When the 2010 playoffs started a couple decades ago, there were a few things I knew would come true: Phil Jackson would play childish mind games with opposing stars, Vince Carter would choke away at least one game, Derek Fisher would get torched by every point guard he defends, and Lebron James or Kobe Bryant would be the playoffs’ best performer. It’s that last inevitable truth that I’m here to discuss today, mostly because — to this point at least — it hasn’t come true. At least according to one Orlando Sentinel writer.
Josh Robbins wrote that it hasn’t been Lebron or Kobe who’s been the league’s best player this postseason. Hell, it hasn’t even been Dwyane Wade or Kevin Durant. Nope, Robbins’ choice for the NBA’s best playoff performer this season is one Rajon Rondo.
The best all-around performer so far in the 2010 NBA playoffs doesn’t rank even among the four most well-known players on his own team.
Longtime stars Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace cast far larger profiles than their starting point guard, Rajon Rondo.
But that’s changing.
Rondo did more than anyone else to help the Boston Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Now, the 6-foot-1, 178-pound speedster is giving the Orlando Magic nightmares, too.
Rondo shredded the Magic defense as the Celtics won Game 2 Tuesday night 95-92.
He penetrated into the paint with relative ease and scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He also dished out eight assists and corralled five rebounds. All the while, he played outstanding defense.
“He just seems to be unquestionably when they’re on the floor the leader,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “And I don’t mean the leader that’s in guys’ face. But he’s controlling things on the offensive end of the floor. You see him out there, and he’s positioning everybody. He’s getting everybody set and he’s making a lot of the plays that create opportunities for the other guys.
“I just think it’s a confidence thing — that he’s continued to get better and better and better. He’s an all-star now. He’s an extremely confident guy, who’s obviously been in a lot of big games for a young guy.”
If I had told you a month and a half ago that Rajon Rondo was going to be called the NBA’s best player this postseason, you would have cackled in my face and recommended I check into a psychiatric ward. Sure, he was already an All-Star, but we never knew he was THIS good. We didn’t know he could take control of the Celtics, never mind the entire playoffs.
If you had discussed who’d be the league’s best player this postseason before the playoffs had started, there were so many reasons Rondo probably wasn’t mentioned. For one, his team was expected to be an early out. You can’t be the postseason’s best if you get knocked out early — just ask Dwyane Wade or Deron Williams. And the Celtics weren’t supposed to make it out of round two. Anyone who told you he expected the Celtics to be on the brink of the finals must have been either 1) as dumb as Dan Shaughnessy, 2) related to someone in the organization, or 3) Vin Baker’s drinking buddy. But even if you figured the Celtics would advance this far, Rondo STILL wouldn’t have made the list.
When the playoffs began, it wasn’t even clear that Rondo was his own team’s best player, never mind possibly the NBA’s best postseason performer. Rondo had been the C’s most important and consistent player all season, but I still thought Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett was the key to playoff success. I didn’t know the Celtics could rely on Rondo, at least not to the extent that they have. I remembered what Rondo did last postseason, but we figured that dominance was partially because of KG’s absence. I didn’t think for a second he’d play even better than last postseason, but he has.
And really, has there ever been a player who took the leap to superstar so rapidly? Just last year, Stephon Marbury was considered an important midseason acquisition mostly because he could spell Rondo when Rondo had off games. The year before that, Rondo was benched in multiple fourth quarters in favor of Sam Cassell and Eddie House. Now, Rondo getting pulled in the fourth quarter is impossible. You don’t sub for your best player, no matter how poorly he’s played or how hot someone else gets. And Rondo is definitively the Celtics’ best player. He has ridden up the elevator to the tenth floor, but completely skipped over the 8th and 9th. It’s not just the big games Rondo has had, either — it’s more the fact that he’s been in control of every. Single. Game. He doesn’t take games off anymore, never. Hell, he doesn’t even take plays off. His consistency has been marvelous. He’s even learned how to become a valuable fourth-quarter contributor, one of his kryptonites heading into this season — really, even heading into this postseason.
And while Robbins is probably still exaggerating when he says Rondo has been the league’s best player this postseason (sorry, C’s fans, but Kobe Bryant has been unbelievable), Rondo deserves to be mentioned in the discussion. That’s far more than I ever would have wagered on a month and a half ago. He’s grown up, blossoming into one of the league’s finest studs.
Knowing how quickly Rondo has matured as a player, I try to think about what his ceiling may be. Can he be the league’s best point guard? Its best player? Can he?
I thought about it for a long time, but I couldn’t decide what Rondo’s ceiling is. Maybe I can’t decide because it’s almost impossible to imagine a point guard playing too much better than Rondo has played, on both ends of the floor, this postseason. Maybe it’s because I can’t see Rondo ever becoming as good as Lebron James, but I just saw him outplay Lebron in a playoff series. Maybe it’s because there is such a gaping flaw in Rondo’s game, but it arguably makes him better because it forces him to play to his strengths. Maybe it’s because Rondo has grown so rapidly, yet I still wonder how much more he can improve.
While I still couldn’t determine where Rondo’s ceiling is, I know a couple things about it: 1) It’s pretty damn high.
And 2) It’s going to be beyond fun to see him get there.