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Why Our Understanding Of Rondo Is Incomplete

If I took an informal poll of myself, I’d say I was 80% sure that the Celtics shouldn’t build around Rajon Rondo.

The reasons I’d give myself are the same ones you’d probably give, assuming you agree with me: you don’t build around players who can be left completely unguarded in the biggest moments of the biggest games, you don’t build around players who work best at a tempo that’s tough to maintain during playoff baskeball, you don’t build around a guy whose effort and impact comes and goes, it seems, based on his mood.

You build around superstars. And Rondo is not a superstar.

At least I don’t think he is.

A few years ago, the common wisdom, as articulated in whiny cadence by analysts like Tony Parker, was that Rondo’s output was buttressed by his three Hall of Fame teammates. This was true, to the extent that any point guard who creates a lot of shots relies on teammates who make a lot of shots. But the fact that Rondo was not a dominant scorer, but rather a limited one, carried almost too much weight in the conversation around his value.

He was too strange to be immediately appreciated.

Over the last couple of years, our understanding has changed as Rondo has piled up some enormous games, like the 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists he used to bury Cleveland in the 2010 playoffs, and the 32, 10 and 15 he put up yesterday. On certain nights, Rondo does things almost no one else in the league can do on offense, and his defense, for the all the gambling he does, remains strong.

But he doesn’t play well every night, much less brilliantly. And playing well every single game is a hallmark of the best players in the league. When Rondo fails to attack or the game morphs into a serious of slow, brutal half-court possessions, he can be a liability on offense.

The best point guards in the league cannot be rendered inert by a slow pace. Rondo can.

And yet — that’s my hesitation at writing him off as a cornerstone piece. It seems entirely possible that Rondo’s game is being seriously hampered by all the court time he spends with the Big Three.

It sometimes seems cruel to hear Doc Rivers imploring Rondo to push tempo, when he often takes three steps only to find himself alone on the break. The Celtics are old, so they rarely run. They Celtics are old, so they run slow. The Celtics are old, so they get tired. The Celtics are old, so they don’t rebound. The Celtics are old, but Rondo is not.

JaJuan Johnson is nowhere near Garnett’s level as a player in every conceivable way but one: his ability to streak up and down the court in transition. But he might be a better fit to maximize what Rondo can do.

We saw flashes of that potential yesterday. With Johnson and Chris Wilcox flying up and down the court, Rondo was deadly. The series of dunks and layups and open three pointers generated by the Boston offense reinforced that there probably aren’t ten better guys in the league charging up-court against a scrambling defense than Rondo. He has that incredible ability to see passing lanes before they exist, create angles where they shouldn’t be and then wire the ball to guys so they can finish in stride. And he’s become a credible finisher himself, with all sorts of darting, wrong-footed flip layups, particularly going to his left. He’s taking 5.4 shots at the rim every game, which ties his career high.

Ultimately, I think we criticize Rondo fairly. But we do so without ever having seen him with the weapons necessary to optimize his skills. He is, in a weird way, much like the 2002 version of Pierce. Or the 2002 version of KG. An incredible talent playing with imperfect supporting parts and someone whose position in the league hierarchy comes into question as a result.

We can’t honestly say we’re certain about his ceiling as a player. I think there’s a legitimate possibility that Rondo could spearhead a 7 Seconds Or Less-style Boston team that could be a legitimate contender. I think in 2012-13, given a team built around his talents, he could cast aside any concerns about his capabilities and claim a spot at the head of the point guard table. I don’t think that’s a fantastical suggestion. It could happen.

But I don’t think it will happen. I think Danny Ainge may well decide to deal Rondo before we ever see what an uptempo team could really do. I think that decision may have been made months ago.

And if was, and if we see Rondo shipped out of town in the next month, or this summer, I’ll be 80% comfortable with that decision.

But I’m not sure I’ll be happy about it.

  • skeeds

    Senor DeGamma you are in my head. Excellent read.

    It's always nagging me that we're quick to torch a player as good as him, when he's clearly a fast offense kind of PG (ALL of his insticts and skills point to that, including the loose defense and the gambling for steals) playing for one of the slowest paced offenses in the league.

    Considering the behemoths rising in the east, and how unlikely it'll be for us to win a championship in the next 1-2 years because of them, I really hope we at least try and build a fast exciting team not with Rondo as a centerpiece, but with him as an instigator. (think Ty Lawson in Denver)
    If Ainge does indeed trade him, I just hope he gets his money's worth. Because for all his flaws, that kid will make a championship caliber team out of the Lakers, or Dallas, or even the Knicks (yes, the Knicks) in no time.

  • Sam

    I think being the team they are now you can’t really judge Rondo. Unlike Derrick Rose or Derrian Williams, Rondo never has had to score. He’s always had people on the team to score.

    So I don’t think it’s fair when people are judging him for not being a scorer; that being said, he can obviously be an offensive guy when he needs to. And up until this year, he hasn’t needed to be.

    I believe if Danny Ainge could keep our bench and got a few other (young) players once the Big Three leave, then you can definitely build around Rondo. Being a PG for the Celtics isn’t easy, and with how much Rondo likes to steal the ball and run with it; he doesn’t get much help. But like you said, we saw glimpses of that yesterday. And I hope Ainge saw that too.

    Rondo can be the Celtics superstar. Keep him with the Celtics, get him young teammates and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

    • LACelticFan

      Let's see Rondo dislocates his elbow in a playoff game, comes back and now although his toughness is no longer questioned, the other parts of his game are explored. So he goes out and improves his shot, so now he takes the open jumper and although he will never be a Ray Allen, the other parts of his game are explored. So he rebounds, passes, steals and some say well, he doesn't push the ball enough. Well if you don't have anybody running with you, the smart basketball choice is not to run despite what your coach is screaming. And still others say that he isn't a closer. But we have Paul Pierce, who is our closer. Pierce is one of the top closers in the league. Ray Allen is still one of the top clutch players in the league. Even Nash would give the ball to these two guys. This is silly, some C's fanatics want him to be a do all PG when there are none in the league. Rondo averages 15ppg 5rpg 10apg. (Responsible for roughly 35ppg) Dont know what else anybody wants? Rondo should remain a Celtic 4ever.

  • C`s should waived J.O`Neal & S.Pavlovic by next week so they can go after the 2005 6th man of the year B.Gordon during the All-Star Weekend he can average 16 points off the bench. Ainge should make a 3 team trade with Detroit & Houston. Detroit get J.Flynn,T.Williams,Bradley, & 1st round pick. Houston get T.Prince,M.Daniels, & Moore. In March Ainge should trade Wilcox,Johnson,Dooling, & 2nd round pick to Phoenix for R.Lopez & C.Frye. After the deadline Ainge should sign A.Brooks a back PG who can score and defend. The C`s will come out the East with this roster along with Pietrus & Bass.

    • CelticsBIG3

      You post a more ridiculous trade each time you do this. The times it should happen are the same just the crap players you name change.

    • green-boner

      shut the fuck up.

      • Batman

        i love your name green-boner

  • Batman

    I don’t really understand why we have to build AROUND Rondo
    Why can’t we build WITH Rondo?

    • JR99

      Easy for you to say! But who's on first?

    • SBackus

      Exactly. It's not like he's making 20 million a year. He is your starting point guard, just like when they won banner 17. I think he has shown enough comfort with the mid range jumper that he can play any style. It's always been a problem when Kobe plays his one man zone though. Rondo with any combo of players beyond the big 3 would be interesting. Picture Rondo, Pietrus, Jeff Green, JuJuan Johnson and Chris Wilcox. They would get out and run.

      • CelticsBIG3

        I was in the Garden yesterday afternoon. Watching him run the floor with Wilcox and Johnson was phenomenal. Think even back to 08', when the BIG3 had less miles on their wheels and how they even used to run then. Think back to the fast break dunks KG used to throw down on people… (All over Theo Ratliff in the Eastern Conference Finals comes to mind) This team at one time had success in running. Think back to how much more frequently Ray used to get transistion threes running with Rondo. When Rondo has people to motor with him he's just great out there.

    • skeeds

      The Dark Knight preaches the truth.

  • Tos

    Interesting read, but I’m not so sure. I think, for Ainge, it’s comes down to what he can get in return, and the answer is: Not enough.

    A few points to consider: 1. Rondo’s contract is incredibly favorable. 2. Ainge was the one brining in Wilcox, JJJ, Bass – all of which have played well to Rondo’s style. (may also want to mention Jeff Green in this as well) 3. The team doesn’t NEED to trade Rondo, and it makes the least sense To trade your youngest-high level talent.

    How I’d feel about a Rondo trade would completely relie on who he is traded for. And I just don’t think there are teams out there that, A. Want Rondo and B. have the pieces they’re willing to give up to get him.

    • smalltownID

      Great point Tos, hopefully someone is willing to give up real assets for a flawed pg. There is usually someone out there desperate but chances aren't great.

      Excellent article Degama. But you fail to highlight Rondo's greatest weakness as a pg: closing games. I tuned into the last 5 minutes of the game, saw his numbers but I was lacking the the positive emotion since I missed his earlier stellar play. He was, as usual, terrible at the end of the game. Two unforced turnovers and almost gave the game away. Chicago was practically rolling over and we still tried to give them the win.

      Rondo is bad for the Celtics bc we have to rely on Pierce to run the offense closing games and obviously there would be advantages for Rondo to play with guys that can run. This doesn't change the fact you guard him the exact same way in transtion every time regardless of who he plays with. It would simply give Rondo more options playing with younger guys, 3 on 2 is always better than 1 on 2. For this reason I do love the idea of trying to get JJJ and others to run with him in transition to offset this current Celtic paradox.

      Again, great article, I too would be 80% ok with it.

      • zach

        Let's not forget that Rondo has won BIG games with rebounds and pinpoint passes (rember the pass to the cutting Peirce for the baseline dunk). Why would you trade your best young player on a great contract unless you get something great in return. Rondo is one of the few team oriented PGs out their – look at the lack of success Washington has had with the superior offensive talents of John Wall

        • smalltownID

          This is true Zach. Tis easier to just take care of the ball with solid ball handling and good passing to win games though. I know it is not the hero ball the NBA loves to push but I like winning. I could care less about the flash.

  • smalltownID

    As much as his game drives me nuts I love the fact his mantra is unlike so many other guys in the league. Shut up and let your play do the talking. (e.g. not talking to the media after a good game overall).

  • CG12

    Rondo is definitely mis-cast as the PG of the current Celtics. A guy like Andre Miller, with a crafty game based on angle and getting an inch on his guy, would fit a lot better with the games of the New Big 3. I have long thought that Rondo would be awesome with the Clippers or Golden State, one of those wide-open teams out West. The Cs playing style is just about the exact WORST for Rondo, who clearly needs open court to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. He is not a half-court point guard, largely because of his shooting. If the man guarding the Cs PG had to respect the outside shot, it would open up so much for the passing and cutting the Cs do when the offense is really humming. They manage to have some success in the half-court in spite of the pressure Rondo's weak outside shooting puts on the rest of his teammates.

    I do wonder if the post New Big 3 plan is to get rid of the old, methodical guys, and go with some young bucks who run the floor, play aggressive defense, and generally play far faster than the Cs do now. For someone who loves fast play, like me, that would be seriously awesome.

  • ripsonics


    even if.. and I know this is a big if.. we got DH, we wouldn't be a run and gun team. Thats not the type of system Doc wants to run.. and even if Doc switched his system to accommodate his players, that system hasn't worked.. at least while I've been watching bball. The teams that win are those that can execute the best in the half court – both offensively and defensively. It may not be true in football anymore, but it still holds true in bball – DEFENSE wins championships, not seven seconds or less.

    Rondo is a terrific player.. I am just not sure he is what Danny wants. The big three are getting old, and do not want to run the whole time – they definitely won't be able to do it for a playoff series, let alone four back to back. We need a PG that can execute the offense in the half court. If rondo walked the ball up the court every time and we still got a good shot, i don't know if there would be anyone here that would be upset with that. but its basically 4 on 5 when rondo walks the ball up cause no one trusts his jumper. I'd take a PG that averaged 15 ppg and 7 apg and could SHOOT over rondo's triple double ability every day of the week because that would spread the floor, and keep people honest.

    One last thing on PP yesterday – we may have given deng a lot of credit for shutting down paul, but lets not forget to give paul credit for shutting down deng. he did deng good….hah

    GO C's

    • skeeds

      You know, upbeat offense doesn't mean D'Antoni system, that definitely won't get you rings. A good example would be the Spurs, an excellent half court team that has a similar problem, in that Tony Parker is their worst shooter on the floor at all times.

      TP is the craftiest scorer in his position by far, and Rondo should better copy a move or 2 (teardroooop), which makes him a lethal pick n roll player even when the defense collapses. Furthermore, the Spurs capitalize on Parker's and Ginobili's ability to pretty much ridicule any defender in transition, and make sure there are young guys to run with them.
      When the Spurs were winning, the most distinctive thing was this 2 speed offense. Duncan might be the best player to ever set a pick, and well, TP used to be considered (and for good reason) the fastest player in the league. All in all, best of both worlds.

      • ripsonics

        yeah i hear you on that..

        TP is a better shooter tho than rondo, and he definitely made improvements over the years to a point where you had to guard him. Show me a team that guards TP at the free throw line while hes at the 3pt line.

        and i would love to be an excellent half court team! i just dont think rondo is the key to that.. cause when he comes off the pick, he has a jump shot that he doesnt take or misses (save.. last night) and if he doesnt shoot than what was the point of the pick and roll!

        i still say trade him..

  • IBleedGreen

    Perkins is the most overrated player in the NBA, Rondo is 2nd. Let the thumbs downs rain!!!!

    • Batman

      But everyone thinks Perkins sucks

  • High Rollers

    Very thoughtful post, Ryan D. Appreciate it. But you didn't really explain why you think DA is going to trade him.

    I have a feeling the only person people underestimate more than Rondo is perhaps Danny Ainge himself.

    Also, make no mistake, there is no superstar Rondo without his run with the Big Three these past five years. He got to invest his early career at the Hall of Fame Bank. That was the opportunity of a lifetime, and for all Rondo's chances to completely throw it away, as close as he may have come to that with misdeeds here and there, today he's still making deposits and collecting dividends. He's a smart kid growing into a savvy, seasoned, decorated vet himself. Making it through the day-to-day trials.

    Also make no mistake that Rondo has extended the run of the Big 3 long after most folks' anticipated them passing like bad milk. Rondo's coming-out party in the 2010 playoffs made that a fact. Just as they have made him better, he's helped them shine.

    As for half-court vs. Run Rondo Run. Since the kid was in college anybody who watched knew he needed to play like he was in Pamplona. Then, as now, he was "stuck" in primarily half-court systems. But isn't there a chance he's better now for it? Obviously he thrives with guys athletic enough to keep up, but without refining his vision, passing, speed, decision-making and finishing with the Three Wise Men all this time, we never would have seen what transpired yesterday… and what is yet to come. As for that irritating loss to the Lakers, there was a half-court play that broke down late in the game where Rondo patiently maneuvered into the lane for a runner that dropped. Don't tell me the kid can't handle the half-court. The half-court dead-zone is more about three or four out of five guys not moving or getting smothered by good D or simply not communicating. Anybody who pins that on Rondo should go watch AAU games instead, where judging is that simple because the basketball's that simple. (As time goes by Rondo is reading that free safety defense like a book, leading to these unbelievable performances. With the performances comes the confidence to blow by guys whether they're in his grill or spotting him ten. He's beginning to see everything, no matter what the writing on the wall says.)

    Yes, this strange season is a test. But it is for management as well. My money's on Ainge being as talented a student as 9, knowing that ace-ing this test means finding a way to keep Rondo growing in Green. DA's crib notes may read "Chris Paul," "Deron Williams," "Dwight Howard," but in a season full of pop quizzes Rondo will turn out to be the best answer.

    80% isn't good enough on this test. Just ask Jeremy Lin.

    • green-boner

      everything you say is true but if they cant get rondo to do this consistently by now hes gotta go.he could do what he did yesterday most of the time if he wasnt a stubborn headcase.

  • C's Fan in Lakerland

    Can someone deny Ainge access to cellphones, landlines and email until after the trading deadline? After trading Perkins, he should not be allowed even to THINK about any more trades. Add some bench strength and keep this team intact. The Big Three can still play (perhaps with reduced minutes) and Rondo for Nash is about the worst idea I've ever heard.

    • Rav

      Since he went to OKC, we've seen how bad Perkins really is. I'm glad they're the ones paying him $8.7 million a year for the next 4, and not us.

  • LACelticFan

    If your name was always brought up to be jettisoned from a championship caliber team/franchise as much as his is always named. You would be upset and moody too. As much as some would come on here and say that Rondo needs to play and be a professional, this is a business, yada yada yada. Dude is 25 years old and doesn't want to be traded to the Hornets or the Phoenix or elsewhere. He really wants to play along side the guys he considers his guys. So if he gets moody over not being named an allstar, and yall know DWill being named over him is a travesty, I say forgive the YOUNG guy. Name a PG better than him not named CP3. Rose is a SG playing PG. Nash is almost done. Westbrook is a SG playing PG and just as petulant at times. He is ahead of Jennings, Rubio, Wall, Lawson, etc etc.

  • celtics greece

    c mon guys are you kitting me the only guy that he s better pg that rondo is cp3 rondo is the best thing that we have now and trade is like doing the same and maybe worst mistake than trading kendrik c mon rondo for life in boston!!

  • darthdoogh

    There're no point in NOT make a rebuild around Rondo. There're no good PG for C's to take better that RR. Ray can play another 2 years and he said he doesn't want to leave Boston so sign him as Vet minimun with KG in a 6th man role (like Walton did). And there you has enough salary cap to sign a good center (like Hibbert) and fast players that can run along with RR. There's no way to panic. Danny knows it and we won't make Perkins mistake again…

  • LACelticFan

    From Chris Sheridan – Shame on Rajon Rondo, shame on the Boston Celtics … and shame on David Stern and the NBA if they let Rondo and the Celtics get away with a clear breach of NBA rules and locker room etiquette.

    Back in the day, a quote like that would earn a team a $25,000 fine, with a similar fine being assessed to the player for breaking the rules. NBA players are supposed to be available to the media for 45 minutes before the game (although a majority of them make themselves unavailable by hiding in the players' lounge) and also after the game. The public wants to know what they have to say, the reporters are there to convey that message to the public, and the media rules are in place to assure that the NBA is properly publicized. And when a player such as Rondo decides the rules do not apply to him, there are supposed to be consequences.

    From a concerned Rondo fan. – You guys talk so much ish about him on a day to day basis, running stories about why he should be traded, and why he shouldn’t be an all-star. Then you want him to sit around and answer your questions like everything should be all smiles and hallmark cards. Come off it! Rondo just can’t get a break.

    Celtics fan from Brooklyn, NY

    I agree, I agree.

  • Yeah

    All we gotta do is wait around for the time when we can reduce the salaries of our big three, then look at guys like Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins. Any roster that can have Ray and KG coming off the bench is a winner

  • ManiacPDN

    I agree that Rondo shouldn't be traded because I don't think that you can get equal market value. I do, however, disagree with your analogy of Rondo with earlier era Pierce and KG. No one doubted that KG was a superstar – even with incomplete supporting casts. You can legitimately doubt whether Rondo is a superstar. Very good player – yes. Superstar – I'm not sure. I never doubted that KG was a superstar.