Perhaps it never occurred to Rajon Rondo’s loudest critics that the NBA All-Star point guard has rarely been a big-time scorer because he’s rarely had to be.
From his star-making high school senior year at Oak Hill Academy, to his collegiate run at Kentucky, to his pro tenure with the Celtics, Rondo has gone from one loaded powerhouse of a team to another. He shared the court with All-American and eventual NBA standout Josh Smith at Oak Hill, with Joe Crawford at UK (the school’s 19th all-time leading scorer), and has played alongside future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal in Boston. The last time Rondo was asked to carry the scoring load for a team, he dropped 27.9 points per game as a junior at Eastern High School in Louisville.
So forgive Rondo if he doesn’t share the conventional view that he can’t get buckets on command.
I got a few minutes to speak with Rondo this past weekend at the Red Bull King of the Rock 1-on-1 tournament in San Francisco. Before he presented KOTR winner Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones with the title trophy and ring, Rondo talked about his own 1-on-1 credentials and what he’s been up to during the NBA lockout.
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Dime: What’s the difference between a great 1-on-1 player and a great basketball player?
Rajon Rondo: It’s a big difference. Some people make it to the League being great 1-on-1 players and some don’t make it despite being great 1-on-1 players. And vice versa – some make it and they’re not great 1-on-1 players.
Dime: If the Celtics held a 1-on-1 tournament, who would win?
RR: Probably me. I mean, we play a little 1-on-1 sometimes. Paul’s pretty good – he’s probably the best 1-on-1 player we have – ’cause he can score inside and outside, and he can check guards and bigs. So I could say Paul, or I could say I’d win.
Dime: What about a 1-on-1 tournament with just NBA point guards. Who wins?
Dime: Okay, so who would you beat in the finals?
RR: Whoever gets there.
Dime: What separates an event like Red Bull King of the Rock from the NBA or college ball?
RR: Obviously the game is called tighter in college and the pros, but that’s how people get to that level; that’s how they get to the pros is by playing 1-on-1 like this. You learn to compete and get a little toughness about yourself.
Dime: What’s the attractive part of this kind of basketball to you?
RR: It’s guys competing, and I love competition. You can’t blame nobody but yourself when you play 1-on-1. This is just like boxing. That’s why I love boxing. It’s just you and the other guy.
Dime: What, if anything, were you able to take away from the Miami series? (Note: The Celtics’ 2010-11 season ended after losing to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.)
RR: Just that you’ve gotta be ready. It’s not a good feeling, losing. When we lost in the Finals last year (to the L.A. Lakers), that was the worst feeling I’ve ever had on a basketball court. We’re still trying to go out and win a championship; it won’t be no different this season.
Dime: Has the NBA lockout set you back as far as training?
RR: Nah, because I’m training as if we’re playing on November 2nd. Normally I’d be getting ready to head to camp at the end of the month – that’s gonna change this year, but I’m still working out like normal.
Dime: Some players need that structure of camp to keep from getting out of shape. Are you one of those at risk?
RR: No, I think I’m pretty fortunate because my conditioning is good. Like I said, I’m training as if we’re having a season, so I’m not worried about getting out of shape. The longer (the lockout) goes I might not be in the same condition I’d be if we were having games, but I’ll be in good enough shape to make it through.
Dime: During the NFL lockout they said the biggest losers were the quarterbacks, because they missed out on time to develop chemistry with their receivers, learn the playbook and everything else. Do you think it’ll be the same for point guards during the NBA lockout?
RR: I think it’s different for me because I have a veteran team. We’ve played with each other for five years; that’s absolutely to our advantage. With our camaraderie and chemistry, I’m not worried about our timing and anything like that. Our starting five is pretty much the same.
Dime: If you weren’t an NBA player – if you could look at this lockout from the perspective of an outsider – how do you think you’d view the whole thing?
RR: I don’t know, because I know too much. I can’t say as a fan I’d view it as one side or another. I’m already so involved that I can’t get out of that mindset.
An hour-long show of the Red Bull King of the Rock tournament from Alcatraz will air on CBS on Oct. 22 at 1:30 p.m. EST.
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