Rondo pesters LeBron on defensive end

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Rondo pesters LeBron on defensive end

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Rajon Rondo is a good defender, one of the best in the NBA.

Against point guards, he's great.

An undersized shooting guard here and there, he can more than hold his own.

But LeBron James?

James wasn't exactly Rondo'd on Sunday, but Rondo did just enough to pester James into a less-than-stellar performance that was a big part of the Celtics' 85-82 win.

No individual or team will shut James down.

He did finish with a respectable 22 points, even if he needed 21 shots to get it.

But Rondo's ball pressure forced James into doing the two things he dreads the most -- picking up his dribble and looking to score in the post.

Because Rondo's hands are so quick, James couldn't back him down while dribbling, which is what he usually does when teams put a smaller defender on him.

And on the few times he was able to get Rondo backed down into the paint, the C's came with a help defender that forced James to either stop his dribble and pass or take a contested shot.

It was . . . brilliant.

Before you start patting Celtics coach Doc Rivers on the back for having the coaching acumen to make such a bold adjustment, he's quick to tell you the truth of how the move came about.

"It was Rondo's idea," Rivers said. "I told him to pressure the ball. He took that to mean, whoever brought it up. I didn't mean that. He took it that way, and then I stayed with it."

Rondo's defense on James helped the Celtics erase a three-point deficit at the half and race ahead to a lead that peaked at 13 points two different occasions.

At the half, Rondo said Delonte West, a former teammate of James in Cleveland, was among those to tell him to try and pick up the tempo.

"The only way I could do that was pressure the ball," Rondo said.

And with the Heat, usually the ball was in James' hands.

"Rondo's a very good player," James said. "He's definitely going to pick up full court no matter who is handling the ball. He's very long. He can use his length, but it didn't bother us that much."

Yeah.

Right.

Anyway, Rondo's defense was one of the many wrinkles the Celtics threw at the Heat.

Although it was successful, the Celtics seemed poised to switch out of it during a timeout, or so some -- OK, Rondo -- thought.

"When I didn't say anything," Rivers said. "Rondo was surprised."

In addition to his defense, Rondo also picked up the tempo offensively for the Celtics.

By the end of the game, he had his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

"Everything he did on both ends of the court, he went from pressuring the ball to pushing the ball, really set the tempo in the second half," said Paul Pierce.

And as Rivers sat at a podium following the win, he still hadn't made heads or tails as to how it all worked.

"That matchup makes no sense, honestly," Rivers said.

Maybe not, but it's impact was undeniable.

"It gave us life, because he was trying so hard, working so hard, it forced everyone else to join in," Rivers said.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”