Top 50: Rajon Rondo, no. 27
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
On May 3rd, 2009, in the aftermath of a 107-86 blowout win in Game 3, Rajon Rondo crumbled to the floor, unable to take another step, unable to celebrate the W as camera crews scrambled to catch the action of Bill Walker carrying him into the locker room.
Remember the concern of fans, media and Celtics officials alike, breathing easy only after they heard Rondo’s explanation for the strange drop to the ground?
“It’s not my ankle, the bottom of my feet were just hurting, that’s all.”
Oh, just his feet. Silly Rondo. The quirky little brother.
Of course those feet were tired. Blistered. Cramping. Damn near broken. Remember that adidas spot with Kevin Garnett, where he has the world on his shoulders before the end of the commercial? That was Rondo this past offseason. While the weight became too heavy for KG’s frame in Minny he came to Boston where he could distribute some of the responsibility. When he went down with the knee injury, while Jesus was praying to find his shot again and Pierce was relegated to being the fourth quarter assassin, it was little brother who was there.
Unable to shrug off pressures or breathe easy because his rangy shoulders became the support beams for the Celtics seemingly overnight, Rondo somehow managed to add mind-blowing playoff-performances to his curriculum vitae by the day. it’s a miracle Rondo’s (exaggerated) 171-pound frame was able to carry the weight of a franchise as long as he did before crumbling to the ground in what turned out to be a precursor of the Celtics crumbling as a whole only a few weeks later.
Rookie Bill Walker, beyond being a good teammate, recognized the importance of Rondo to the team’s end goal. With Garnett out, he became their pitbull (just ask Kirk Hinrich), point guard and leader. He had the heart, the grit and the stats as well. Averaging a near triple-double, Rajon Rondo became the pulse of his team without warning, emerging as a leader without explanation or expectation.
A third-year player known more for his ugly shooting percentages outside of the lane, Rondo moved into the fast lane with the blink of an eye. When people were questioning whether he’d be anything without the luxury of playing alongside the big three of Ray, Pierce and Kevin, in the playoffs he flipped the script and they were the ones thankful that they had him running not just the offense but their squad.
While he’s got the support of his teammates and the proof in the box scores, still Rondo has his doubters. The fact remains that the guy doesn’t want to be found on the perimeter with the ball in his hands and the shot clock winding down. Does this matter? For one of the quickest guys in the league, how often does he get stuck outside of the lane? Not often. And when he does, looking to his left is Ray Allen, his right, Paul Pierce. Not bad options to have.
Asking whether his game benefits from the players around him is like asking whether Phil Jackson has helped Kobe Bryant’s career. The question isn’t open for debate. It also doesn’t really matter, because to quote any and every NBA player, it is what it is. And, it is what each has made out of it. Rondo has taken the teasing and chiding of being the little brother. He’s taken the doubts and the challenges Doc Rivers has given him and he’s made it work. He has made it work for his own game, but most importantly he has made it work for this team.
He has made it work for a ring.
In a seven game first-round series with the Bulls that became a battle of the ages, it was the mano a mano battle between Derrick Rose and Rondo that stole that spotlight from the other stars. While Rose drew first blood, Rondo laughed last. He also posted averages of 19.4 points, 11.6 assists and 9.3 rebounds per game, including turning in a turnover-less 19-assist performance in Game 6, tying an NBA postseason record. The last Celtic to record more than one triple-double in a playoff series was Larry Bird in 1986.
1986 was the year that Rondo was born.
Two large “R”s are inked across his back, spanning his frame as if to remind the world who he is as he streaks past on a basketball court. Perhaps he needed an intro and a re-introduction in years past, but not anymore. Anyone who knows the NBA, knows Rajon Rondo. Standing alongside the other superstars suiting up for the Celtics, there isn’t a star that shines brighter (or that has the longevity), than the one illuminating Rondo’s game.
Think about that Celtics team minus Kevin Garnett. We saw how that worked out this past postseason. Now, picture that team also without Rajon Rondo. Or, substitute Garnett’s absence for Rondo’s. Is it so ludicrous to think that the impact would be just as large? Who would have stepped in to save them and fill Rondo’s shoes? Eddie House? There’s that consistency issue and he’s not nearly enough of a passer to keep Paul and Ray happy. Steph? Yeah, he wasn’t going to be anyone’s savior.
Rondo’s presence is as integral to this team’s success as Garnett, Allen, Pierce, Rivers and ubuntu itself. In the past season and postseason he has emerged not only as the final cornerstone of the Celtics “foursome”, but as an All-Star and elite point guard in the NBA.
Slick glides to the basket, the ability to knife through double-teams and defenders and smooth passes that surprise everyone but his coach who knew he had it inside of him defines Rondo’s game. Everything he’s not on a basketball court -read: a proficient shooter- has only aided in making him who he is: a savvy, headstrong point guard who will get into the lane at all costs.
Taking a beating nightly, his bruised body bounces up, ready for more. Wanting another ring, needing to silence his critics and yearning to be named among the top point guards in the league without hesitation.
Rajon Rondo isn’t just ready, he is proven and has arrived. Most importantly, he is here to stay.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.