One of the behind-the-scenes complaints of recent Kings coaches has been the basketball IQ of their players.
There have been plenty of late-games lapses, including times when players don’t know the tendencies of an opponent (leaving Kyle Korver open at the three-point line, for example). Much of it was blamed on inexperience and players not taking their jobs seriously enough.
Don’t expect new point guard Rajon Rondo to allow that this season.
Coaches and teammates already are praising his approach, based on recent pickup games.
“I think he has a personality of a Gary Payton a little bit,” Kings coach George Karl said during Monday’s annual media day at the team’s practice facility. “He’s a winner; he’s a competitor. He challenges you. He’s one of the most cerebral basketball guys I’ve ever spent time with in a short period of time that I’ve had.”
Coaches develop scouting reports figuring they will be ignored by some players. But Rondo already is looking like a catalyst for a new approach.
The pickup games already have Rondo thinking of ways to make his teammates better.
“I love to study guys’ tendencies,” Rondo said. “You can study on film, you can watch them on film, but when the passes come in pickup it’s, ‘Oh, when they come at this angle I may throw a bounce pass instead of a lob.’ It’s those guys knowing my game and vice versa.”
Center DeMarcus Cousins, entering his sixth season, is the Kings’ longest-tenured player. He was happy with the addition of Darren Collison at point guard last year and is now pleased to have Rondo, too.
“Just in this short time I’ve gained a lot of respect for Rajon,” Cousins said. “Dude is a flat-out genius when it comes to basketball. His whole knowledge of the game is just incredible. He’s definitely considered a coach on the floor. I’m excited to play with him.”
Karl is intrigued by Rondo’s passing, comparing him to one of his favorite players: Andre Miller.
“Andre’s, in my mind, the best passer I’ve ever coached and I think Rondo might challenge that,” Karl said. “It’ll be interesting to see what I think about Rondo six months from now.”
Rondo is looking forward to training camp that began Monday at UC San Diego. Injuries kept him out of camp in Boston the previous two seasons.
Rumors of Rondo coming to Sacramento have swirled for years. He has a one-year contract and said “possibly” when asked if he could stay beyond this season.
“DeMarcus is the best big in the game,” Rondo said. “There’s no need to go anywhere else if things work out here in Sacramento.”
Dual point guards? – Collison, the celebrated offseason acquisition last year, was the pass-first point guard the Kings craved and was expected to be a defensive upgrade over Isaiah Thomas.
And Collison received good reviews from teammates before a core muscle injury ended his season in February.
Collison likely will play more off the ball when he’s on the court with Rondo this season.
It wouldn’t be a new role for Collison, who played alongside Chris Paul a lot with the Clippers.
“I like taking pride in not just guarding point guards, but also some of the best two guards,” Collison said. “I did that a lot during my Clippers years and I can shoot off the ball, I can handle the ball. So whatever they need me to do out there … I have the skills to do it.”
Said Kings forward Rudy Gay: “Obviously Darren was having a great season and it’ll be a battle every day, but Rondo brings that leadership and they won’t get in each other’s way at all. I think they do two different things and they’ll complement each other well.”
Collison said adding Rondo helps “everybody” and that he’s looking forward to seeing how Rondo helps him get easier shots.
“Darren is one of the most solid point guards in the league and I’m excited to play with Darren,” Rondo said. “He’s a great shooter. Very solid, poised, he’s never rattled.”
Improved health – Collison, who had surgery in March, said he feels 100 percent for the first time since the injury.
“This injury was something I had since my Indiana years,” Collison said. “This is going back three or four years ago. My doctor said I should have had surgery back then, but I just happened to have it. I think that’s why my body feels so good right now, because I don’t have to deal with it. I’ve actually been playing hurt the last three years, I just didn’t know it.”
Professional Kings – The addition of Rondo wasn’t the only move aimed at assembling a smarter and more professional team.
Adding players from winning situations was a priority. Three new players – Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler – have played for NBA champions.
In the past, young players trying to prove themselves led to a lot of the selfish play.
“It feels good, because now we’re playing with a purpose,” Gay said. “Being on bad teams, you’re really just trying to make the young guys better. But now the young guys are forced to get better or else they won’t play (because) we have veterans.”
More Rondo – Gay’s job as recruiter included answering questions Rondo had about coming to Sacramento.
Gay has known Rondo since they were in high school, when they were roommates for the McDonald’s All-America game in 2004.
“Rondo, one thing about him, he’s not going to shut up,” Gay said. “We know all about him. Now I think I have to do some talking and tell him about me.”