The case for Rajon Rando: How the Atlanta Hawks leadership role has drastically shifted

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The Atlanta Hawks are young, very young. With more than half of the roster under the age of 25, the team is in a position of both abundant potential and drastic inexperience. Because of their youth, it’s pivotal that a veteran personality is present, one that can encourage in times of anguish and celebrate in times of glee.

Before the suspension of the NBA season last year, that player was Vince Carter. As we all know, Carter is now retired. So how have the Hawks filled the need for a composed yet tactical veteran? I give you Rajon Rondo

Atlanta may have played the most eloquent ‘Uno reverse card’ of the entire 2021 NBA season. Switching from a future Hall of Famer and respected veteran to Rondo — who, in polite terms, is controversial — was a complete turnaround for the Hawks leadership position. But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Maybe Rondo’s unpopular tactics have some validity (After all, he has been able to keep himself in the NBA’s limelight for over 15 years). 

After 20 games, sitting right at .500, the Hawks are in a substantially better position than they were at this point last season, but does Rondo fit into the team’s increased success? 

To be completely honest, he doesn’t, at least not directly. Most of the Hawks on-court success has evaded Rondo. He’s only played in half the team’s games, averaging 4.1 points and 3.7 assists per contest, but those numbers don’t paint the entire picture. 

The Hawks most recent visit to Washington D.C. is a perfect example. Entering as a surefire loser and leaving with a double-digit win was thanks in some part to Rondo. Late in the fourth quarter, Wizards star point guard Russell Westbrook was ejected following his second technical, in what most would consider a blatant and transparent tactical move by Rondo. The result was costly for the Wizards, who would go on to lose embarrassingly. Whether Rondo’s antics are controversial or not, they worked, all but solidifying the Hawks’ win on the night. 

That’s not to say Rondo won the Hawks the game; he clearly did not. However, the 16-year veteran understands when to apply pressure and intrude into the minds of opponents. Inexperienced players like Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter could stand to gain, at the very least, the mental insight that Rondo brings to the table. While basketball fundamentals might not include these traits, they are nonetheless a significant part of the game, and Rondo adds value where other veterans may not. 

The Hawks certainly took an unconventional approach in revamping their leadership role in 2021, but the value that Rondo adds cannot go unnoticed. While his on-court play and double-edged personality can hinder a team’s unity at times, his overall knowledge of the game and insight into the mental aspect, when paired with the proper coaching and utilization, could help a desperate and ambitious young team grow as a group. 

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