BOSTON — It’s been a tough week for Rajon Rondo.
His reputation has taken a beating, deserved or undeserved, after his controversial decision not to travel with the Boston Celtics to Sacramento for a game last Saturday. Instead, he stayed in Los Angeles, where he celebrated his 28th birthday with his family. It wasn’t the worst crime against humanity, but it wasn’t behavior becoming of a captain, either.
If Rondo is still working out how to be a leader, his coach doesn’t see anything lacking in Rondo’s pursuit of knowledge about the game. Not only does Rondo see the game more analytically than most players, he actually cares what the numbers-crunchers find, according to Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“I think I’ve got one of the guys in Rondo that is most inclined to study it and is most interested in it,” Stevens said Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “He really likes that. He studies it. He’s very analytical. That’s the way he’s wired. Some guys aren’t wired that way, and that’s all right.”
While Stevens’ comments aren’t necessarily new — former coach Doc Rivers and others have said the same about the point guard numerous times — another set of remarks by Stevens was also revealing.
Rondo has never been known as a “rah-rah” player, which is his prerogative. He’s paid to be a player, not a cheerleader. But in explaining the limits of advanced metrics Friday, Stevens gushed about Dirk Nowitzki, who only needs a couple of pom-poms to be his own one-man pep rally.
“When we played the Mavericks, the first time I had coached against the Mavericks, I became amazed by how enthusiastic Dirk was at 35 (years old), how much he talked, how much fun he was having — how much he hugged his teammates,” Stevens said. “We’re in the middle of this arduous season, and he’s done it over and over so many times, and all he could do is smile.”
Stevens said this as a compliment to Nowitzki, not as a dig at Rondo, who smiles on the court about once per presidential administration. Still, it shows something about Stevens, that he can admire two players who are so different, that he can be so new-school and so old-school at the same time. You can study numbers forever and never grasp the realities of human nature. The Celtics look like they’ve found the rare person who can appreciate both.