Two point guards. Two completely different games. You know the position is in good hands when one team has a defensive disrupter who sets people up as well as anyone in the league while the other is lead by a player who thinks attack first and attack harder second, and yet both are considered all-league players who can lead a team deep in the playoffs.
Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are two of the players who figure to lead the NBA into the next generation. There isn’t a thing they can’t do and each has their own individual strengths. But for the past couple of months, both have faced criticism. Their styles have come under fire: Rondo for being too passive, Russ for attacking too much. It comes with the territory. Much is expected of them. But as different as they are, at their core they’re both fantastic guards regardless of what some people say.
Who’s better? We argue. You decide.
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The amount of players that make others around them better in the NBA can be counted on two hands. They are a rare commodity. Rajon Rondo happens to fit in that category. With the decline of Steve Nash, Rondo is the best playmaker in the league. His ability to create for others is simply unmatched in the NBA. He averaged 13.2 assists per game in November and December combined, and finished the year just behind Nash for the NBA lead in assists at over 11 per game. That’s three more assists than Russell Westbrook averaged.
Some could make the argument that this is a function of the players around him, but that simply is not the case. Watching Rondo play, it’s obvious that his elite level of quickness and court vision allows players such as Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis to do what they do best: spot up and shoot.
The point guard is supposed to be the facilitator for the rest of the team. They rely on him to get the rest of the players on the court involved and there is no doubt that Rondo is significantly more reliable than Westbrook. Westbrook’s 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio compared to Rondo’s 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio speaks for itself.
Also, something that frustrates many about Westbrook is his tendency to take questionable shots. There is no doubt that Westbrook is a better shooter, but he doesn’t need to take many of the wild shots that he does. Rondo plays within himself, always focusing on how he can manage all of the players around him. This is no easy task either. Since Rondo is playing around a core of three potential Hall of Famers, satisfying three gargantuan egos isn’t easy. Somehow, Rondo knows how to keep everyone happy, while managing to explode for occasional big scoring nights.
He might not be a high-volume scorer, but Rajon Rondo is a master of the point guard position, something Russell Westbrook is not.
21.9 PPG, 8.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG. These are the stats of a man living in the shadow of the NBA’s scoring leader. He has blinding athleticism, superb court vision, the ability to finish near the rim and a solid jump shot. In short, Russell Westbrook is a Derrick Rose waiting in the wings.
But this is a comparison, so let’s do exactly that. On the Celtics, Rondo fills a role. With Pierce and Allen taking care of the scoring, Rondo happily distributes. Westbrook, on the other hand, must and does execute a two-pronged assignment. With no one but Durant able to consistently create his own shot, Westbrook must manage personalities and ensure full team involvement. When the offense needs an infusion of energy and scoring, Westbrook unleashes the full breadth of his offensive arsenal. This is where the difference lies. Rondo’s scoring is limited by his lack of three-point range and mediocre midrange jumper. We’ve all seen it: whoever guards Rondo stands 10 feet away. Despite Rondo’s amazing ability to compensate for such a disadvantage, it is a disadvantage nonetheless. And because of his shooting deficiency, an extra defender can play help defense easier.
Westbrook is not hampered by this limitation. This is not to say that Westbrook’s jumper is outstanding. But the threat that his three pointer poses forces defenders to inhabit his personal space. While Rondo may be a point guard in the purest sense, Westbrook is a complete player. He can be the second-best player (and in a few years, possibly the best) on a championship team. Rondo however, cannot. The Oklahoma City Thunder has a legitimate shot at the NBA title with a top-five NBA player, as well as Westbrook and a bunch of well-defined role players. The Celtics, on the other hand, have three All-Stars, not including Rondo, and similar role players. Yet their shot at the title is essentially the same. Put Rondo on the Thunder and the all-around point guard play disappears along with their title shot. Put Westbrook on the Celtics and they are most likely the favorites in the Eastern Conference. No longer would their point guard avoid the paint in crunch time to escape his free-throw line woes. No longer would their point guard be able to score only in transition or through a wide array of floaters. Instead, he would bring everything that Rondo lacks.
In the NBA, we judge greatness through a player’s ability to take over a game in multiple ways. This is Russell Westbrook.
Who would you rather have?
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