball's in your hands.''
"It's a learning process,'' Rondo said. "He's on me a lot, but that's part of being a point guard. He was a point guard and he sees a lot out there on the court that I don't see, which helps me mature and grow faster as a young player.''
Rivers wants Rondo to be more assertive when he takes the ball to the basket, going for more shots rather than kicking the ball out to one of the veterans.
He also wants Rondo, whose quickness is an asset at the defensive end, to stop allowing opposing point guard to get past him and into the lane.
"Defensively, he has to improve,'' Rivers said. "I think the fans see the steals, but we talk about solid defense and that's where he has to absolutely improve, keeping the guards in front of him, fighting guards off down on the post when they're bigger, staying in front of people.
"I love the potential, but for us to get better, Rajon Rondo has to keep working and improving on his defense. When he does that, I'm going to be really excited about his game. He's young and he's learning that. We have to remember it's only his second year.''
While the inconsistency does surface at time, Rondo is learning on the fly with a team that owns the best record in the NBA.
He is getting better as the season progresses, and faces another test Wednesday night trying to defend Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons in an Eastern Conference showdown.
"He's been playing with a lot of confidence, and that's the key,'' Pierce said. "Sometimes he's up and down with his confidence, but for the most part, he's been taking the initiative and running the offense and taking the opportunities when they're there. He's playing with veterans who trust him with the ball.''
Rondo, who put long hours in working on his inconsistent outside shot, is taking more medium-range jumpers, and his percentage has risen to .530.
Garnett notices how Rondo is always among the early arrivals at the practice facility and how he puts in the work off the court. That eagerness to get better has impressed Garnett.
"Paul told me a little bit about him before the season because I didn't know a lot about him,'' Garnett said. "He told me right off the top, 'You're going to love Rondo.'
"I'm just amazed with his work ethic and how he comes here and is eager to learn. He's not perfect, but he tries to apply the things he has learned to the games and that's the effort we're looking for.''