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.

Ray AllenCelticsSG5036109
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG493498
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646812
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR7NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR7NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312967
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284469
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262656
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212155
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269
Paul PierceCelticsSF191744
Joe JohnsonHawksSG182044
Rajon RondoCelticsPG172758

• 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.