The 25-year-old made his only All-NBA appearance that year. He was an All-Star (for the third time) and an All-Defensive Team selection (for the fourth time), too. He even finished 8th in the MVP voting.
Rondo was a force. He was the engine that powered the Celtics into the Eastern Conference Finals that June, setting up an epic showdown with LeBron and the Heat. In the second game of the series, Rondo turned in an historic playoff performance: tallying 44 points (still a career-high), 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals, while playing every second of a 53-minute overtime loss.
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Rondo followed up the best performance of his life by submitting his entry for the Encyclopedia of Modern Moves, this Udonis-Haslem-erasing behind-the-back pass fake, that came in the second half of a Game 3 victory two days later:
A Pure Passer
Rondo’s inspired play pushed the Celtics to the brink of the NBA Finals; but, the Heat recovered with victories in Games 6 and 7 to win the series and, then later, the title. Still, the 2012 ECF had cemented Rondo’s reputation as Boston’s next great, franchise-sustaining player.
He proved worthy of the label the following season, too, as he continued to lead the league in assists and was named to another All-Star Team.
And then “poof” — like Udonis Haslem disappearing from the lane — Rondo was gone.
In January 2013, he tore his ACL and missed the second half of the season and then the first half of the next. Boston limped into the 2013 playoffs without him and didn’t make it out of the first round.
By the time Rondo returned to the lineup in 2014, his vets had all moved on. Ray Allen to Miami. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. Coach Doc Rivers to L.A.
Rondo was always a little out of place in Brad Stevens’ Boston and, so, less than a year later he was shipped off to Dallas. Sadly, he was a little out of place there, too. And, well, he was a little out of place in Sacramento and then in Chicago, also. After watching Rondo cycle through five teams in four seasons, one could be forgiven for wondering if he’s just, plain, out-of-place in the league, altogether, at this point.
Post-injury-Rondo rejoined an NBA undergoing a sea change in offensive strategy. In the 33 seasons leading up to Rondo’s injury, there were only 31 instances when a player made 200+ 3-pointers; in the time since his injury — just five full seasons — there have been 32 such occurrences. In fact, three more players have already broken the 200-level this season, even though we’re only three-quarters of the way through.
Rondo’s pass-first, pass-second game feels anachronistic among the NBA’s current crop of sweet-shooting point guards. Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker…so many of the league’s lead guards are menacing 3-point threats and 20 point-per-game scorers these days.
By contrast, Rondo’s table-setting style of play is almost quaint. He’s an old-school “pure point guard,” a “distributor,” a textbook passer.
He’s equipped with the full repertoire of fancy passes — the one-handers, the no-looks, the behind-the-backers. Of course, it’s this last pass — the BTB — that sets up Rondo’s signature move. And it IS a signature move. I asked YouTube.
He cups the ball in his enormous passing hand, inclined at a right angle to his forearm, carries the ball behind his back and fakes a backhand flip to a teammate (or an imagined teammate, as the case may be) before scooping in a layup.
Or, as the kids at the gym used to shout, he does the “Ron-do!”
But, Rondo didn’t invent the fake behind-the-back pass. Way before there was ever a Rajon Cajun, Louisiana had another hero of fancy-passing, a man they called Pistol Pete.
At LSU from 1967-1970, Pete Maravich became the all-time NCAA career scoring leader, averaging 44.2 per-game for a total of 3,667 points in three seasons. Maravich returned to Louisiana as a pro with the fledgling New Orleans Jazz. He spent much of his prime there, as a Jazzmen, including three All-Star seasons and a scoring title in 1976-77.
Beyond his prodigious scoring talents, Maravich was an unrivaled show-boater. In 2-on-1 fast breaks, the Pistol liked to baffle his defender by waving his hand around the ball mid-dribble before batting it to his onrushing teammate. He was also a big fan of the behind-the-back pass fake, as shown here:
Rondo in New Orleans
Now it’s Rondo’s turn to flip and feint behind-the-back passes down on the Bayou. And this season, Rondo is experiencing a bit of a resurgence in New Orleans. True, he’s playing and scoring less than he has in any season since his rookie year; but, he’s making a meaningful contribution to a solid playoff contender — a Pelicans squad sitting at 11 games over .500. He’s started nearly every game for the Pellies and he’s thriving in a low-usage role — feeding shot-hungry teammates, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins (currently injured) and Jrue Holiday to the tune of 7.6 assists-per-game (4th-most in the NBA).
Rondo’s per-36-minute numbers (2017-18: 11.1 points, 10.9 assists, 5.6 rebounds) are also impressive and reminiscent of the pre-injury form he displayed during his lone All-NBA season (2011-12: 11.6 points, 11.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds). Plus, for the fourth consecutive year, he’s shooting better than 35 percent from deep, on more 3-point attempts than he has mustered during any previous season in his career (2.4 3PA per game). So, perhaps, his game has changed with the times, after all.
It will be interesting to watch whether the 32-year-old veteran can sustain his career revival in New Orleans and, ultimately, how his time there will impact his NBA legacy. Among active players, Basketball-Reference ranks Rondo as the 16th-most likely Hall of Fame inductee, giving him a nearly 40 percent chance of donning an orange jacket someday. His would be an unusual Hall of Fame resume, with so much of his success accumulated in the early stage of his career and so much acrimony filling the later stages. Still, some might say his kindred spirit, Pistol Pete, had an unusual path to Springfield, too. Exceptions are sometimes made for a unique talent and Rondo is unquestionably one of those.
Regardless of how he finishes his career, Rondo will be remembered for his impressive catalog of fake behind-the-back passes. And he can always cherish this entry in the Encyclopedia of Modern Moves.