Chicago report: Rondo on the riseposted:
Monday, May 29, 2006 | Feedback
CHICAGO -- Now that the lottery is over and the draft process is in full swing, I'll be on the road for the next month at draft camps and gyms across the U.S. (and Italy) to watch some of the most interesting prospects.
I spent the weekend in Chicago watching prospects work out at Tim Grover's A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics.
Here's who I saw:
Rajon Rondo: Rondo's a conundrum for NBA talent evaluators. Some NBA guys love him. Some hate him. But few have seen him in the right environment to make a fully informed decision.
Rondo has earned positive reviews for his workouts in Phoenix, Houston and Boston. The word is that his shot has improved and his athleticism ranks near the top of the draft.
One big question remains, however: Is he a point guard?
It's almost impossible to determine that in an individual workout. And it was difficult to discern the answer at Kentucky this year. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith played a slow-paced, half-court offense, while Rondo is a rev-it-up, super-quick guard who thrives in the open court.
I asked Grover and Rondo's agent Kevin Bradbury to give me a better feel for Rondo's point guard skills by arranging a five-on-five game on Saturday morning in Chicago. Also participating were Mustafa Shakur of Arizona, Denham Brown of Connecticut, and one of the draft's mystery men, Brad Newley of Australia.
Rondo has put on 10 pounds of muscle since we saw him last at Kentucky, and his shoulders and arms are noticeably thicker.
His hands are freakish as advertised -- the guys in the gym jokingly call him "E.T." because of his long fingers. At 6-foot-2 (in shoes), Rondo can palm a basketball off the dribble. Very few players his size can do that.
Guarded by Shakur for the whole game, Rondo was stellar. He pushed the ball up the floor at a breakneck pace, made a number of pinpoint, drop-jaw passes and got to the basket at will against Shakur.
Rondo showed off his nuclear athleticism and uber-quickness in the open court. He changes directions in a split second, explodes to the basket and pushes the ball relentlessly in the open floor.
His ballhandling is one of his best attributes. His huge hands give him maximum control over the ball. He never bobbles or loses it, no matter how heavy the traffic. On three occasions, he drew oohs from the spectators after delivering a beautiful pass.
Defensively he was also rock solid, causing frequent problems for Shakur and picking off a number of passes for fast breaks on the other end.
Rondo showed a style that scouts haven't seen from him since he played for Team USA's junior squad in Argentina last summer. He came out of that camp rated as the top point guard in the draft and a potential top-five pick. In Chicago, he showed why.
What about his jump shot?
He didn't take a jumper in the game. Afterward I watched him in drills for about 45 minutes. His form does look a lot better than what we saw in Kentucky. He hit more shots than he missed, especially from the NBA 3-point line.
But more than likely Rondo's never going to be a great shooter. Hitting shots without a defender on you is one thing. Hitting them in the course of a game is another.
His free throw shooting is also going to need a lot of work. He actually missed more free throws than 3s in the workout I saw. That's going to be a problem for a guy who's going to draw a lot of fouls in the NBA with his penetration.
Teams don't draft a player like Rondo because he can stroke the ball. Rather, they'll look at his athleticism, quickness, defense and point guard skills.
Put him on the right team and let him run and he's going to be a great point guard in the pros. Put him in a conservative, slow-down offense and it's going to get ugly.
Based on what I saw on Saturday, I think he's the best point guard prospect in the draft. Along with everyone else, I have been calling UConn's Marcus Williams the best pure point guard. The implication has been that Rondo is more of an athlete than a pure point.
From what I saw, I no longer believe that. I think Williams is craftier and a better scorer, but Rondo's court vision is excellent and he is a much better athlete and defender than Williams.
Given what we've been hearing about Williams' weight (up to 220 according to the Celtics) and his obvious off-court baggage, Rondo might end up ahead of Williams at the end of the draft.
I sat down with Rondo after the workout to get his take on his critics and the draft process.
Rondo said he realized by midseason that the style of play at Kentucky was hurting his draft chances, and so making the decision to jump to the NBA was relatively easy.
"Coach agreed that the style we were playing probably wasn't the best fit for me," Rondo said. "I knew after this summer that I could play with everyone, but I'd do best in a Phoenix Suns style, where the point guard is really allowed to push the ball and create."
Rondo said that his early feedback in the draft process gave him a better idea of what he had to work on.
"I've been working real hard with Tim to put on some strength, work on my NBA moves and of course my shooting," he said. "From the feedback I got in the workouts, I think it's going pretty good."
Rondo said he thinks his game most resembles that of Tony Parker, another super-quick point guard who has also struggled with a suspect jump shot.
Rondo's main frustration in the draft process is that he hasn't had a chance to go up against Williams.
"I want to work out against the best so that I can prove that it's me," Rondo said. "I think teams would want to see us against each other."
They do. I talked to three GMs who said a Rondo-Williams workout would be ideal. They think the problem is that Rondo's and Williams' agents -- both affiliated with BDA Sports -- won't allow it.
Not so, according to Rondo's agent.
"No teams have asked, so it hasn't happened," Bradbury said. "We tell all of our guys when we sign them that if teams want them to work out together or compete against each other, they need to do it. If a team wants to see them against each other, we'll try to make it happen."