Top 50: Rajon Rondo, no. 8

by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

There’s a scene in the otherwise forgettable film Raven where a fictionalized Edgar Allen Poe yells, to put it lightly, at his editor for publishing a story in the newspaper written by an author Poe deems terrible.

The editor responded, to paraphrase Kevin McNally’s character, that actually the paper’s readers like the other writer and find him to be quite talented.

An enraged Poe responded, again to paraphrase, coolly: “That’s because you’ve made them think that.”

The media has definitely shaped your opinion of Rajon Rondo. Over the course of his six-year NBA career, a loud if not large portion of the media has led you to believe that he’s surly and stubborn. They’ve led you to believe that he’s a handful in the locker room and not an ideal teammate. They’ve led you to believe, frankly, that he’s singlehandedly responsible for Ray Allen’s departure.

Of late, the media has finally started to soften their stance on Rondo. They’ve finally started digging into what Rondo’s really like—to be fair, they probably never did this before because he never offered more than one- or two-word answers—and they seem to be stunned by what they’ve found.

Keyon Dooling, as quoted by Jessica Camerato of CSNNE, thinks fair treatment from the media is past due.

“It pisses me off to see the way the media treats him because he’s strong,” Dooling said. “They’re scared of strength and he’s honest. It’s OK to be strong. What’s wrong with that man being strong? He’s earned his right. He’s come from nothing, he’s come from nothing.”

I don’t personally know what Rajon Rondo comes from, but I do know that SLAMonline has him at No. 8 on this list, and that even that number is probably not high enough.

I mean, it’s hard to appraise Rondo’s game. It’s hard because of preconceived notions, and it’s even harder because his game isn’t evaluable by an eye-test, isn’t conventional by any standard. The 6-2 point guard from Kentucky passes when you think he’s gonna shoot, shoots when you think he’s gonna pass, and does it all with a creative flourish and without any post-game explanation.

It’s fair to say that there is certainly no current player who compares to Rondo, and there might not have been another player with his makeup ever in the past, either. Between his bouts of MVP-type brilliance, KD-like length, Deion-like timing, stop-and-go quickness, pass-first (and second and third) outlook, single-mindedness in getting where he wants to go and clunky J, Rondo made a new mold with his game… and broke it so no one could copy it. Yes, statheads, a lot of his attributes aren’t quantifiable… but it’s all very real. Just ask the guys who play with him.

“Rajon’s amazing, period,” Kevin Garnett was quoted as saying after a game last season. “We talk about big things are coming—big things are here.”

Or ask NBA executives.

In the annual GM Survey, which was made public earlier this week, Rondo’s name appeared more times than any player not known by their surname alone. NBA GMs, men paid vast sums to evaluate talent and build rosters, voted him the third-best point guard in the League, the third-best (in a four-way tie) perimeter defender, the third-fastest with the ball, the third-best (in a two-way tie) passer, the third-toughest (in a four-way tie; he’s the only point guard) player and the player with the 10th best basketball IQ. And all of this on heels of his eighth-placed finish in last season’s MVP voting.

Yes, Rajon Rondo is not a finished product. His jumper is still shaky, he needs to improve his percentage from the charity stripe, he passes up too many layups and at times he seems to idle his engine. But the 26-year-old is the real deal.

To be honest, I was on the wagon early. Maybe too early. I was a fan of his when he was at Oak Hill and Kentucky, let alone his earliest years in Boston. Ask my co-editors, friends, whomever, I just saw something in him (and was always blown away by his HUGE hands). But, really, my faith in his potential for greatness was confirmed on three occasions in the past 18 months. In May of 2011, in the Eastern Conference Semfinals, Rondo, in a gruesome looking play, dislocated his elbow. Yeah, that’s not amazing in the least. But the fact that the trainers popped it back into place and he returned for the start of the next quarter is. The fact that he played the rest of that series with pretty much one hand is. The fact that, and maybe it only appeared this way to me, Miami seemed to bump and thump Rondo’s bad arm at every turn and he kept on keeping on is.

The second occasion occurred early last March, in the wake of Linsanity, when the New York Knicks visited the Celtics. On that Sunday afternoon, with Lin as the keystone of the national conversation, Rondo took over. In the OT win, Rondo finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists. That game pretty much sums up everything Rondo offers: a touch of scoring, rebounds seemingly whenever Doc allows him to crash the boards and not worry about getting back, and, obviously, an uncanny ability to find open teammates (and, more than that, to get teammates open).

The third occasion occurred this past postseason, when Rajon Rondo took over the entire Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. Rajon Rondo’s play in that seven-game series was so outrageously good that it’s not wrong to say he was the only player in the series on the same sphere as LeBron James. It’s not wrong, in fact, to say he’s the reason Boston was ever even in position to win the series. In Game 1, Rondo had 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. In Game 2, he had 44, 8 and 10. In Game 3, a win, he had 21, 6 and 10. And so on. To top it all off though, and this is, to me, is what makes Rondo a top player, I contend that his great play in the 2012 ECF directly correlates to the way Miami went after him when he was injured in the 2011 ECSF. Whatever the Heat did to take advantage of Rondo in that series, he took out on them 10-fold a year later. Some players have that MJ-ness in them; some don’t.

Yeah. When it comes to Rajon Rondo it’ll never be about the numbers (11.9 ppg, 11.7 apg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 spg in ’11-12) or the (terse) quotes. It’ll always be about the game and its results. Just keep watching.

[poll id=”478″]

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3
13 Andrew Bynum Sixers C 2
12 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
11 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
10 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
9 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
8 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 3

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.