Rajon Rondo did it again last night. That is, he managed a triple-double in the biggest game of the season. It was the ninth postseason triple-double in his young career, and without his 18 points, 10 assists and 10 boards, the Celtics would not have stood a chance against the upstart 76ers.
Rondo is clearly and unquestionably the best player on the C’s roster. He’s the engine that makes the whole machine go. It’s as if Boston is a vintage 60s Mustang: classy, respected, and powerful — but old. So instead of working with the original motor, they switched it out for a 2008 GT model. It’s more efficient, a good deal lighter, and built to handle the rigors of the road ahead. However, it doesn’t put undue strain on the rest of the vehicle, it just fits. Rondo fits with the Celtics, but the reality is that he could fit almost anywhere.
He’s still a young player, and has a lot of maturing to do before I can give him the edge for best pure PG in the league. Chris Paul is still that guy, because he supports his teammates and makes them better. Rondo is not a leader yet. He hasn’t had to ‘make his teammates better,’ because he started his career playing with three future Hall-of-Famers. Instead, he gets in referees’ faces, throws tantrums, and lets his emotions and arrogance get the best of him. It’s his biggest weakness, but in all relativity, it’s not that big.
He makes up for his lapses in judgment with some of the most intuitive and fundamentally sound basketball we have seen at the 1 position since Jason Kidd began lighting up the Western Conference in the early 90s. Like Kidd, Rondo has an eye for rebounding, despite usually being the smallest player on the floor. In fact, he’s significantly smaller than Kidd, weighing in at under 200 lbs.
Additionally, his court vision is 2nd to none, and he’s equally adept at making difficult passes with his left and right hands. Those same hands are constantly invading passing lanes on defense. This season he led the league in assists by a sizable margin while also staying in the top 5 in steals, mirroring former and current greats such as Paul, Stockton, and Kidd.
Also like Kidd, he can score from the paint, though instead of using his bulk to back down smaller guards, he uses his speed to beat them off the dribble. He is slowly pulling his offensive game farther out beyond the key, and now has what I’d call a respectable mid-range jump shot. Kidd couldn’t shoot when he came into the league either, but he’s currently 3rd all-time in 3-pointers made behind Reggie Miller and that other guy who’s always cutting around screens and draining treys to boost Rondo’s gaudy assist numbers. Before long, we might see Rondo spotting up regularly from beyond the arc too.
The Celtics need Rondo’s offense now to win games, this much is very clear. But he doesn’t dominate games just by knocking down shots. He keeps opponents guessing by making the seemingly impossible (or at least, ill-advised) pass. He swoops in out of nowhere for offensive rebounds. He’s just as comfortable leading the fast break as he is finishing it. Quite simply, he plays the epitome of smart, unselfish basketball, which is why his assist-to-turnover ratio is always at or near tops in the NBA.
Rondo definitely has to work on his attitude before he’s leading mediocre teams to the Finals in back-to-back years, a la Kidd during his prime with the Nets. Luckily, it seems like Rajon’s situation will force him to mature. In the next few years, both Allen and KG will be retired, and Pierce will be a shell of himself. The C’s will probably decide to start rebuilding before that point, and if they build around Rondo, he’s clearly going to be the leader of that team — that team won’t start off as good as the one he’s on now. He’s grown accustomed to winning, and somehow I doubt he’d let his poor attitude keep his future teams from at least competing with the East’s elite. He’ll grow up — the alternative is sliding into mediocrity.
And of course, we can expect him to keep throwing up 18-10-10s in pressure situations, just like Kidd back in the day. These Celtics will lose to the Heat in the Conference Finals, but we can count on Rondo to at least keep it interesting with some absolutely stellar basketball. I can’t wait to see what the Mustang’s engine has in store for us.