Rajon Rondo has done wonders masking the offensive declines of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. But he has also struggled to create offense when flanked by terrible offensive players like Kendrick Perkins and marginal ones like Tony Allen (weak in the halfcourt) and Glen Davis (just weak).
Until the Celtics’ unlikely run to the 2010 finals, it seemed the 2010-11 season would feature a remade roster filled with the younger athletes we’ve long assumed would thrive paired with Rondo’s speed, court vision and passing skills. That renovation was delayed a year so the C’s could host their Injured & Infirm convention but with that approach safely discredited, we can give a little more thought to the ideal running mates to put with RR.
Here are some thoughts on five guys who could see their offensive production seriously enhanced by playing with Rondo.
This is notional, but I’ve tried to be at least vaguely realistic in suggesting players the Celtics could ask after over the next couple of years. Otherwise, the list would be filled with names like Blake Griffin, Lebron James and Amare Stoudemire: guys who aren’t changing addresses anytime soon.
What kind of players work best with Rondo? Some thoughts after the jump.
We know Rondo optimizes Boston’s offense when surrounded by good shotmakers. The big three are all excellent jumpshooters and Rondo has proven adept at getting them the ball where they can do the most damage with it.
But how many times over the last few years have we heard Doc Rivers tell his team they’re not pushing the pace? And how often has Rondo finally started walking the ball up, knowing he’s fast-breaking by himself? Far too many points have been abandoned in favor of leisurely strolls up the court.
The common wisdom seems accurate. To truly maximize Rondo’s effectiveness, you need 1) athletes filling the lanes who can finish strong at the rim and 2) dead-eye shooters spacing the floor. As well, we got a half-season glimpse of what it looks like when Rondo penetrates and lobs the ball up to a big with good hands. You want more Shaq than Perk in your center.
Before we get to the list of players, here’s a totally gratuitous Rondo assist reel, one of the few on youtube not set to a Kanye West track. It’s also a depressing reminder the Celtics were still playing ball this time last year.
FIVE GOOD FITS
Dwight Howard. Howard’s going to pick his destination and a cold weather city with no movie industry probably doesn’t rank high up his list. But more than ever, the league zeitgeist is about winning titles as a measure of manhood, and Howard’s preferred teams may not have the cap space or trade assets to acquire him. The sight of Rivers, Rondo, Paul Pierce and an ownership group focused on rings or bust may start to look appealing.
It’s unpleasant to think of Howard and Rondo both bricking free throws down the stretch of close games, but with Howard’s inside game and the defensive potency the two could bring, there may not be that many close games. And the C’s could manufacture all sorts of halfcourt baskets merely by the fact that defenders who can’t stop Rondo from penetrating will struggle to get help from defenders who don’t want to come off Howard’s body as RR streaks to the rim. Howard has never played with a PG like Rondo before.
Josh Smith. Smith has also never played with a PG like Rondo before. Sure, he’s a knucklehead with an infatuation for ill-timed three-pointers that rivals Michael Bay’s love of helicopters at sunset, but Smith would look dynamite throwing down Rondo passes for bowel-shaking dunks in transition. And he could easily pick up some alley-oop stuffs in the halfcourt, a la KG.
Smith is an impactful guy on defense, still only 25 and his contract is reasonable, with two years remaining at $12.5M and $13.3M. It’s not an easy match but Atlanta may be looking to shed salary and Boston has a number of creative ways to absorb it between now and next summer. And a couple of draft picks to throw into the mix.
JR Smith. Another worrying locker room presence and another guy who’s never seen a bad shot he recognized as a bad shot. Still, he’s an enormous finisher, and a capable long range shooter who could hit his potential with Rondo feeding him the ball in a more tightly controlled offense. A free agent post-lockout, he may be out of the Celtics’ price range, but not by much. The kind of talented, pseudo-reclamation project Danny Ainge loves. And yet another guy who has never played with a PG like Rondo.
Nicolas Batum/Gerald Wallace. More (potentially) great system defenders who can shoot a bit, run and finish. Sense a pattern here?
Batum’s apparently beloved by the Blazers but his restricted free agency in 2012 comes at an inopportune time for Portland. They owe $36M to Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge alone in 2012-13, with the possibility of Greg Oden sucking up another (guessing) $8-10M on their cap. Can they really afford both of these small forwards too? Can they find enough minutes for them even if they can? Batum will probably be the one to have but Wallace won’t turn 30 until next July. He should still have plenty left. Either one would look good on the court with Rondo.
Who else should Boston target and why?