Rajon Rondo turns 26 tomorrow. He will be celebrating at home because he threw a basketball at somebody at work. Probably just a small gathering of friends for some burgers at Bartley’s, followed by drinks and Rock Band back at his place. Kevin Garnett rolls in after the game to crush some Faith No More on vocals, Bryan Doo sips a Bud Platinum in the corner. Just a solid night with buds.
You could arbitrarily call his 26th birthday the last day of Rondo’s superstar window. it’s true that most players, by that age, demonstrate all the essential skills they’ll have for the rest of their careers. You could also say Rondo has one or two years left to fully develop into a superstar, or you could say that window closed two years ago. There’s no way to be wrong in this discussion.
Still, to inform it, we have the 2011-2012 Basketball Prospectus (buy it), which compared Rondo to the four NBA players he most resembles statistically at his age. They do this for every player (I mentioned it last year in a post on Shaq). Ray Allen at 36 is closest to Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin, KG compares to Hakeem and Mullin, Sasha = Royal Ivey, etc.
So here are the players Rajon Rondo is most similar to, in order:
A regular Murderer’s Row! In that they make you want to murder someone.
They’re all scoring point guards, but some of the comparisons don’t seem to be perfect fits: Jamaal Tinsley could shoot threes and didn’t put up anything close to Rondo’s assist numbers. Still, his steal percentages are pretty close to Rondo’s, and neither was a great free-throw shooter. Brevin Knight had basically fallen off by age 25, but the year before, when he was splitting time in Cleveland with Andre Miller, he came closer than any of these players to Rondo’s assist rate and put up decent scoring numbers while being a terrible shooter.
Gary Grant, though, actually lines up pretty well. I admit to not being able to bring up Grant’s career numbers from memory, but looking through his stat sheet: at age 25, Grant put up about 10 points and 10 assists a game, even though he couldn’t shoot threes (23%) or free throws (68%). He wasn’t the rebounder or passer that Rondo was, but their fundamental numbers are pretty similar.
But Gary Grant, today, is not well known. Sadly, most of Rondo’s matches had their best years at either 25 or 26. That’s actually what compares these four players most closely: their careers all started strong, then gradually declined as they bounced around the league and earned less and less playing time with each stop. Brevin Knight is the exception; he had a late-career resurgence with Charlotte at age 30. But none of the others really played basketball past 32.
Rondo’s better at basketball than Eric Murdock on his best day, and half the story behind these matches is that there hasn’t been a player exactly like Rondo before. That’s what makes projecting his career impossible: nobody’s been quite so good at some things while being quite so bad at others, so we can’t really be sure if he’ll get better or worse. The only real take-home from this is that Rondo is a special, unprecedented player. Happy birthday, Rajon!