Outside of Kendrick Perkins, no player has generated more buzz around Celtic nation in the last couple of weeks than Rajon Rondo. He's obviously playing below par right now, and it seems like everyone is weighing in on it. There have been multiple articles on this site and others, trying to figure out what is wrong. Is he angry about the Perk trade? Is he learning his new teammates? Is he injured? Has he been playing too many minutes? Is his confidence gone? Can he not get up to play the lesser teams? What is it? What is it? WHAT IS IT?
So, I guess it's my turn to weigh in. Are you ready for my deep, studied opinion? OK, here it is:
I'm not worried.
That's it. I could stop this post right now, and that would capture my feelings nicely. Of course, as long-winded as I am you know I'm not REALLY going to stop there. No, I'm gonna take a word or two (or 1000) to let you know just WHY I'm not worried. And to do that, I have to give you my impression of who exactly Rajon Rondo is.
I remember during the Finals in 2008, David Thorpe wrote "If (Lamar Odom) was 6'5, he'd be selling shoes for a living. If KG was 6'2, he'd be Rajon Rondo." Thorpe was obviously talking about the difference between physical talent and desire, but I think his flippant statement held truth about Rondo as well. If KG was 6'2 he WOULD be Rondo...and if Rondo was 7'1, he'd be KG. Obviously their personalities are as different as night and day, but when it comes to the fire in the belly, the will, the mindset to be the best...Rondo has that in spades, just like his taller teammate.
And to me, that's crucial. Because that attitude, when coupled with strong play on the court, can be the engine that moves a team forward. And Rondo has shown, repeatedly, that when the chips are down and he's needed he can step it up.
In the 2008 championship run, on-off court +/- suggests that KG was the vital component. The Celtics were +17.8/48 min when KG was on the floor vs when he was off, compared to +9.9 for Allen, +6.4 Pierce and -4.9 for Rondo in essentially his rookie season.
But in the 2009 playoffs, when KG was injured, Rondo showed that he had grown up and was ready to stomp with the big dogs. This time it was Rondo driving the team, with a huge on/off +/- of +19.9/48 min in the postseason (vs +11.8 for Ray and +8.5 for Pierce).
Similarly, in the 2010 postseason Rondo was again the team leader in on/off +/-, edging KG in the 23 games that all of the Big 4 played in (Rondo +5.6, KG +4.4, Allen +.3, Pierce -2.8) and then stepping up with Pierce and Allen in the game that KG was suspended (all three were +29 or higher in that game).
Finally, this season, Pierce is currently the leader in on-off +/- for the season (+16.9 through March 5, KG at +15.2, Rondo at +9.8, Ray at +6.3). KG is the leader in on-off +/- for the season in games in which he's actually played (KG at +20.6 through March 5***, Pierce at +17.3, Allen at +6.0, Rondo at +6.7). But what about when KG was out? If you look at the games between December 27 and January 19, covering the entire period that KG was out and recovering, it was again Rondo who stepped up as the necessary ingredient (Rondo +17.8/48, Pierce +9.8, Ray -1.7).
(Unfortunate disclaimers required: I know that +/- isn't perfect, I know that it is noisy over short stretches, and no I'm not saying that these numbers necessarily mean that Rondo is better than Pierce. I don't want my point to be obscured because of anyone's distaste for +/-, for stats in general, or for anything that might disparage the Captain. Not what I'm aiming at here, at all).
So, what IS my point with this historical +/- look? My point is that when the team really needs him, Rondo is there. He always shows up, and always has a big impact on what the team is doing.
I've watched Rondo figuratively grow up on the basketball court in these last four years. I saw him and Perk doing their best to grow on the fly under pressure in '08. I saw him show the willingness and ability to take the team reigns when called upon in 2009. And I've seen him step up even more in each of the last two years as his game has made him an All Star. Yes, there have been growing pains along the way. I remember Doc having to tell him that guys hated playing with him in order to get him to play the right way. I remember rumors of a Rondo-led mutiny in the locker room of young players vs old. And I know that he has not played well at all in these last few weeks. Anyone that knows my post history knows that I'm definitely not a Pollyanna when it comes to Rondo, his strengths and his weaknesses.
But that said, I think we've seen enough of Rondo in his five years as a Celtic to know that if he is having any kind of mental or emotional issue right now, he'll have his mind right when it counts. And maybe he really is hurt...KG says he is, though Doc says he's fine. Either way, as far as I can tell he's hurt and not injured. He can still play on it now, which means that if it were the playoffs he'd be playing and likely much better with more rest between outings. And for the first time ever, the Celtics actually have 2 strong back-ups to give him more rest as well. Injuries happen, and on this team obviously they are a concern. But other than that, which no one can really control anyway, I am confident that when the chips are down in the postseason Rondo will be right there, playing excellent ball, and helping the Celtics win. How do I know?
Because he always has been.
(***The on-court off-court +/- numbers for this year are something I've been keeping up with over the course of most of the season. The values from 12/27 - 1/19 are from 82games.com's 1/19 update. They include 76 minutes that KG actually played in his recovery but he generated a +/- of 0 in those minutes, and it was that near-month stretch that I used for the +/- with and without KG numbers in the post above).
(**For those interested, I do a weekly basketball interview on XM 147/Sirius 211 every Friday at 1 pm EST. Also, you can follow me on Twitter at ProfessorDrz**)