Rajon Rondo’s Freakish Kentucky Rebounding Run

While at Kentucky, Rajon Rondo was an even bigger enigma than he is now. Forget that he and coach Tubby Smith didn’t always get along. Forget that he dropped to No. 21 in the 2006 NBA Draft because of concerns about his jumper and his attitude. We’re talking about his puzzling strengths on the court. In between those lines, there wasn’t a more unique player in the country, because of what he didn’t do and more importantly, what he did do. Sometimes, he’d look like the best guard in America. Other games, Patrick Sparks completely overshadowed him. As a present Celtic, the point guard can practically dominate a game without ever making a shot. Even though that’s a characteristic a few other point guards possess (Jason Kidd for one), Rondo does it in an even more unique way. Often, he won’t even attempt to shoot.

It’s more than an Achilles’ heel for him. It ties a knot around his entire game, at times squeezing it up and watching the confidence drip right out. But when he is on, he blurs the line between loved and respected and hated and misunderstood.

Here are a few of his freak box scores from last season:

10/26 vs. Miami: 2-9 FG, 4 PTS, 17 AST
1/5 vs. San Antonio: 6-10 FG, 12 PTS, 10 REB, 23 AST, 6 STL
2/26 vs. LAC: 1-2 FG, 2 PTS, 7 REB, 11 AST
3/23 vs. Memphis: 2-12 FG, 6 PTS, 11 REB, 11 AST, 8 STL

It’s a rare quality to have, being afraid to shoot and yet also dictating the game through your speed, anticipation and quickness. Rondo’s always had it. For all of his brashness, sending him to the line or giving him an open jumper turns him into a mouse. It’s not just being the fourth offensive option across three future Hall of Famers that causes him to take less shots. Throw Rondo on Toronto, Utah, Minnesota or any other weak team and you could expect the same. He did this at Oak Hill, and amazingly, he did it at Kentucky.

With no real inside threat – the team was starting three small guards and their frontcourt players, with Randolph Morris ineligible, were Rekalin Sims and Bobby Perry – Rondo averaged 12 rebounds a night through the school’s first four games in 2005. He says he had to. There was no one else. With Chuck Hayes and his 7.7 boards a night graduated, the ‘Cats had a gaping hole. One game in particular stands out amongst the rest.

11/21/05… a 67-63 loss to Iowa
Rondo: 33 minutes, 1-9 FG, 5 PTS, 5 AST… & 19 REB

Freak is the only appropriate word. It’s the only necessary word. A 6-1 point guard who probably didn’t weigh much above 170 pounds at the time, made just one shot all game, but also had nearly 20 boards. The rest of the team had 11 defensive rebounds. Rondo had 17 on that end.

“I kind of have a sense of where the ball’s going to go,” Rondo once told Sports Illustrated. “I turn around and see if it’s short or long, and try to get there as quick as I can.”

True enough. At a level where he was often the best athlete on the floor, chasing down long rebounds and snatching ones out from over big men by jumping up their backs should’ve been enough to finish with double-figure rebounding. But 19?

Enormous hands played a part. Having mitts large enough to grab and control a ball is half the battle. So is timing and anticipation. Rondo did come back down to earth, finishing the season with only 6.1 boards a night, yet his early season run on the glass is one of the most odd I’ve ever seen.

Rondo will always be somewhat of a freak: unusually large hands and a wingspan that stretches down to his knees. He’s both explosive and tireless, a deadly combination on a basketball court, and for all his gifts, he has a few very noticeable weaknesses. It makes him extremely unique. But to put up the rebound numbers that he did at Kentucky, especially during that stretch in the early portion of 2005, is ridiculous.

Quadruple-doubles, 81-point games and 30-7-7 seasons are always celebrated. They should be. But we often miss out on other freakish numbers, the unexpected, the stuff that you don’t catch off a first glance.

What is the most overlooked freakish stat/number you’ve ever seen?

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