Deciding Rajon Rondo’s place in the NBA hierarchy is similar to strapping on Cedric Ceballos’ blindfold, taking 12 spins on a dizzy bat and attempting to find the middle of a maze, knowing that A) your destination is hidden quite well and B) it tends to move drastically depending on the day, like one of those magically rotating rooms in Hogwarts.
Rondo is as confusing as Tim Thomas’ NBA draft day attire, capable of dropping 32, 15 and 10 one night yet encouraging a barrage of trade requests from Celtics fans with a listless effort the next. He is a 26-year old, three-time All-Star with one of the NBA’s best contracts, yet he is constantly on the trading block. He went from starting for Team USA one week to being cut (or mysteriously departing after receiving a DNP-CD) the next. He can control an entire game in his gigantic mitts, but sometimes his flaws — which might be more glaring than any other All-Star’s — burst to the surface and leave the Celtics at a severe disadvantage.
Knowing all that, Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote on TrueHoop about Rondo’s value being quite difficult to assess, and how Boston’s unique lead guard might actually be overrated.
There is a platonic ideal for the point guard position, and that is to be an unselfish distributor. Rajon Rondo passes that test, no pun intended. The man is second in assists this year, and he notched a whopping 11.2 per game last year. For this reason, Rondo is considered a “pure point guard,” the way other role-fitting stars might be considered “pure scorers.” That he embodies an archetype might help explain how Rondo received a No. 17 #NBARank after a season in which he garnered a No. 69 PER.
But Rondo does not fit my platonic ideal for a point guard, because Boston’s offense, to put it mildly, stinks. They are 23rd ranked in offensive efficiency this year, and this season is not exactly aberrational. In five-plus years with Rajon, the Celtics have only had a top 10 offense once. There are external factors to explain the anemic attack, but Rondo might be somewhat to blame despite his respectable PER.
Before I arrive at the same conclusion Strauss did — yes, Rondo is exceedingly difficult to rate among his peers, mostly because there isn’t anybody else like him, and maybe hasn’t ever been — I’d like to discuss a few portions of Strauss’ argument, mixed in with some of my own points.
Rondo leads a team ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency
Yes, he does. But there’s a mammoth gap between how the Celtics perform with Rondo compared to without him. Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Cavaliers, the Celtics were 10.01 points per 100 possessions better with Rondo on the court. With Rondo on the court, the Celtics have a 103.95 offensive efficiency, which would be good enough for seventh in the league. And the trend holds. The Celtics were almost 10 points better with Rondo on the court last season, and have always been significantly better offensively with Rondo on the court, even dating back to his first year as a starter. And when Rondo sits? This season, the Celtics would be 29th in offensive efficiency, better only than the Charlotte Bobcats.
That’s awesome. But how do you explain Boston’s record without Rondo this season?
They’re now 6-4 without him. The last two losses came during Rondo’s suspension, by an average of 15.5 points. I understand the Celtics were 6-2 during Rondo’s injury absence earlier this season — as I said, there’s no NBA player who makes it more difficult to accurately gauge his impact.
What’s up with Rondo’s inconsistency?
Okay, so he’s inconsistent. He wins come playoff time
And Rondo doesn’t just win in the playoffs. He unleashes triple-doubles of fury and sometimes goes through entire series (think: Cleveland in 2010) when he plays like the league’s MVP. But then he also has series where he looks depressingly normal (think: Orlando and Los Angeles in 2010), most often when opponents’ Rondo formula catches up to him: Sagging defense + interior defensive presence = limited Rondo
I told you this discussion isn’t easy.
Don’t the Celtics have ways to beat the sag?
But still, some teams tend to use the sag far better than most
Yes, they do. Rondo’s flaws occasionally catch up to him at the worst times. Due to their interior length and Kobe’s prowess as a help defender, the Lakers seem to defend Rondo better than anyone else. Not every team can magnify Rondo’s flaws and render them important, but the Lakers (and some of the league’s other best teams) do seem to.
But then: In the 2010 Finals I mentioned briefly earlier, the one in which Rondo “struggled,” he averaged 13.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds on 45.4 percent shooting. And he came within minutes of leading the Celtics to the title as clearly their best player in the playoffs. With a hobbled Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce not playing to his standards and Ray Allen failing to hit a three in four of the seven Finals games. Now I’m just confused. Did Rondo struggle? Was he magnificent? Can he do both at the same time? Does anybody have some Advil?
And what about the fourth quarters?
Why does Rondo often seem to disappear down the stretch? Is that Doc Rivers’ plan? Rondo simply deferring to Pierce and Allen out of respect? Rondo’s flaws emerging at the wrong time? Does anybody have any idea?
Is everyone else as bamboozled as I am by now?
I hope so. I thought this was going to help explain Rondo’s place in the NBA. Instead, I’m arguing with myself and asking myself questions I can’t answer. This is what Rondo does to me.
So where the hell are we in this conversation?
Is Rondo flawed? Obviously. Fatally so? I don’t think so. Is he one of the NBA’s best bargains? Certainly. Has he won an NBA title? Indeed. Was he a centerpiece on the Celtics then? No, but he almost brought them a title when he was the No. 1 guy, too. Is he one of the league’s best point guards? Yes. Does he deserve to be in the same category as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose? No. Would I want to play with him if I were an NBA star? Absolutely. Get open and he’ll find you. Are there days when fans will want to wave smelling salts in Rondo’s nostrils and urge him back to life? Yes. But will there also be days when he resides over the entire court like the other nine players are just his pawns? There sure will be. Can he be a little too stubborn? Sure. Is he competitive and talented enough that his stubbornness can often be overlooked? DO YOU NOT REMEMBER WHEN HE PLAYED WITH ONE ARM???
Okay, I’ll stop screaming now. Has any part of my rambling discussion made anything more clear? Sadly, I doubt it.
Overrated? I don’t think so. Nearly impossible to rate? More like it.