There’s a pervasive myth out there that you can sag off of Rajon Rondo and render him ineffective. People will point to the Lakers as an example of how putting Kobe Bryant on Rondo and letting him roam is an effective strategy.
But that’s overly simplistic, and doesn’t take into account other matchup issues, and other team deficiencies that have cost the Celtics against the Lakers that also play into it.
The fact is, if you’re playing way off Rondo, you’re often just giving him a head start. Instead of defending him, you’re like a defensive back in the open field against a wide receiver. The open field tackle is very difficult to make, and the open court defense of Rondo can be equally difficult. In the Knicks preseason game in Albany, we saw a few examples.
At the :07 mark, Rondo gets the ball with a solid 8 feet between him and the defender. Rondo closes that gap quickly and gets to the rim for the finish.
At :16, Rondo is getting a pick from Jeff Green. The defender goes under the screen, and Rondo hits the gas to the left. By the time both meet at same spot, the right elbow, Rondo is by him. One step later, Rondo has square up, left his defender behind him, and is in for the lay up attempt. Jared Sullinger is there to take advantage of all the rotations caused by Rondo’s penetration to tip in the miss.
At :29, Rondo gets 5 feet of space to work with, and he decides to bust the defender right and get right to the hoop.
The obvious focus on Rondo has been his shooting, which has also seen a major improvement this season. He’s been very willing to take the jumper in these situations as well, and we’ve seen him hit a lot more of them this preseason than we’re used to.
But sagging off a player because he can’t shoot doesn’t quite negate his ability to get past you if you’re slower. As you can see from these examples, sagging off Rondo gives a very fast player a chance to get a head start to the basket. And even if he doesn’t make the bucket, he will have caused enough turbulence in the defense for someone else to come in and take advantage of it.