|Posted by paul on January 3, 2012 at 8:50 AM|
Doc Rivers said that he wanted Rondo to be The Aggressor on offense. In six games this season, I think it's fair to say that Rondo has been relatively aggressive on offense three times, and relatively unaggressive three times. The team has gone 1-2 when Rondo has been The Aggressor, and 2-1 when he has been relatively passive on offense. Does this tell us anything, beyond "it's only been six games"?
I think the question is a bit more complicated than it might seem. I think it's pretty fair to describe the Big Three as a classic chassis, and Rondo as high-octane gas. The engine can stall if it gets flooded with too much gas, but more often it underperforms because of not enough gas. As a rule of thumb, we need Rondo to be aggressive on offense, but ... not at the cost of his defense.
In all three of the games the Cs lost so far this season, Rondo seemed less commited to his primary defensive responsibility, controlling his opposite number. This might seem odd. After all, defense is the one area of Rondo's game where he is hailed as the best in the league at his position. Why would this be the area where his game seems to suffer when he plays more aggressively? My guess is that it's a matter of distribution of energy.
Even though it's only been six games, a couple of things seem clear already. One is that Rondo definitely seems to have worked hard on his shooting this summer. I wouldn't say that he has become a true shooter (something I believe he eventually will be), but he certainly seems to have achieved a reasonable level of confidence in his shooting ability, which is an important improvement over last year. This accomplishment in turn, along with increased maturity, seems to have improved Rondo's sense of court mastery. He strikes me as more in control of what is going on on the court when he is out there, more able to pick and choose his spots to intervene in various ways, and more consistent. Even when he is playing passively, he seems to be more in control. He plays with a greater sense of mastery.
Assuming all these improvements stay pretty much on track, it may be that Rondo's big challenge for this year will be learning how to distribute his energy. A player like Dwayne Wade seems to be able to wreak havoc at both ends of the court all the time. Is he in better shape than Rondo? That's certainly possible, but I doubt that it is the decisive factor. I suspect that it is more a matter of distribution of focus and awareness. As I see it, most players come to the NBA with something close to a full plate. Of course, good players improve year to year. It's just natural that they would do so, and they really have to in order to continue to be good. Other teams can be counted on to search out the weaknesses in their game, if they are good enough to attract opposition attention, and the only way to counter this is for them to continue to develop their games. But Rondo seems to add major elements to his plate every season. I'm exaggerating, of course, but it's like he started out with just green beans on his plate, and then he added mash potatoes, and then came some steak (I'm a vegetarian, but I'm sure Rondo's not!), and so on. So each season he has to relearn how to hold the plate without tipping it, how to remember to remember the green beans and not just wolf down the dessert, etc..
It's not just a matter of distributing limited energy, on the basis of additive thinking. It's also a matter of recognizing that the different parts of the game are not separated from each other, and figuring out how one can connect them. If you focus on being aggressive offensively too much - or rather, in the wrong way - you might forget to take care of your primary defensive responsibilities; but aggressive offensive play can help distract and exhaust one's opponent, which can help you to play better defense against him.
I think we'll see Rondo continuing to work at sorting through these kinds of interconnections, and at finding the right kinds of balance all season long. John Wall was a big challenge over the past two games. An even bigger challenge is coming up on Wednesday night, with the Celtics facing the Nets, and Rondo facing Deron Williams. When in doubt, Rondo, stay home defensively. But don't forget that we need the defensive gambler in you sometimes too, and we need The Aggressor on offense more and more.