Rondo was looking like an All Star shoo-in back in December. The Celtics were making beautiful music and Rondo was conducting the symphony. Then Christmas happened and the slide threw everything out of whack. Rajon didn't play particularly well and he got a lot of blame for the team's woes. Most people wrote him off from the All Star discussion at that point.
However, the team has turned it around lately and so has Rondo. Coincidence? Not at all. The only question is, did the team suffer because of Rondo's play or did Rondo's play suffer because of the team's struggles? I honestly don't know the answer and it is probably a "chicken or the egg" conundrum anyway.
I could (and will) make the argument that if the Celtics picked up a few extra wins during that slide or at least spaced out the 9 losses over a longer stretch of time, that nobody would have jumped on Rondo. His mini-slump would have been written off or overlooked. To support my case, lets start by looking at the numbers.
Clearly Rondo isn't a scoring point guard, though he does get his share of buckets. He's at best the 4th option on this team and his role is to distribute the ball. Still, he manages to chip in with 10.9 points per game on 50% shooting.
Rondo is 3rd in the Eastern Conference in assists at 7.9 a game, behind only Calderon and Duhon. He is second in all of the East to D. Wade in steals (2.16) and is the top rebounding point guard (5.0).
And those are just the traditional stats, and I would say he looks pretty good with those alone. [Using infomercial voice]... but wait, there's more!
I'm no stats junkie, but the folks from Wages of Wins are. Here is what they had to say about Rondo's contributions back in December (before the slide).
So how has Boston remained a dominant team? The answer is almost entirely Rajon Rondo. While KG and Pierce are on pace to produce 8.1 fewer wins this year, Rondo is on pace to provide 8.2 additional victories. Consequently, Rondo is now the most productive player on the Celtics. Yes, Rondo is offering more than KG, Pierce, or Ray Allen.
Clearly those numbers must have dipped since then, but it is worth noting that when the team was 27-2, Rondo was a huge, huge part of that. You can't ignore the first two months just because of a couple weeks of less-than-stellar play.
If you are keeping track, he ranks 30th in the league in Roland Rating (6.4) and 3rd on the Celtics (ahead of Pierce). Only Jameer Nelson ranks ahead of him out of the Eastern point guards.
Unfortunately, his PER numbers don't help my case much. He's a respectable 18.67 (good for 45th in the league) but that ranks him behind Harris, Nelson, and even Calderon.
Of course these numbers don't take defense into account (did I mention that Rondo leads all point guards in steals?). So stats only take you so far.
Forget the Stats
It is easy to overlook Rondo on the same floor as three potential Hall of Famers. However, I would argue that keeping each of those guys involved in the offense, getting them the ball in the right spots, and taking a leadership role on the court despite those ginormous personalities might be a bigger challenge than most point guards face.
Yet he orchestrates the offense with veteran poise and superb court vision. Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop breaks down one example of how well he knows where his shooters are:
Rondo's primary function is to distribute. By and large, Rondo's primary spot-up target, Ray Allen, will have only split-second windows when he's legitimately open. To be in a position to capitalize on these snapshot opportunities, Rondo must have a strong intuition of where Allen is on the court at every moment. Rondo demonstrates this at 5:45 in the second quarter when he knocks the ball away from Nick Young, then stumbles into transition without full control of the ball. Once he picks up possession, Rondo gathers himself, then begins his drive toward the hole. The Washington defense isn't set. As he reaches the paint, Rondo sees in his periphery Ray Allen spotting up alone beyond the arc on the weak side. Rondo threads the needle through two Washington defenders with a perfect bounce pass. Allen misses the shot, but if the Celtics replicate that sequence 10 times, they come away with 21 points.
He does this time and time again. He finds teammates with sharp passes delivered right where they need them to score the basketball with the greatest efficiency.
Is There Room For Rondo?
Now that we've made the case that Rondo is very good, we need to start filling out an Eastern All Star roster.
The starters were announced last night and they include KG, James, Wade, AI, and Howard. No surprises there but AI takes a spot he might not deserve. It is a 12 man roster. Right off the bat I think you have to put Paul Pierce on there. Devin Harris should get a nod too (note: Rondo outplayed Harris head to head, ...just sayin'). Granger and Bosh are 3 & 4 in the East in scoring and I think both deserve a shot. Then it gets tricky.
Three spots left, who do they go to? You could make a strong case that Ray Allen has been the most consistent Celtic. Joe Johnson is right up there in scoring and leading the up and coming Hawks. Jameer Nelson has had a solid season and just won Player of the Week for the 2nd time. While we're at it, we should throw into the discussion Vince Carter (much as I hate it), Hedo Turkoglu, and even Caron Butler. For defense, you could even consider Josh Smith and Teyshaun Prince. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone too.
So there's a roster squeeze that Rondo is up against. What won't help his case is the number of Celtics on the team. If Ray makes it, that's 3 on the team already. Of course if KG sits it out like he did last year, it creates an extra spot. So we'll see. There have been All Star teams with 4 guys from the same roster before (Detroit comes to mind from a few years ago). When the Celtics were 27-2, you could make a much stronger case for it.
Maybe Next Year
When the music stops, I don't think there will be a chair for Rondo. I think that slide hurt his chances too much. Rajon will get kind words and good support from his coaches and teammates and even around the league. He'll be discussed as a guy people would really like to have on the team, but ultimately I think he'll be left on the cutting room floor.
It is too bad too. If there's one thing that you want at an All Star game it is a point guard that thinks pass first. Can you imagine the fun we'd have watching Rondo lob alley-oops to KG, LeBron, Wade, and Howard? Who better to lead the fast break? And we'd see Rondo pull out his bag of tricks. If he uses that fake-behind-the-back cuff and scoop shot during meaningful games, what kind of fun would he have in a glorified pickup game?
It would be nice to see him recognized and playing in the game, but ultimatly I'm sure he'd rather have another ring. So it isn't as important that he starts the season right as how he finishes. So if he stays home for the weekend, he'll get some rest and a chance to keep working on that jumpshot. That can't be a bad thing.