by Franklyn Calle

Remember when Rajon Rondo’s job was to simply bring the ball up the floor and dish it out to one of the “Big Three”? He was returning from his rookie campaign, and Boston had just finished in last place in the Atlantic division the previous season. There were questions and skepticism as to whether the 6-1 lanky guard could run the point properly, the most important position on the floor, on a team that had high expectation after having acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the offseason.  But so much has changed since then. The former Kentucky Wildcat is no longer a sidekick to KG, Allen, and Paul Pierce. Today, he is the most important player of the franchise. He was the reason why Boston was only five points short from their 18th world championship. You take Rondo out of the equation and the Celtic’s 2010 playoff run wouldn’t have even been clRajon Rondoose to how it went down. He has the highest value of any player wearing Celtic green, in terms of upside and promise.

Last season, Rondo was putting up new career highs all across the stat sheet, particularly in points, assists and steals. Aside from his 13.7 points per game, the Louisville, Kentucky, native finished fourth in the NBA in assists. His 9.8 assists per game only trailed Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. In addition, he led the League in steals with 2.3 per game, the first Celtic player EVER to do so.

At the beginning of last season, Rondo signed a guaranteed five-year $55 million extension with the Celtics, a sign that Boston recognized how important of a player he is to their success.

Rondo, who was selected as a Eastern Conference reserve for the NBA All-Star game for the first time in his young career, denoted his talent last season, breaking league and franchise records.

In a late March home game against the Sacramento Kings, Rondo surpassed Rick Fox’s 167 steals and became the franchise’s all-time leader for steals in a single season. Not to mention, he finished with 18 assists that night as well — a career high for him at the time.

Three games later, Rondo broke Bob Cousy’s record for most assist in a single season by a Celtic player, a record that stood for 50 years, after a 23-point and 10 assists performance against the Houston Rockets.

In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rondo finished with 13 points and 19 assists. The assists tied his career-high, as well as the franchise’s record for most assists in a playoff game. In Game 4, he joined Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to ever finish with 29 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in a single playoff game.

I don’t about you but for someone who has only been in the League for four years, this speaks volumes considering the fact that he has already either broken or tied records held by other NBA legends.

When you considered the fact that Rondo’s assists have been increasing at a rate of almost two assists per season (1.93 to be exact), a double-double season average for this upcoming season is inevitable. Also, if you factor in that Boston has made some nice upgrades to their bench by adding Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to be backups in their frontcourt, after the Heat and the Lakers revamped their teams, as well as the continued steady improvements of Kendrick Perkins (10.1 pts & 7.6 rpg last season) Glenn Davis (6.3 pts & 3.8 rbs last season), there is no doubt that Rondo’s 9.8 assist per game will be well into the the double digits. (Remember: His assists average have gone up at an average of 2 assists every year since he’s been in the L.)

Now, a lot of you guys who don’t really like Rondo are going to argue that he can’t shoot the ball. And, well, you’re right to a certain extent. Rondo has had trouble with the consistency of his jumper and free throws. That’s something I’m pretty sure he’s aware is his biggest flaw. But despite all the records he’s already broken, we have to remember that he’s only 24 years old. There is definitely room to grow and improve. If four years down the road, meaning eight years into his pro career, his shots haven’t seen a significant improvement, then we can talk. We’ve seen LeBron James’ shooting improve throughout the first seven years of his career. This 6-1 guard has tremendous upside. He has already surpassed individual franchise records for a team that holds the most championships in NBA history and have featured the likes of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy and Dave Cowens.

Just imagine what he could do once his perimeter game becomes respectable.

Player Team Position 2010 2009 2010 2009
Ray Allen Celtics SG 50 36 10 9
Gilbert Arenas Wizards SG 49 34 9 8
Lamar Odom Lakers PF 48 33 14 10
John Wall Wizards PG 47 NR 13 NR
OJ Mayo Grizzlies SG 46 46 8 12
Al Horford Hawks C 45 NR 6 NR
Jason Kidd Mavs PG 44 45 12 10
Joakim Noah Bulls C 43 NR 5 NR
LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 42 39 13 12
David West Hornets PF 41 31 12 8
Monta Ellis Warriors SG 40 NR 7 NR
Andrew Bogut Bucks C 39 NR 4 NR
Yao Ming Rockets C 38 NR 3 NR
Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 37 NR 11 NR
Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 36 NR 11 NR
Stephen Curry Warriors PG 35 NR 10 NR
David Lee Warriors PF 34 NR 10 NR
Brook Lopez Nets C 33 NR 2 NR
Gerald Wallace Bobcats SF 32 NR 7 NR
Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 31 29 6 7
Tony Parker Spurs PG 30 15 9 3
Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 29 13 9 3
Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 28 44 6 9
Josh Smith Hawks PF 27 40 8 13
Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 26 26 5 6
Al Jefferson Jazz PF 25 23 7 7
Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 24 NR 8 NR
Chauncey Billups Nuggets PG 23 19 7 5
Tyreke Evans Kings PG 22 NR 6 NR
Danny Granger Pacers SF 21 21 5 5
Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 20 32 6 9
Paul Pierce Celtics SF 19 17 4 4
Joe Johnson Hawks SG 18 20 4 4
Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 17 27 5 8

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.