NBA Roundtable

Rondo’s Defense

In General NBA on October 19, 2009 at 6:39 am

Good quotes and article in the Boston Globe on Rondo’s defense

By his own admission, Rajon Rondo would roll the dice more than a few times a night. He’d let the point guard get by him, then swipe at the ball from behind, trying to poke out a steal, or “back-tipping’’ as he put it.

“I used to be good for four, five, six of those a game,’’ Rondo said.

Sometimes they turned into highlights. Sometimes they turned into buckets the other way. This preseason, they have been scaled back. And that alone, said coach Doc Rivers, is what could be the next step in improving a point guard who already was second-team all-defense a year ago.

“I think he’s a better defender this year than he was last year by far because he’s doing more team things,’’ Rivers said. “He’s not gambling as much, he’s staying in front of the ball, he’s doing a fantastic job of getting over pick-and-rolls. That was one of his weak points last year. He would reach on pick-and-rolls instead of getting in front of the ball and squaring it up.’’

Trying to determine how well a point guard defends is less about how many points his man scores and more about what kind of position he allows his man to get.

“If that guard is in the paint causing havoc, whether he’s scoring or creating scoring, then our point guard’s not doing a good job,’’ Rivers said.

Ray Allen has noticed the difference

Ray Allen remembers practices when Rivers would point out the difference between Rondo playing up on his man and back.

“When he does it, he makes it tough for the guards, we end up getting steals, and it puts their offense into disarray,’’ Allen said. “So I think he’s at the point now where he’s ready to do it full-time.

“He looks strong on the ball. He provides a lot of intensity on the ball defensively and he’s very harassing of a defender. One thing he learned over the last year or two is taking possessions off defensively. He has the talent and the quickness to put pressure on his man every single time down the floor.’’

The reporter brings up a recent GM poll which named Rondo the fourth best perimeter defender in the NBA + tied best on-the-ball defender … Doc’s response:

In a survey of general managers, Rondo was tapped as the fourth best as a perimeter defender and split with Kobe Bryant for the league’s best on-the-ball defender.

“That’s because they don’t coach,’’ Rivers joked. “Don’t get me wrong, Rondo is a fantastic defender, but he’s got a level to go and he can be a great, great defender and for him to do that he has to stay in front of the ball.’’


Everything Doc Rivers has said is true and decreases Rondo’s overall defensive impact.

Edit: The gambling was a much larger problem from Rondo two years ago when the Celtics won the title. He improved dramatically in the first part of last season.

Last Season

Rajon Rondo has an uneven season defensively last year. For the first two thirds of the season he was playing excellent defense, still had some of the problems Doc is talking about above but he was keeping that under control and doing a very good job limiting his man overall.

However, in the final third of the regular season his defense fell apart and he was playing poor-to-very poor defense on a consistent basis. Not sure why the decline happened but it was likely a combination of a couple of things:

  • Kevin Garnett got injured — KG being the Celtics best overall defender and their best screen and roll defender in particular which meant less help for Rondo defensively.
  • Glen Davis started in KG’s place — BBD’s defensive impact dropped hugely as a starter. This is because of two main reasons
    1. He became too offensively orientated as a starter, worrying about shots and touches, and giving less effort defensively than he had in the past
    2. He was matched up against more offensively gifted + athletically gifted starting caliber power forwards rather than the backup centers he’d primarily faced in the past.

    Anyway, Davis’ defense was below average after becoming a starter. He was a lot less effective against power forwards than centers, and he struggled in particular with the screen and roll against these players (PF’s generally more skilled + better shooters than the backup fives).

  • Rajon Rondo had to take more offensive responsibility with KG out of the lineup. The energy he had to exert there lessened the energy he had left for defense.
    Rondo also had to put for more effort into rebounding as the Celtics declined from one of the best rebounding teams into a middle of the pack to slightly above average rebounding squad without KG (again, Glen Davis largely at fault here).
  • Rajon Rondo also turned his ankle three times inside a month late in the regular season and at least once more in the playoffs (Chicago series).  This hurt his ability to move laterally, both his general quickness and ability to change directions.
  • Focus became an issue also. Rondo would get up for the big challenges (Chris Paul type opposition) and slack of against lesser players (Anthony Johnson!).

I’m not sure how important each one of these factors where but they all played a role in Rondo’s defensive decline over the final period of last season.

With KG back, better individual health, a better conditioned Glen Davis, and hopefully better focus, they all appear to be vanishing issues … so I’d expect Rondo to at the very least get back to his defensive impact from the first two thirds of last season which was very good.

Less Gambling

And if, like the article suggests, Rajon Rondo’s improves his defense once again … as he has for three straight years … that would make Rondo one of the truly elite perimeter defenders in the NBA.

  1. Rondo has improved each year and he will get more mature, comes with getting older.

    The disciplined coaching he gets in Boston has probably allowed him to develop this quickly. It’s doubtful he would be playing this well on a weaker team.

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