With the most exciting moments of the offseason behind us, Celtics Town is counting down the Celtics’ roster from 16 to one. We’ll offer speculation on the role each player has to play, and where they’ll be in the rotation as we look towards the upcoming season. If you missed the last column in this series you can check it out here.
You could have made a compelling argument for Kevin Garnett as the most important player on the Celtics (last year the Celtics were a worse team defensively than the Charlotte Bobcats every time he sat down on the bench). However, with Garnett having signed what is likely his last contract, it’s time for Rajon Rondo to step into the spotlight and take ownership of a team I expect to be his long after Kevin and Paul are gone. The oft-dazzling point guard is one of only five players mentioned by ESPN as potential 2012-2013 NBA MVP’s, and the Celtics will only go as far as he takes them next season.
It goes without saying that the season Rondo had this past year was phenomenal. Rondo finished as the NBA’s assist leader while having a series of incredible prime-time games along the way that warranted statistical comparisons to Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson. In the playoffs he took another leap forward as he closed out the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and put together the best offensive game of his career in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Taking a more active role interacting with both the media and his teammates this summer, Rondo has emerged as the Celtics leader and the expectations for him next season will be greater both on and off the court.
For Rondo to take that final step towards becoming a complete point guard he has to start becoming more comfortable with his jump-shot this season, especially in the closing minutes of games. Footage of Rondo practicing supports the idea that Rondo’s vastly exaggerated jump-shooting woes have more to do with his deferential approach to the game than any mechanical flaw. But while he still has Garnett, Pierce, and Terry to help shoulder the fourth-quarter load in the coming years, Rondo’s role in closing out games will only increase from here on out, and he’s going to need a jump shot in order to do that. The groundwork for this has already been laid; Rondo was the best shooter in the NBA last year from the right elbow where he shot 57%. Being able to get to that spot, and making that shot consistently in crunch time, would go a long way towards making Rondo a more complete player. Magic Johnson mentioned this in the playoffs when talking about LeBron; the best way to get used to those big shots is to force yourself into taking them. That’s something Rondo will have to conquer in the coming years if he’s going to be “the guy.”
That being said, Rondo has plenty of time to make that transition. In the meantime, the Celtics’ roster has been tailored to suit his strengths with a much-needed injection of athleticism, and I think we’ll see a lot more full-court basketball than in years past. While we probably won’t witness the second coming of Dantoni’s seven second offense, it’s very possible we’ll be treated to a more athletic version of the 2012 San Antonio Spurs. Rondo’s at his best when he’s making his teammates look good, and with a lot more talent at his disposal than in the past few seasons, I expect another big year.
You can follow Jordan on Twitter, @OffensiveG.