The hyperbole around Boston's Rajon Rondo was fine for a while. Rondo was historically good against the Cavaliers in Game 4, and in the heat of the moment people said and wrote some silly stuff about him. Fine. It happens. I'll allow it.
They said he had become the best player on the Celtics this season, which isn't true, but I let it go.
They said he had become a true NBA superstar, which isn't true, but I let that go as well.
|Shaky shooting is one reason Rajon Rondo isn't as big a star as some are making him out to be. (Getty Images)|
So now I'm having to address the entire issue of Rajon Rondo and his place in the game. I'll address whether he's the best pro ever out of Kentucky (no, that's Dan Issel). I'll address whether he's the best player on the Celtics (no; still Paul Pierce). I'll address whether he's a true NBA superstar (hell no). And I'll address whether he's one of the five best players in the NBA (hahaha).
All of this feels wrong, because Rondo doesn't deserve to be belittled today, and that's not my intent. He had an absolutely remarkable Game 4 against the Cavaliers on Sunday, a triple-double for the ages of 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. In the NBA playoffs, only Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson have topped that conglomeration of numbers in a single game. Rondo has been having a magical series as well, with an overall average of 21.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 13 apg.
It's just four games, but this is what we in the media -- and you, as media consumers -- do. We exaggerate it. We blow it out of proportion. We take something really good and try to make it better than it is, including three listeners to AM-610 in Kansas City on Monday afternoon who heard me making this basic argument on their airwaves and who texted the station to say Rondo had elevated himself into the LeBron James category of superstar.
It's nonsense, all of it, and it forces someone like me to come along and monsoon on Rondo's parade -- not in the interest of meanness, but in the interest of reality. So I'm asking you now to consider this column not as an attack on Rondo, but as a basketball version of a baseball arbitration hearing. You know how those things go. An arbitration-eligible MLB player wants $10 million. His team wants to pay him $6 million. So the team devotes an afternoon at an arbitration hearing to tearing down the player, not because the player sucks -- but because the player isn't worth $10 million.
That's me today. I'm the team. Rondo is the player. This is the arbitration hearing. And I'm here to tell you, he ain't worth $10 million.
Technically he makes $11 million, but forget all that. This is an analogy, people. Work with me. And listen to me. We'll start with some simple numbers, Rondo's season averages: 13.7 ppg, 9.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds. Those are nice numbers. He was fourth in the league in assists. He also was first in steals at 2.3 per game. I'm not trying to gloss over what he does well. Rondo creates well. He defends well. So do a lot of players.
He does not shoot well.
As do a lot of players.
I guess that, for me, is where the rubber hits the road: Rondo can't hit a shot. He can't make 3-pointers -- he barely tries them, just 80 on the season, and converted 17 (21.3 percent) -- and he doesn't make all that many free throws. Show me a point guard who shoots 62.1 percent from the foul line, and I'll show you a player who doesn't deserve to be mentioned among the greatest in the game.
Game 4 (Sunday recap): Celtics 97, Cavaliers 87
Game 5 (Tuesday): Celtics at Cavaliers, 8 p.m. ET
Series matchup: No. 1 Cavaliers vs. No. 4 Celtics
Going forward, I'm going to leave alone Cowherd's assertion that Rondo is one of the five best players in the NBA today. That's comical, and it's hard to argue with a comedian. But let's take a look at the list of NBA point guards, and you tell me where Rondo fits on that list.
Ahead of Chris Paul or Deron Williams? Come on. No way. And if we're talking about actual point guards -- what the player plays on the court, not what position his basketball card says he is -- Rondo is well behind de facto point guards LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant.
But ahead of Derrick Rose? Please. Rose scores like a shooting guard (20.8 ppg) but still hands out six assists per game, which is remarkable considering none of his teammates can shoot.
Ahead of Steve Nash? Not yet. Look, Nash won't be ahead of Rondo forever. He is, after all, 36 years old. But he averaged 16.5 ppg and 11.0 apg this season. He doesn't defend like Rondo, but he's one of the best shooters in the game on 1's (93.8 percent) and 3's (42.6 percent). In a year or two, sure, Rondo will pass Nash. But he isn't there.
I'll give you this. I'll give you that Rondo is ahead of Jason Kidd, but only because Kidd has slowed down with age, not because Rondo at age 24 is better than Kidd was at age 24, because he's not. And I'll give you that Rondo is ahead of Tony Parker, who still can't shoot and doesn't defend.
But I'm not sure Rondo is ahead of Tyreke Evans right now, or that Rondo will be ahead of Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook in a few years. The supporting cast is everything to a point guard, so Rondo looks like more of a point guard than Evans does, but Evans became the fourth player in NBA history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a rookie season. Only Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and James had done it. That trumps Rondo's Game 4 feat for one reason, and it's a reason you cannot deny: Rondo was historic for 48 minutes; Evans was historic for six months. And in a few years when Curry and Westbrook get the hang of running an NBA offense, in addition to their savant-like scoring ability, who's to say they won't be a level above Rondo then?
Anyway, that's speculation, and for now I'm trying to deal in facts. And the fact is, Rondo is a freak athlete, a guy who shares the court with nine other physical freaks and yet most of the time will be the freakiest of them all. He is, as James called him after Game 4, "a unique talent." He plays an unusual game, and he does unusual things. Witness his crazy stat line from Game 4.
But if we're going for kneejerk analysis of this postseason, I'm not willing to concede that Rondo has been the best point guard in the playoffs. Or even in the East. Unless you've forgotten about Orlando's Jameer Nelson.