Sep 6, 2012, 12:40 PM EDT
Over Labor Day, I had an opportunity to share a beach house with both a scientist and an artist. (Don’t get jealous, we were pretty much living off our friends’ generosity, it’s not like I’m skipping off to the Hamptons every other weekend.) A social situation involving people on opposite ends of the conceptual spectrum, particularly in their late 20′s when ways of life and outlooks have cemented somewhat can bring some borderline fascinating observations on the conversations and how they develop. The rest of the group was evenly split between leaning more towards the analytically-inclined (an engineer and a financial services rep) and the less-so (an English grad student). So it provided a nice background. The differential between how the two approached things wasn’t striking, it was subtle and textured. Both also very much had a strong crossover to the other’s side of the world. But at their core, one was a scientist, one was an artist, briefly living in each other’s shared universe.
It made me think of Rajon Rondo.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss interviewed Rondo for Bleacher Report as he continued his Red Bull promotional tour last week. In the interview, Strauss asked a series of insightful questions trying to get to the core of how Rondo looks at the way he plays. (Actual basketball questions in a player interview! “The horror,” cried most media.) Rondo answered the way an artist answers a question about the science of their approach. It’s not that there’s not a science to it, it’s that the approach is using science to create art, not the other way around. Two particularly notable sections of an interview I beg you to read:
B/R: Do you ever wonder why more guys in the NBA don’t do what you do with the ball fakes?
RR: I don’t know (laughs). I have no idea. I don’t want them to pick up on it, ya know? I like having a unique game and doing my own thing.
B/R: When did you come up with the ball-fake strategy, because, guys throw ball fakes when they’re on the move, but you do it when you’re planted. Is that just something that came instinctively?
RR: I just came with it. It’s actually funny. A lot of my moves, it just comes out. I don’t really predetermine or practice.
B/R: Did you do that because, when you were growing up, fundamental-minded coaches didn’t like some of the cool, different things you were doing, and you wanted to do it differently?
RR: I just want to give them something different. I don’t want to come out here and give a boring camp. I want to give them something that they actually see me do out on the court. I don’t want to teach them a regular bounce-pass. I want to show them why I throw the behind-the-back pass to Kevin on the pick-and-roll, why I do my shot fake.
B/R: You do throw that behind-the-back on the pick-and-pop a lot of the time to Kevin Garnett. What’s your favorite kind of pass to throw? Is is that one?
RR: Oh, I like throwing a cross-court one-hand bounce-pass between the defense to P (Paul Pierce). I’ll throw a little English on the ball, throw it between two, three guys that are trying to run extremely hard to the paint. Then you got Paul Pierce trailing for the three—and obviously I’m pleased when he makes it.
The answers aren’t particularly shocking. A lot of players like to talk about basketball, but from the outside, you can press too deep, and then they’re like “I’m not overthinking it, I just do it.” It’s basketball, not advanced chemistry. The game is complex, but the actions are instinctive a lot of the time. It’s part of what makes the game so perfect from a conceptual and execution standpoint. The games that reach true popularity are those that have the right balance of entertaining features and no discernible holes for exploitation. The major sports are the models of this. But Rondo’s statement above “I don’t really predetermine or practice” speaks really to who he is and how we consider him.
Chris Paul is considered the Point God for a number of reasons, chief among them the simple superiority of his execution. His floater is in perfect form. He routinely flirts with a 50-40-90 line from the field. His passes are on target nearly 80% of the time, and by that I don’t mean they reach their target, I mean that he lands it in the hand he wants, at the height he wants, at the velocity. If you want to teach a player how to execute the pick and roll or pop, cue up Paul’s execution, which is consistent to a stunning degree, steady like a freight train, sharp like a razor.
But Rondo’s inherently different. It’s not that he’s not consistent. Lord knows he’s run that pick and pop with Garnett the same way so many times the process should be permanently embedded in Spencer Hawes‘ brain like in “The Manchurian Candidate” (and yet Hawes will still watch as Garnett nails that 18-footer). He has a series of plays that he runs the same way. But that’s not why we’re wowed by him. Those that come down as pro-Rondo marvel at his instinctive ability in his creativity. Artists don’t wake up one day, say “I will become an artist, now,” and then go learn to draw. Not often, anyway. It starts with drawing with crayons or markers as a kid, with filling notebooks, constantly messing with clay, spending hours on graphic design programs. It fills the brain the way numbers fill the minds of statisticians or biblical passages ruminate in the minds of the devout. It’s just there, it’s the way they process. And the same with Rondo.
It doesn’t come from plotting, from a blueprint, it comes in spontaneous moments, in the instantaneous creation of a play. Observe:
Rondo could likely play in the clinical manner of a lot of point guards. He wouldn’t be as good as Paul, he’d just be a standard, good, blue-collar point guard. I have no way of knowing, but it’s an impression I get that the biggest reason Rondo plays the way he does is that he would get bored otherwise. Read that second quote section. “I just want to give them something different.” Rondo is consistently criticized for his attitude, and there’s every indication he’s driven Doc Rivers absolutely guano over the past five years. He’s temperamental. This is pretty in-check with most of the artists I know. That bit of artistry is all that keeps the world from becoming mundane.
Rondo’s driven by creating plays which fall outside of the ordinary. It’s those plays that make him remarkable, that separate him. And just as it is with most artists, when he’s in a creative groove, the results can be stunning not only in their quality, but volume. His absurd triple-doubles with 20-assists remind me of stories of how Ryan Adams will go into studious and pump out dozens of songs in a session, all stockpiled in his brain.
Rondo’s an avid rollerskater. Think about the actions and way that you do that. It’s about freedom, and spontaneity of movement. Spins, twists, twirls, jumps. The objective is mobile grace. The ball-fakes he uses are sometimes wholly unnecessary. They’re not fooling anyone. It’s just a mechanism. But when it works out perfectly, he fools the defense completely and it’s one of the most unique plays you’ll see, sweeping left to right, whipping the ball from one angle to the polar opposite, and sliding in the layup.
Maybe that’s what’s at the core of the debate over Rondo. Superiority in execution is dependent on precision, consistency, and effort. Rondo’s investment in all three of those principles waxes and wanes as the game goes on, the same way an artist’s involvement in his work can be subject to emotional twists and turns. Much of basketball is geometry. Rondo is constantly working to get bend geometry, trying to do things which aren’t just unnatural in the course of a game, but seem to run almost counter to the principles which decide success.
If you’re not into art, or at least not in basketball, Rondo’s going to seem sloppy, a pain, too inconsistent. But if you can appreciate the attempts to make the game more than a game, even if he’s not consciously aware of that attempt (and Rondo’s mostly just playing basketball and getting paid here, let’s be honest), then he means something wholly different. Creativity can be a liability, but if you consider the endeavor inherently worthwhile, then Rondo’s the point guard for you.
Artists and creative types abhor labels and boundaries. They instinctively act to get past those limitations into a creative and mental freedom. It may not be intentional, but you can see a lot of the same thing in the play of Rajon Rondo.
May 19, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the…
Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets
May 19, 2013, 8:34 PM EDT
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May 19, 2013, 7:11 PM EDT
When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and…
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May 19, 2013, 5:07 PM EDT
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May 19, 2013, 3:34 PM EDT
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May 19, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT
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May 19, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
J.R. Smith had an incredible regular season for the Knicks, and was every bit deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year honor he was given for that performance. He also was brutal in the postseason, struggling to find his shot ever since he was suspended for Game 4 in the first round of the…
May 19, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
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May 19, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
One of the more popular cries from the Thunder fan base after the dismal all-around postseason performance of Kendrick Perkins was that the team should rid themselves of his contract (two more seasons at nearly $19 million total) by using the amnesty provision on him this summer. In the new collective bargaining agreement, teams have…
May 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
SEASON RECORDS Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West San Antonio: 58-24, second seed in the West PLAYOFF RECORDS Memphis: Beat the Clippers 4-2 in the first round. Beat the Thunder 4-1 in the second round. San Antonio: Beat the Lakers 4-0 in the first round. Beat the Warriors 4-2 in the second round. SEASON…
May 19, 2013, 12:01 AM EDT
The Pacers sent all five members of the starting lineup to the podium for the postgame press conference following their 106-99 Game 6 win over the Knicks, which goes a long way in telling the story of how they were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team defensive effort that Indiana exhibits…
May 18, 2013, 11:12 PM EDT
WIth the Pacers’ win over the Knicks in Game 6 on Saturday in the books, the schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals is now set. Miami will host Indiana beginning on Wednesday, May 22, and all games will be televised nationally on TNT with a start time of 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Game 1 – Wed …
May 18, 2013, 10:52 PM EDT
Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 6 and with the Knicks surging and clinging to a two-point advantage, Carmelo Anthony drove baseline and elevated, almost certainly expecting to finish this dunk over Roy Hibbert to further extend his team’s lead. Hibbert got there first, however, and met Anthony at the rim for this monster…
May 18, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
Nate Robinson wasn’t only the Bulls’ main scoring punch during the playoffs, he symbolized the team’s heart, as well. Robinson put in many memorable performances during his injury-ravaged team’s run into the second round, including leading Chicago to a thrilling triple-overtime win over the Nets in the fourth game of that series, and helping to…
May 18, 2013, 7:01 PM EDT
By winning Game 5 against the Pacers, the Knicks have turned their series. After it seemed Indiana had a decided advantage, each remaining game is basically a tossup. Both teams could make arguments for why they have the upper hand in Game 6 tonight: In the Pacers’ favor: The Knicks are 0-4 at Indiana this…
May 18, 2013, 6:31 PM EDT
UPDATE: 6:28 p.m. ET: George Hill has been cleared to play in Game 6, the Pacers announced. Here’s the official release: “Over the last two days under the care of the Indiana Pacers’ medical staff, George Hill has participated in each step of the NBA’s Return-to-Participation Exertion Protocol as part of the NBA’s Concussion Policy.…
Dennis Schroeder bows out of combine in Chicago, plans on skipping Eurocamp due to likely draft promise
May 18, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT
Dennis Schroeder is an international prospect from Germany that has been rapidly moving up draft boards. The 19-year old point guard is listed at 6’2″ with a 6’7.25″ wingspan, and the speed and flair with which he plays is already eliciting comparisons to Rajon Rondo in terms of ability, body type, and style. Schroeder was…
May 18, 2013, 4:07 PM EDT
For months, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has maintained he’s done as Team USA’s basketball coach. But he might be having a change of heart. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated: Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged in a phone interview Saturday that he’s in discussions to return as head coach of USA Basketball through the 2016 Olympics.…
May 18, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT
Damian Lillard is getting special edition shoes from adidas to honor his Rookie of the Year campaign with the Blazers. As with all commemorative releases, it’s the small design details that make them something worth coveting. From the official release: “The shoe’s sockliners feature Damian’s Twitter handle, an Oakland satellite print and “9800s” to represent…
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