Anyone who watched Boston Celtics games the past couple of years and felt Rajon Rondo’s defense had slipped considerably got some validation Friday.
Two weeks after he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, Rondo acknowledged what many observers believed: that his defense, which once made him capable of matching up with the game’s best backcourt stars, had long been deficient.
"I haven’t played defense in a couple of years," Rondo said at shootaround, according to MassLive’s Jay King. "I’ve been able to hide it a lot with Avery Bradley on the ball. He’s helped me out, the young guy. But here they expect me to play defense. And in the West, if you don’t play defense, you’ll get embarrassed every night at the point guard position.
"I took it as a challenge (for) myself. It’s not just me. It’s my teammates. Our communication is getting a lot better and our coverages are getting better. So it’s the whole team concept, it’s not just me. Obviously, people are going to look at the stats and say, ‘Since Rondo’s came there, they’re down seven or eight points or whatever defensively,’ but we still have a lot of room to improve and I believe we’ll still get better defensively."
Dallas indeed has seen an uptick defensively since the trade, although it doesn’t take much to improve a bottom-10 defense. But Rondo has been back to his ball-hawking ways for the Mavericks, proving that he hadn’t completely lost his defensive edge.
The fact Rondo had lapses on defense over the past two seasons wasn’t debatable. What was debated was the reason for it.
Rondo’s defenders pointed to the torn ACL he suffered in 2013, which contributed to him playing just 68 games in the two seasons prior to the 2014-15 campaign. Others noted that on a Celtics team headed nowhere, Rondo had lost his motivation.
Whatever the case may have been, with a legitimate shot at a trip to the NBA Finals now, Rondo appears to have accepted the challenge.