From the very start of training camp way back in September, there’s been one figure on the roster that all of the Pelicans have taken turns raving about throughout the 2017-18 season: Rajon Rondo.
The 11-year veteran arrived in New Orleans with loads of baggage, or so many would have made you believe. As any rational person, I had my doubts with common knowledge echoing through my brain, but after a little research, it became apparent that Rondo was not given a fair shake. His history was littered with positives and misunderstandings after departing Boston. Then, when considering the sizable leadership vacuum for much of Anthony Davis’ tenure — remember, the franchise had once brought in a Kendrick Perkins whose best days were clearly behind him, taking a gamble on Rondo started to make sense. It became even more obvious when factoring in his close relationship with DeMarcus Cousins, the fact that the Pelicans coaching staff was in favor of moving Jrue Holiday to the two-guard position, and, of course, the team’s woeful 11-14 limp to the finish line after Boogie arrived last season.
Following the four-game sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s safe to say the experiment is a raging success.
From warning Rachel Nichols he was going to display a Russell Westbrook mentality after the loss of Boogie to telling Head Coach Alvin Gentry he was going to do everything he could to win the series against the Blazers, Anthony Davis is exuding leadership qualities we’ve always dreamed about in New Orleans. Within the span of a single season, Jrue Holiday has transformed from an indecisive player lacking the requisite confidence to a guy that’s kicking down the door of stardom. And just as importantly, New Orleans offense, which many gave up for dead after the Achilles rupture heard round the French Quarter, just averaged 114.5 points per game — in the playoffs, mind you — against a team that allowed a fifth-best 103.0 points per game during the regular season.
Standing smack dab in the center of all of this success has been Rondo, with his laptop or iPad and the countless number of game footage videos not too far behind.
After Game 1, Davis spoke about Rondo and his preparedness being a game-changer, “He’s got the mindset, he was up all night watching film. Even when they were calling plays out tonight, he was telling us what it was but our version before they even got a chance to run it so he’s definitely locked in.”
The Pelicans learned their 2018 playoff fate on a Wednesday, the final day of the regular season, and their first round series was scheduled to kick off in Portland the following Saturday. Rondo had precisely two full days off to get ready for the Trail Blazers matchup, yet he helped blow up their attack while finding teammates for 53 assists against only 14 turnovers in four games.
That’s Playoff Rondo.
“I just that think that – and it’s that way with most of the guys in our league – is that there’s a whole new focus level there that you reach when the playoffs start,” said Gentry before the start of Game 3. “When you’ve been in a situation like Rondo has, where you’ve won a championship and you understand the level that you have to get to in order to win a championship, there’s a focus there that you may not have during the regular season when you’re talking about playing 82 games. He understands how valuable every possession is when the postseason starts. It’s just a focus that you have to have to get to that level I think.”
The earliest New Orleans can begin play in the second round will be this coming Saturday. That means Rondo and the Pelicans are going to have at least a full week of downtime to prepare for what will likely be a matchup against the formidable Golden State Warriors. If Rondo was able to study enough film and get his teammates ready for the Blazers in less than 72 hours, what will he be able to accomplish with over twice as much time?
Although Rondo admitted he couldn’t give away too many of his secrets to Jen Hale of Fox Sports New Orleans, he did divulge that he studied enough film on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum that he knew what to expect and was able to communicate that to teammates ahead of the start of Portland offensive possessions. Wielding this trait is potentially as valuable as stealing signs from the catcher to the pitcher in baseball or learning of an opponent’s play call enough in advance to set one’s defense in football.
Knowing is half the battle, right?
“What happened [against Boston] is the same thing that’s happening right now,” Nikola Mirotic said after the Pelicans Game 3 victory. “On both sides of the court. Defensively, he’s talking every time. He knows what they are playing. He’s telling us, ‘A.D. [Anthony Davis], they are going to run [something] for your guy.’ He’s a big part of why we are playing this way.”
When Rajon Rondo has started at point guard, the Pelicans have a sparkling combined 45-24 record from the regular season and the playoffs. That translates to a 65.2 winning percentage. Since Cousins was lost for the season, though, Rondo’s record as a starter has been even stronger at 25-9 (73.5 winning percentage).
You know, who finished the regular season with a 70.7 winning percentage?
The Golden State Warriors, and Kevin Durant and company are one win away over the San Antonio Spurs from enjoying the Playoff Rondo experience.