- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Yes, the Cooz is impressed. What else do you need to know?
Bob Cousy is, like most everyone else, enthralled by the play of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Unlike most everyone else, Cousy's opinion matters. On the Mount Rushmore of NBA point guards, the Cooz has a place ad infinitum. Having him praise your work as a point guard is akin to Bill Gates praising your understanding of computer software.
"I've been watching the Celtics for the last 50 years,'' said Cousy, who retired in 1963 but made a brief, forgettable comeback as a player-coach with Omaha-Kansas City in 1969. "And Rondo is the first point guard since moi that I've been really excited about. Bird excited you, but he wasn't a point guard. JoJo [White] wasn't a point guard. He's the first since moi to get my attention."
There have been some pretty good point guards in the years since Cousy left and Rondo arrived. Two of them, Nate Archibald and Dennis Johnson, are Hall of Famers. But what Cousy sees in Rondo is a versatility that few have had at the position.
Rondo led the NBA in steals this season. No Celtic had ever done that. Right now, he leads the NBA in assists during the playoffs, more than one assist per game ahead of Deron Williams and more than two a game ahead of Steve Nash. Rondo recently was named to the NBA's all-defensive first team.
"What more can this kid do? He sees the floor extremely well,'' Cousy said. "He's even starting to put what my old coach, Doggie Julian, would call a little French pastry on a play, going behind the back. The kid is only 24. People talk about the Big Three. But this is the Big One. The sky is the limit as far as I can see."
Rondo supplanted Cousy as the Celtics' leader in assists per season in 2009-10, racking up 794 over 81 games. Cousy had 715 in 75 games in the 1959-60 season. Rondo also has twice tied Cousy's Celtics record of assists in a playoff game (19), once last year in a triple-overtime game against the Bulls and again this season in Monday night's Boston victory in Cleveland.
"It's nice to see him breaking a record of mine I wasn't really aware I even had,'' Cousy said with a laugh. 'It's well deserved on his part. But I think back in our day they'd pay some guy $15 a game to sit at a table and keep the stats. You never knew what was being done. No one really took individual stats seriously back then, except my roomie, [Bill] Sharman, who was fastidious about his free-throw shooting. And for good reason.
"But when someone called me to say that Rondo had broken the record, I said, 'OK, what was the record?' I think it was more amazing that the guy who had the record was able to talk about it 50 years after the fact!"
Cousy is technically on the Celtics' masthead as a team marketing consultant, but he winters in Florida and is not around the team nearly as much as when he provided television analysis for years with the estimable Gil Santos handling the play-by-play. Cousy wonders if Rondo has gotten to the point that he can get into his teammates' faces. (Answer: Yes, indeed.)
"I used to get pretty verbal in huddles, and I'd let the troops know,'' Cousy said. "But I always include myself. That's the key. It's gotta be 'us' not 'you.' ''
He also hopes to live long enough to see the day (Cousy turns 82 in August) that Rondo becomes a more confident and proficient outside shooter. In that respect, Cousy sees a lot of himself in Rondo.
"You can get into ruts at the point guard position,'' he said. "I would talk to Arnold [Auerbach, never 'Red' with Cooz] about a lot. If I were trying to find a downside in Rondo's game, that might be it. But he has a fine stroke. He gets full extension. He follows through. Someone has to convince him he's not a bad shooter, and then he'll be even tougher to guard. And he's already tough as it is."
From afar, Cousy also thinks Rondo's free-throw shooting has improved dramatically. This has always been the perceived offensive flaw in Rondo's game, as evidenced by his career average of 63 percent, which is higher than his 2009-10 average of 62.1 percent. But in the playoffs, Rondo has gone Mark Price on us, converting 80.6 percent, including 12-of-14 in Game 1 against the Cavs.
Cousy was a lifetime 80 percent shooter from the free-throw line.
"Before, I thought his stroke looked good, so I figured it had to be a mental thing with him,'' Cousy said. "But he is shooting the free throws now. To use an analogy from golf, it's like staying with the putt and following through, rather than just hitting it.
"To me, the kid has every base covered in terms of responsibilities for a point guard," Cousy said. "He does all of those. He rebounds. He gets the steals. He's the real deal."
Then, after a dramatic pause, Cousy concluded, somewhat sadly, "He's going to be a big part of the rebuilding process, isn't he?"
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
Celtics legend says Rondo's the first point guard (since himself) to get excited about.