First thing first: Fantastic game by Rondo against the Bulls. Fantastic.
That is the Rondo us fans know exists and the one we want to see more often. His effort doesn't have to produce a triple-double for us to know he's on his game and playing with focus and energy. He could end up with 9/13/4 in his next game and be just as successful. It's not his final numbers. It's his energy and focus. It's him attacking the basket in the fourth quarter and getting to the free throw line (where it was nice to see him hit his free throws). It's him setting up teammates and rewarding those that run the floor. It's him focusing enough on defense to keep his hands up, fight around picks, and get in the passing lanes. It was a great all-around game by Rondo.
But, he has to do it consistently in order for his 'critics' to stop 'criticizing' his game. For 'inconsistency' is his critics' main critique. And, one brilliant game does not equal consistency.
We all know Rondo can produce those types of games, but he doesn't do it consistently. He has sporadic games of brilliance (like yesterday and certain infamous playoff games), but he sprinkles those throughout a season of up-and-down, inconsistent play. Sometimes he's lethargic, sometimes he seems unfocused. Sometimes he just seems out of it and his defense will suffer due to his offense or vice versa. Defenses (like the Lakers) can get inside of his head and completely take him out of a game. If he is as transcendently good as some of you claim he is then he wouldn't suffer from such inconsistency.
When fans (and GMs) look for a cornerstone for their franchise, which is what we (and Ainge) are judging Rondo as [the future cornerstone of the Boston Celtics!], they look for consistency. Fans and GMs want Tim Duncan and Steve Nash, not Michael Beasley and Baron Davis. All the talent in the world and all the sporadic games of brilliance do not equal a cornerstone player. A cornerstone player needs to bring it every game. Even in 'off' games, which every player suffers, they have to bring the energy and focus, if not the points and rebounds. Some of you will probably complain that I'm never happy with Rondo and I'll continue to critique him regardless of how well he plays... That's not true. I'm critiquing him as the future cornerstone of this team, as is Danny Ainge, and one brilliant game doesn't change that. If Ainge doesn't believe a championship team can be built around Rondo, then he will attempt to trade him (which he has multiple times). Consistency is the key.
Rondo has the capability of being the best player on the team and a top-5 NBA PG (as someone on this site declared he is), but until he delivers the goods on a consistent basis, he is not.
- Distributing the ball and court vision
- Attacking the basket
- One-on-one man defense
- Shooting / Free Throw shooting
- Defensive gambling
When Rondo is focused and energized, he runs the floor, distributes the ball, and attacks the basket (i.e. he highlights his strengths and masks his weaknesses). His shooting will always be a weakness, but if he's attacking the basket he can usually balance his game out (against taller teams - like the Lakers - that's considerably more difficult because he can't get to the rim). Attacking the basket and getting into the lane softens the opponent's defense and allows for better spacing for KG, Pierce, and Allen to work. This team needs spacing for their offense to work. Since Rondo cannot consistently hit a shot, he needs to penetrate the lane at will in order to create that spacing. He usually does this wonderfully in the first half and then stops doing it in the second half. We've all seen it. He doesn't consistently attack. When he does (like in the Bulls game), the team is much better. He has to do it every game.
His gambling on defense will always be a weakness. I know CJ Watson shot only 8-23 yesterday, but 18 of those shots were wide open looks where Rondo had abandoned him to either attempt a low-percentage steal or partially double a wing player on the perimeter. I was yelling at the tv screen every time Rondo let Watson effortlessly get around a pick, or leak to the weak side, or cut backdoor without even an effort from Rondo to close out on a shot. If Watson was a more capable shooter or simply had a better game shooting, the Celtics would have been torched by Rondo's gambling. Watson isn't that good and had a bad game, so Rondo's gambling paid off. His gambling also paid off with two late-game steals that helped seal the victory, but remember that when you 'gamble' you can win or lose. Next time, his gambling may not pay off. We've seen Rondo get torched by PGs before and, in my opinion, someone as defensively talented as Rondo should never get torched by a lesser opponent. If he's focused and on his game, no PG in the NBA should be able to torch Rondo. Just last Friday, Calderon put up 17 points and 14 assists on Rondo, in a game where Rondo played highly-uninspired basketball.
Also, top-5 PGs don't usually make a horrible, basic mistake on back-to-back possessions, in this case that mistake would be picking up your dribble in the back court because of a soft trap. Those two possessions led to two Bulls steals and four points. I'm surprised Thibodeau didn't do it more often, as Rondo did not seem prepared to handle it. Doc actually had Pierce bring the ball up the court the next few possessions, taking the ball out of our supposed 'superstar' PG's hands.
Even in a game where Rondo played mostly brilliant basketball and earned a triple-double, there were baffling mistakes and a few unfocused miscues that almost led to a loss. [And, I know that Pierce and others had 'off' games and committed turnovers, etc, but we're discussing Rondo here, not other players. If you want to write an article on Pierce then go do it. But it would be far-fetched for you to call Pierce inconsistent.]
Before we declare Rondo the best player on this team and a top-5 NBA PG, let's see him deliver the energy and focus every game (or at least four out of every five). Until he becomes a consistent player, he will not silence his critics or calls for him to be traded. It's the nature of the beast when you flash brilliance but don't deliver it consistently. I'm not even seeking brilliance on a consistent basis - I know that's not sustainable, unless you're MJ or a few others. I'm seeking for Rondo to be a solid, very good player on a consistent basis. He hasn't proven he can be.
Finally, a lot of people who criticize my analysis of Rondo believe that I don't like him as a player and have always wanted him traded. Untrue. I love Rondo as a player. And, I love Rondo as a Celtic. Only this off-season did I begin recommending Ainge consider trading him if he cannot prove he can bring his 'A-game' consistently. If Rondo was consistently very good, I would never mention trading him. I would be ecstatic to have a top PG locked up at his deal for the foreseeable future. But, he does not deliver consistently. Rondo is sporadically brilliant. He is also consistently inconsistent. His maturity, attitude, and leadership have all been openly questioned by Doc and Ainge over the past few seasons. He is considered somewhat of an enigma or even a savant. He is so highly-talented that he almost gets in his own way. I fear entering the next era of Celtics basketball with a highly-talented yet highly-inconsistent team leader.
"As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics." That's what scares me. But, I'd love nothing more than for Rondo to prove me wrong.