BOSTON -- Al Jefferson remembers a time when there was once a young point guard who could do just about whatever he wanted on the court, except there was that one part of his game he just couldn't seem to get down.
For years, teams sagged off of Rajon Rondo on defense, basically rolling out a red carpet inviting him to attempt a jumpshot. Rondo's inconsistency impacted the way opponents guarded the Boston Celtics, as few viewed him as an offensive threat on a team of sharpshooters.
But Jefferson has watched something happen since he was traded from the Celtics to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007. He has seen Rondo go from a 20-year-old rookie who was trying to establish a game outside the paint to a 26-year-old three-time All-Star who now boasts a jumper as part of his repertoire to go along with his stealthy defense and crafty court vision.
"The only thing I felt like he needed was a jumpshot, and he's hitting that consistently now," Jefferson said following the Celtics 98-93 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at TD Garden. "You can't stay in front of him, and now he's hitting that jumper and you've got to respect it. He's just getting better and better."
Rondo scored six of the Celtics first 12 points against the Jazz, including a 16-foot jumper on a fast break and a 20-foot jumpshot from Jason Terry. This season he is shooting 51.0 percent from the field, up from 44.8 percent last season. The enhancement in his game has given the Celtics more options on offense and forcing their opponents to alter their defensive strategies. Rondo is averaging 14.3 points per game.
"It changes big time," Jefferson said of guarding the C's. "You used to be able to sag off him and help out on other guys, but you can't now. Especially when he's hitting that jumper and attacking the basket, it's hard to defend him."
Jefferson didn't get to see his former teammate play the entire game -- Rondo was sidelined by a sprained right ankle in the third quarter. But the big man has watched Rondo progress enough over the years to recognize his potential in the rest of his career.
"I saw him being this kind of player when we were back in high school in the All-American game," he said. "I knew he could be something special. He's got a high IQ for the game."
Now he has a jumper as well.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.