Hey, did you hear? Rajon Rondo has 18 career triple-doubles, 14 of them on national television.
Wait, check that -- now he's got 19, and still only 14 on national TV.
I know it doesn't fit the narrative. Sorry to disappoint. But Rondo came up big against the Atlanta Hawks last night, dropping a tidy little 10-20-10 stat line in a messy overtime victory at the TD Garden, and only those masochistic enough to listen to Mike and Tommy on good ol' CSNNE got a chance to see it. The national audience was busy watching Knicks-Bucks on ESPN, and Rondo was putting up monster numbers in obscurity. Shocking!
So perhaps now would be a good time to say this: I think maybe this little "Rondo on national TV" angle has run its course. It's an interesting little factoid for the national audience, but it does a disservice to those of us watching Rondo on a regular basis. I admit it's easy to poke a little fun at Rondo for the statistical quirk (as I readily did last night, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek manner), but a true Rondologist knows that there's much more to his game than a handful of televised gems.
With that in mind, here are 10 points (get it -- 10 points?) I'd like to make about Rondo, about trip-dubs, and about the hyper-volatile public perception of one of basketball's least understood stars. Here goes:
1. If I'm Rajon Rondo, I'm insulted that this "national TV" stigma has to follow me everywhere I go. To say that Rondo especially "brings it" in the marquee games is to imply that he tones it down in the mundane other regular-season contests. How many times are the C's on national television every year -- ABC, ESPN, TNT, altogether? A dozen, maybe? And we're supposed to believe that Rondo is a world-beater in those dozen but a dog in the other 70 (fine, 54 in a lockout-shortened season, but you get my point)?
No, that won't fly. Great players are great because they show up and get it done consistently, Rondo included. Sure, he's not putting up a triple-double every night, and unless you clone 1962 Oscar Robertson and put him on this year's Celtics, you're outta luck on that front. But Rondo is good for a lot more than a handful of gems each year. That's why he's considered the best player on a contender.
2. Even if there's a tiny speck of truth to the "national TV" perception, it's oversimplified at best. Let's call it this -- the "something to prove" perception. Rondo loves to stick it to everyone doubting him; he loves to shut everyone up. And while national TV is the best way to do that, there are certainly others.
Look at last night at the Hawks -- you don't think he needed a big game, CSNNE be damned, in that one? Skeptics were wondering if these recent Heat wins were flukes. They were doubting the C's could pull off a back-to-back. They were speculating about who had the upper hand between Boston and Atlanta in this 4-5-6 seeding fiasco in the East. You think Rondo answered them?
Check out some of Rondo's other triple-doubles. He had a 15-10-11 against the Bucks six weeks ago -- the Bucks were only 2 1/2 games back in the playoff race, and Rondo wanted to tell them where to shove their playoff aspirations. That 18-14-11 against the Wizards on New Year's? Yeah, that's what Rondo thinks of your John Wall comparisons, thank you very much. It doesn't matter how many TV cameras are on Rondo -- he doesn't need the adulation of a million fans. What he really wants is the respect of his peers.
3. There's a great irony at work here when people talk about Rondo loving national TV: He never watches it. Some guys in the league are obsessed with sports media -- always watching ESPN, always checking the scores, always following the podcasts and radio shows and whatnot. Rondo's not one of those guys. On the contrary -- he's notoriously sheltered.
Some players Rondo's age -- like one LeBron Raymone James, for instance -- talk incessantly about how they used to watch Michael Jordan on national TV growing up. Rondo says he never did. Not once. Rondo is unbelievably ignorant about basketball history... and I don't mean that as an insult, it just doesn't interest him, and that's fine. Different strokes for different folks. Rondo didn't even know until a year ago that Bill Russell played before he was born. You can't make this stuff up, people.
For someone who cares so much about what the media thinks, he sure does know nothing about what the media thinks. Weird, isn't it?
4. Some of Rondo's best games have been non-triple-doubles. One of my favorite Rondo performances ever? None other than Oct. 26, 2010, the night Miami's new big three debuted at the TD Garden. No trip-dub -- only four points on 2-of-9 shooting, in fact. But Rondo, creative genius that he is, found holes in the Heat's newly created defense, attacking every miscommunication between LeBron and Dwyane Wade with force. He finished with 17 assists and three turnovers; the Celtics cruised. There's been a lot of games like that one.
5. Conversely, there's also such a thing as a bad triple-double. Best example of that? Yeah, you guessed it -- last night. Rondo shot 3-of-16 against the Hawks last night. Three of 16! Everyone gawks at the three double-digit numbers the kid puts up, but I'd much rather see him play a game like Tuesday in Miami -- only four rebounds, so no triple-double, but he makes good decisions with the ball and his jumpers occasionally fall. No one wins championships shooting like Rondo did last night. (Well, except Kobe in 2010. You know what? Never mind.)
6. Even in triple-doubles, there are still moments when Rondo gets a little lazy. Here's one in particular: the final possession of the third quarter last night. Remember it? Rondo gets a rebound with a full 25 seconds left and the C's down one, a chance to take the lead before the break. He sets up shop on the right wing, dribbling, waiting for a play to materialize. He stands there... he stands there... he stands there... then he stands there some more, and then with about three seconds left in the quarter, he realizes he's out of time and heaves up an ugly 3. Clang, buzzer, C's still down one.
I'm not asking for Rondo to be an assassin every millisecond. But weak possessions like that one make me wonder -- maybe he's a little fatigued out there, and it's hard to blame him when he's playing 47 minutes in the middle of a five-games-in-six-nights stretch. Rondo's sensational, but he's not superhuman.
7. Is it just me, or were those 10 of the lamest points ever last night? It took him 16 FGAs, he only got to the line four times, and most of his scoring came in garbage situations where there was no one there to stop him. Just goes to show you that the Celtics can win without Rondo being a basket-attacking dynamo. In fact, I'd argue they're at their best when Rondo's points are at a minimum... or in situations like last night, when he racks up 10 points but forces you to double- and triple-check your notes to say, "Really? Rondo's got 10? How'd that happen?"
8. I've said this before a million times, but Rondo's rebounds are way more important to this team than his points. Really, Rondo's ability to get defensive boards and get into the open floor and run, that's what makes this team go. Especially this year -- I didn't think it was possible for Rondo to become even better at making snap decisions in transition, but somehow he pulled it off. His ability to find his teammates is unbelievable, like he's got eyes in the back of his head. If I had a nickel for every time Rondo found Paul Pierce trailing him for a wide-open 3, I could buy season tickets.
9. A month ago, we were talking about Rajon Rondo's trade value... or lack thereof. Rondo was so unmovable, there was a rumor of Michael Beasley. Yeah, Michael Beasley. A month ago. I have no point here; I just find it funny, that's all.
10. Last but certainly not least: Who cares about all this? In just a couple short weeks, we'll be able to move on from all this and talk about stuff that actually matters. Triple-doubles and Sunday afternoon showcase games make for nice diversions, but come late April, we'll be focused on a true team and its quest to win a championship. Isn't that what's really important?
Good, 'cuz it'll be on national TV.