With the rash of injuries to many of our favorite All-Star players, the NBA season went from exciting, to, well, quite boring. Fans thought they would watch the likes of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook battle this year for an NBA championship. Instead, these superstars are doing the same things as the fans: watching. The Eastern Conference boasts three teams with winning records, out of 15 total teams, and four teams which have lost at least twice as many games as they’ve won. One of those franchises is the Boston Celtics, who just received a late Christmas gift: The return of their franchise player, Rajon Rondo.
In a league dominated by perimeter shooting and scoring, Rajon Rondo is a flashback. The floor general that values assists more than points, passing up every opportunity to score if he can put his teammates in the same position. The NBA is in the age of the scoring point guard, the guard that averages close to 20 points and seven or eight assists. These are the “point” guards that are being discussed as the top point guards of the NBA. Besides the play of Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo is on another level compared to everyone else. Rondo is the Peyton Manning of point guards — it doesn’t matter who is on the court with him, he will put them in position to succeed.
Even rookie head coach Brad Stevens is aware of how important Rondo is.
“Listen, when Rajon’s on the court, I’m telling you, everybody has a better idea of where they’re supposed to be because he helps remind them and point them in that direction,” Stevens said, via The Boston Herald, following a recent practice session in which Rondo predictably raised his intensity. “He’s a natural point guard. He’s a natural leader. He’s one of the best in the business at it. And that’s what the best are supposed to do; they’re supposed to make others better, and he’s really good at it.”
Even though he’s never averaged over 14 points per game in his seven-year career, he is considered among the elite point guards in the NBA for a reason. For the past three seasons, Rondo hasn’t averaged less than 11.0 assists per game. Rondo led the league in assists per game in 2012-2013 (11.1) and 2011-2012 (11.7), while finishing second in 2010-2011 with 11.2 assists per game. Entering his eighth season with the Celtics, Rondo boasts career averages of 11.1 points, 8.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
But Rondo is coming back to a Celtics team he is not familiar with. The last time Rondo suited up for the Celtics, he was still throwing passes to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and running plays from Doc Rivers. Rondo is not returning to a team similar to the one he won an NBA championship with in 2008. These are uncharted waters. Rondo is taking the reins of a team right in rebuild mode, stashing away picks and trading away once valued players like rapid fire.
Kobe Bryant understands this and said of Rondo: “From what I understand, he’s an a**hole like me, so he’ll manage”.
When healthy, Rajon Rondo is unquestionably a top-five player at his position. Trade rumors about Rondo are premature and ludicrous. Rondo is only 27 years old, the same age that Paul Pierce was when the Celts “tanked” during the ’06-07 season. The Celtics would be smart to keep Rondo and build around him, especially with Rondo having a few years left on his deal. Plus, what NBA GM wants to trade for a player coming off of a major knee injury that will command max money when his current deal is up?
Either way, this isn’t about the future, this is about right now. The Celtics are currently in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at 14-28 and have won just two games since before Christmas, but are still only 3.5 games out of the eighth seed in the East. The playoffs are still a very serious reality for Boston. With a conference as horrid as the East, a five or six-game winning streak could bring the Celtics out of purgatory.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are no longer in Boston and for the first time in his career, Rondo has the chance to be the unquestioned leader of the franchise. Rajon Rondo will have to prove his greatness, with a less than stellar supporting cast, compared to the Hall of Famers he’s use to working with. However, one of the reasons Rondo is such a game-changing player is the fact that he makes everyone around him better, not just himself. Plus, there is still talent in Boston.
Kelly Olynyk recently had the best game of his career, scoring 25 points and adding seven assists and five rebounds. Jeff Green is averaging 15.6 points this season and Avery Bradley is averaging 14.7 points to complement his tenacious defense. Jared Sullinger is having a career year, recently recording a 25-point, 20-rebound game (which was the first 20-20 game since Kevin Garnett in 2007-2008) while averaging 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds this season. These players can only improve with Rajon Rondo on the floor. Rondo will create more open looks and even if they aren’t open, he will find a way to get the ball to them.
Rondo’s impact will be felt the second he steps on the court. The Celtics have been playing without an actual point guard on the floor this season. Jordan Crawford (who the Celtics conveniently traded a few days before Rondo’s return) had been running the point for the Celtics and I’m sure Crawford wouldn’t get offended if you told him he wasn’t anything close to Rondo. I went to the 2011-2012 season for some of Rondo’s statistics, since that was the last time he really played something close to a full season (only 38 games last season before tearing his ACL).
Check out these charts comparing the play of Rajon Rondo and Jordan Crawford.
These are Rondo’s floor time stats from 2011-2012, below will be Crawford’s from this season (per 82games.com).
Jordan Crawford is not a point guard, he’s a prototypical gunner. He’s had a decent season with Boston, averaging 13.7 points and 5.7 assists, but that’s child’s play compared to Rajon Rondo. With Crawford now in Golden State and Rondo in uniform with the Celtics, things will revert back to normal.
The Celtics are 22nd in total assists this season with 812. The last time Rondo saw major court action in 2011-2012, the Celtics were second in total assists with 1,557. Rondo accounted for 620 of these assists, or 40 percent of the Celtics total assists. The Celtics are an entirely different team when Rajon Rondo is in uniform. He will have to play at a higher level than he’s ever played at to revive the Celtics, but it’s certainly a possibility.
Rajon Rondo made his season debut for the Celtics on Friday night, scoring eight points, dishing four assists and grabbing four rebounds, and will play in his third game tonight against the champion Heat, a team he still despises.
In the early stages of Friday night’s action, Rondo looked like a new student, throwing up a few misses and an air ball. To tell the truth, Rondo is almost a new student with the Celtics… or more appropriately a new teacher with new students. Coming off major knee surgery, Rondo will take time to return to his old form, but all I had to see was his legendary behind-the-back fake pass and I knew he was back. In limited minutes, Rondo showed flashes of the brilliant player he is, pounding transition passes to streaking cutters for easy fast-break finishes.
The Celtics lost their first two games with Rajon Rondo back in the lineup, but that is minuscule compared to the bigger picture. The fact that Rajon Rondo is healthy and showing flashes of his former self in limited action should warm the hearts of the TD Garden faithful. The immediate results aren’t victories, but as Rondo becomes re-acclimated, the wins will come.
The Celtics looked like a team in tanking mode this season, but how can you tank with one of the top three point guards playing heavy minutes? Let me tell you a secret: Rondo doesn’t like losing. As long as he is on the floor for the Boston Celtics, he will do everything he can to lead this team to victory.
The Celtics might not be raising any Larry O’Brien trophies at the end of the season, but there’s no reason to believe this team won’t compete. In a conference without much star power, Miami and Indiana won’t be happy about possibly facing the Celtics in a playoff series with a healthy Rajon Rondo. Rondo won’t let the Celtics dwell into obscurity, either.
“I expect to win every night I compete,” he said, via SB Nation. “I think we have a lot of guys on the team that compete the same way I do. We’re going to be great.”
Be great Rajon, be great.
What do you think?
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