Perhaps it was simply the time it took to get over the Celtics' loss of teammate and close friend Kendrick Perkins.
Or could it be something much more simple? Like more hard work and growing maturity.
Whatever it is, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has reached new heights.
Statistically, he's more freakish than ever before. The 25-year-old, who raised eyebrows last season with consistent double-double performances, is somehow managing to score and rebound more — all while playing fewer minutes. Through six games, Rondo is averaging 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. He's already posted one triple-double (Sunday against Washington) after coming close earlier this season against Miami.
His defense, as it always was, has been superb, and perhaps his greatest gifts — basketball I.Q. and court vision — have only strengthened.
Rondo's greatest weakness, meanwhile — his jump shot — is proving less and less of a liability. Shaquille O'Neal posits in his new book that the president ruined the point guard's confidence, and thus his jump shot, by telling Ray Allen during a meet-and-greet that he should "teach this kid how to shoot." Rondo was embarrassingly bad the remainder of the season, finishing at 57 percent from the free-throw line.
It could've also had something to do with losing his buddy Perk or, more likely, his awful form. But the Obama angle is far more Oliver Stone-esque.
Either way, the sixth-year star reportedly spent his extended offseason in Kentucky working tirelessly on a new technique. He brought the shooting elbow closer into his body and created a more fluid follow-through with less movement. It's paying off. He's shooting an insane 54 percent from the field (his best mark yet) and has improved to 65 percent from the charity stripe — a full eight percentage points better than last year's rate.
Those results couldn't have come at a better time.
Truth is, the Celtics are not, in current form, a championship-caliber team. Paul Pierce is at about 70 percent, while Jermaine O'Neal is operating at even less than that. Rookie Greg Stiemsma is the only true center on the depth chart behind O'Neal. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls both look better than last year. And neither Keyon Dooling nor Avery Bradley, despite their verve, is an elite No. 2 point guard behind Rondo.
The Celtics' historically league-leading defense is now ranked 20th. Their offense? 13th. It's no coincidence that Boston is 3-3 with exactly zero impressive wins.
Within that harsh new reality, Rondo brings hope.
His new-found ability to shoot the ball outside of the paint has instantly changed the look and range of Boston's offense. No longer can opponents slack off Rondo and clog up the paint or double-up Pierce. It'll give Allen, who continues to astound with a 61 percent mark from the 3-point line so far this season, greater opportunity to roam and find open spots on the floor. Kevin Garnett and J.O. should have more space in the post.
Sure, Boston might not be considered title contenders at this point in the season, but Rondo's hard work in the offseason could be the team's gain. If nothing else, it'll help propel them past .500 and into the playoffs.
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