The first thing you notice about Rajon Rondo, aside from his uncanny ability to see the floor and zip passes, is his mitts. They’re enormous – 9 1/2 inches long, 10 inches wide. The sort of paws you’d normally see on a 7-footer, or a bear.
Rondo is a 6-foot-1 guard, as instrumental to the Kings’ return to relevance as anyone. When’s the last time the Kings passed the season’s midway point solidly in the playoff picture? Too long.
Rondo is the only point guard in the NBA averaging a double double. He led the NBA in assists with 11.7 entering Thursday night’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks, and he could wind up as the first King to lead the league in assists since Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald for Kansas City in 1973.
The big hands allow Rondo to expertly fire one-handed passes, often at full speed. His mitts also play a role in Rondo’s other game of passion: Connect Four, dropping discs into a grid. It involves angles and moving parts, a bit like basketball. And how fitting.
“In a nutshell,” Kings television analyst and former coach Jerry Reynolds said, “Rondo’s a basketball player playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. He’s two or three moves ahead of most people. Great players with great basketball instincts have that, and he has it.”
Selected by Phoenix in the first round (21st overall) out of Kentucky in 2006 and traded to Boston on draft night, Rondo helped orchestrate two NBA Finals appearances, with the Celtics winning the 2008 title. His coach in Boston, Doc Rivers, once said Rondo, a four-time All-Star, was “the most intelligent player I’ve ever coached.”
Boston traded Rondo to Dallas last season. He averaged 9.3 points and 6.5 assists in 46 games as things went sour. Rondo and coach Rick Carlisle didn’t see eye-to-eye – to put it mildly – on how to run the team, and Rondo signed a one-year deal with the Kings last summer.
“I learned a lot going through the year with (Rondo) and trying to be creative and use some of his unique abilities,” Carlisle told ESPN.com earlier this season. “He’s a very talented player, and he’s having a great year this year, which is no surprise. The bottom line is, we fit him worse than he fit us.
“Now he’s got a center (DeMarcus Cousins), he’s got wing players that can shoot, and (coach George Karl) has given him the keys to the ignition. The ending (in Dallas) was difficult, but I knew he’d move on and play great, which he is.”
Karl and Rondo sometimes disagree, too, which happens when player and coach are equal parts stubborn and proud. But they work it out, both have said. This has been a good marriage, and the recent wins certainly help.
Karl is a fan of Rondo.
“It’s been fun,” the coach said. “It’s always enjoyable to see how a guy can make a team work. He’s had great runs in his career. He’s been very valuable to us.”
Kings forward Omri Casspi said he’s impressed with Rondo’s skills and leadership.
“I’ve never seen anyone like him as a floor general, a coach on the floor,” Casspi said. “Coach Karl gives him freedom, and he runs the show. In practice, Rondo’s the most vocal guy. He’s always competing, talking trash. He holds everyone accountable. I’m a big fan.”
Rondo downplays all of it, saying, simply, “I’m just trying to help us win, get better.”
Sometimes that means a middle-of-the-night text to teammates.
“He’s such a big fan of the game, and he’s always watching,” Casspi said. “Sometimes I’ll tell him ‘Hey, I cut here; I was open!’ and he’ll text me at 2:30 in the morning, while watching film, saying ‘You were open. You were right. I need to see that.’ ”
Reynolds, the Kings analyst, said the team has a unique talent leading the way. And it could lead to Sacramento’s first playoff showing in 10 years.
“He’s made the team better, no doubt,” Reynolds said. “Every player has respect for him, and they should because Rondo’s been there, done that. The Kings have never had as good of a playmaker as Rajon. His skill level is off the charts. His stamina is off the charts. And he does have the big hands. Reminds me of John Stockton. He could have some of his best years ahead of him, in his 30s, like Stockton.”