Kentucky's walk-it-up pace exposed Rondo's weakness as a spot-up shooter. While he led the Wildcats in rebounds, steals and assists as a sophomore, he made only 68 of 119 free throws (57.2%) and 18 of 66 three-pointers (27.3%)—numbers that sent his stock plummeting and enabled Boston to steal him in a draft-night trade with the Suns. Even now as he prepares to shoot, Rondo looks like a waiter carrying a tray of food, with his large right palm flat above his right ear. Through Sunday he led all point guards in shooting (50.6%), though more than two thirds of his attempts had been layups and he was making just 30.3% of his threes. "He's not a great shooter, but he knows how to hide himself," says Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "Avery Johnson wasn't a great shooter either, but he knew how to go behind that basket and put himself in position to hurt you if you double-teamed off him. If Rondo was knocking down his jump shot consistently, you'd be talking about an all-pro player."
Rondo is often compared with Tony Parker, another late-first-round pick, who guided the San Antonio Spurs to the 2003 championship even though he lacked a reliable jumper. Whereas Parker overhauled his technique and has developed into a long-range marksman, Rondo intends to change nothing. "I'm set in my ways," says Rondo, who believes his accuracy will improve with practice. "I don't feel like I have to settle for a jump shot, because I can get to the basket at will."
Both the Seattle Sonics and the Minnesota Timberwolves threatened to call off their blockbuster trades of Allen and Garnett, respectively, so badly did both want Rondo (before Celtics president Danny Ainge called their bluffs). Even so, his elder All-Star teammates were skeptical that a second-year point guard could help lead them to a championship. After roller-coastering through last year's playoff run—his spectacular title-clinching performance (21 points, eight assists and six steals) in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers came after a combined 16 points and nine assists in the previous three games—Rondo is learning how to listen. He has become a more consistent source of energy by heeding Rivers's demands to push the ball across half court as well as pick it up full-court on defense. Heart-to-hearts with his more famous teammates have helped him understand where they like the ball.
Softening his stubborn side is all part of growing up in a championship environment, Rondo acknowledges. "I've learned to handle it a little bit better," he says. "Even though I think I'm right."