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Let’s just get this out of the way. There is no player on the Celtics with more upside than Rajon Rondo. We saw flashes of brilliance in the playoffs as he nearly averaged a triple double in 14 games. However, since the Celtics got eliminated from the playoffs, a lot of drama has surrounded Rondo. First there were reports that Rondo was showing up to games an hour before tip-off with rumors that he was just sitting in his parked car. In the offseason, his name was circulated in numerous trade rumors and Danny Ainge stressed in an interview with Dennis and Callahan that Rondo needed to mature as a player and the Celtics didn’t need him (he said he’s a great PG, but implied that Rondo doesn’t make or break this team) to win another title.
Now that all of that is in the past, only time will tell if Rondo will take the next step forward in his career. If he does, the Celtics will be that much better because Rondo is already an elite defender with great passing skills and ability to drive to the basket. His downfalls are that he can be turnover-happy at times and can’t shoot the ball with any consistency. The Celtics don’t need Rondo to be an elite scorer, but much like a football offense needs to run the ball to keep the opposing defense honest in the passing game, Rondo needs to hit his open shots to keep opponents from constantly doubling Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. So the question remains. Will Rajon Rondo make the jump from non-star to All-Star in the 2009-10 season?
First, lets look at the biggest factor which is the competition. Rondo lucks out here because most of the top point guards (Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Steve Nash) are in the Western Conference. This leaves Rondo competing with Devin Harris, Gilbert Arenas, Jose Calderon, Mo Williams, and Derrick Rose for two spots on the roster.
Rajon Rondo has already established himself as one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. Among all point guards in the NBA, Rondo ranked fifth with 1.86 steals per game and third with 5.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers jumped to 2.5 spg and 9.7 rpg, respectively, in the playoffs, so Rondo has showcased his defensive prowess during the long grind of a season and also on the big stage in the playoffs.
He also showed he can dish with the best of them ranking third amongst all point guards with 8.2 assists per game during the season and 9.8 apg in the playoffs. Combine that with a moderate 12 points per game and 50.5 field goal percentage and you have yourself a very decent point guard. At only 23 years old, he is only getting better as he learns the nuances of the game and continues to work on improving his jump shot.
When you think of a point guard what qualities immediately come to your mind? For me, the ideal point guard can shoot the three, limits turnovers, shoots a high percentage from the free throw line and acts as the catalyst for the offense. Out of these four criteria, Rondo only satisfies one.
Rondo’s biggest problem throughout his college and pro career was that he can’t shoot the ball and the numbers reflect this concern. Last season, Rondo shot a forgettable 31.3 percent (15-for-48) from the three point line, which is actually better than his career average of 27.1 percent. It doesn’t stop there because he’s no better from the free throw line. He has a career 63.5 free throw percentage, which is no better than most big men in the league. You think his 50.5 field goal percentage last season was a sign of good things to come? Well, if you dissect the numbers you will see that 57 percent of his shots were taken from inside the paint with a success rate of 62.1 percent, while the 43 percent of shots taken outside of the paint were completed at a rate of just 37.5 percent. That’s just unacceptable that a point guard in the NBA can get away by struggling that much shooting the ball.
As for the turnovers, Rondo ranked ninth among point guards with 2.9 turnovers per game, but he did have the seventh-best assist to turnover ratio (3.15). At times, he would lose focus and become a turnover machine by trying to do too much on the court. He needs to keep a more level head and become more consistent handling the ball in order to make the jump into elite status.
I do think that Rajon Rondo takes a step forward this season and makes the All-Star team. Call me an optimist, but I like to believe that Rondo will improve his shooting enough to make opponents actually cover him (imagine that!). If he can get those jump shot percentages up to over 40 percent, he will become a very hard defensive assignment because of his exceptional ability to get to the basket. It will be interesting to see how motivated he is this season after Ainge came out and said he doesn’t think Rondo is a max contract player yet. Obviously, Rondo wants to get paid the big bucks and his contract is up after the 2010-11 season, so we will see if the desire to get that one big contract translates to a more concentrated and dedicated Rajon Rondo on the court. My bet (and hope) is that yes, it will.