After finding himself once again trailing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, LeBron James gave a series of introspective responses during a press conference detailing what separated the then soon to be repeating champions from the rest of the league, but also the types of players teams need in order to win:
“In order to win, you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to be very cerebral, too,” James said. “Listen, we’re all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game?”
The Los Angeles Lakers seemed to have taken serious note of James’ comments based on the moves they made after inking the former finals MVP to a multi-year deal.
Already equipped with one of the most impressive young basketball minds in recent memory in Lonzo Ball, the team also added arguably one of the smartest lead guards in history when they signed Rajon Rondo.
Rondo, long glorified for his legendary basketball film studies and adept knowledge of the game, seems to be exactly the type of player James has not so subtlety hinted at wanting to play with.
James will not be the only person excited for Rondo’s arrival to the team, as the coaching staff has also already begun praising what the former NBA champion offers to the table.
Lakers assistant coach Jesse Mermuys recently sat down with Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell and couldn’t help but rave about the 12-year veteran’s basketball instincts:
“You don’t have to be an NBA coach to see that he is mentally at a different level than most guys. He just knows how to exploit defenses. There are a lot of players in the NBA that are just playing basketball, and are really talented, playing off their instincts. When they see something, they change their direction because their body tells them, ‘I need to get around this guy and use my left hand.’
“Well, what Rondo’s doing is on two, three, four levels deeper than that. Not only is he playing as a basketball player, but he’s playing chess, because he knows the defense that the team is in, he knows the weaknesses of that defense, he knows the positioning of the weak side of that defense. He knows tendencies of players and knows how to exploit them.”
Rondo’s clinical understanding of his opponent’s playbooks and schemes has become a thing of legend around the league, as many of his former teammates have gushed over the amount of work he puts in prior to, and after games in preparation of the next set of games.
In a quote set to be featured in an upcoming documentary on the 2008 Boston Celtics, Rondo’s former teammate, Brian Scalabrine, shared an anecdote that supports Mermuys’ assessment of the point guard’s chess like approach to the game when he is on the floor:
“When he returned to TD Garden during a regular-season game, Scalabrine said head coach Mark Jackson shouted a call, “42 cross”, for his team. But it was a bluff. The Warriors didn’t have a “42 cross” in their playbook, and Rondo knew.
Rondo looked at Mark, and then he looked in the air and said, ’42 cross, 42 cross,’ and then he looked back at Mark and said, ‘You don’t have a 42 cross.’ I was like, ‘How the hell did he just know that?’ Somehow, some way, he knew that. And they’re not a rival. It wasn’t a playoff series. It was an insignificant game during the middle of the week. He was the smartest player I’ve ever played with, and it’s not even close.”
Rondo’s reputation has definitely followed him to the point where he is now, and rightfully so. The seriousness in which he takes the game of basketball is what initially endeared him to Kobe Bryant in the past, and seemingly will with James as well.
Between he and James, this type of dedication to game preparation will do wonders for the young core and help them learn how they must approach the game.
With Rondo now in house, there lies invaluable opportunities to instill this type of floor awareness to Lonzo Ball in film study sessions, help out Kuzma on the floor with defensive schemes, and simply be another leader on the floor like Mermuys suggested was possible:
“He’s basically an NBA coach playing basketball, which for a coaching staff, that is the most valuable thing possible. Because you basically have one of your assistants on the floor.”
The coaching staff and James seem ready to add this type of mental element to their profession and their roster, and with Rondo they are adding one of the best at it.