There was a time when Rajon Rondo was a footnote.
Think back to 2008, the first year of the first “Big 3” experiment that showcased the Celtics as a team with 3 viable scoring options in Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. Some saw Rondo as a fourth scoring option, but his inconsistent shooting and sometimes-questionable decision-making put some justified doubts in peoples’ minds. Defenders readily gave him space around the 3-point line and some were even content to leave him open from as close as 16 feet.
Rondo averaged 10.6 PPG, a respectable amount considering the variety of scorers on the Celtics roster. The point guard however struggled to distribute the ball, averaging just 5.1 assists throughout the year. The sophomore point guard was rarely worried about when Pierce, Allen, and Garnett made up the majority of opponent’s game plans.
My how things have changed.
More than anyone else over the past three seasons, Rajon Rondo has elevated his play since the Celtics’ 2008 championship run and thus has them one game away from another shot at a title.
He’s smart, using what frame he has to disallow post-position. He’s tricky, allowing players into the lane only to back check for the ball, collect the steal, and lead the fast break for the easy bucket. And he distributes, getting Bass, Pietrus, Bradley and everyone else involved when it matters the most (such as when Ray Allen went down on ankle injury). And although he might not have the size of some of the 3’s and 4’s out there, he is a pesky defender and really makes the opponent work their shots and position on the floor; he’s one of the few players in the league that is willing to guard any player on the opposing team.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers even recently went as far as to say, “Rondo is the smartest player I’ve every coached.”
The Celtics success this season is largely in part of Rondo. Want some stats to prove it? During the past regular season this year, the tricky floor general averaged a double-double with 11.9 PPG and 11.7 APG and led the league in assists (203), steals (41), and triple doubles (6). Such play has earned him a spot at the table with the Big 3, and perhaps even the right to shuffle the seating as well.
But perhaps Rondo’s greatest contributions have come during the playoffs. The guard is averaging 16.8 PPG, good enough for third best on the roster behind Garnett and Pierce. He’s played some outstanding games, including that monstrous 44-point effort in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals to go along with his playoff leading 3 triple-doubles. And when the Celtics lost Paul Pierce before the beginning of OT in Game 2, Rondo took over, scoring all 12 of the Celtics points in extra time on 4-5 shooting; production that Heat fans are desperate for from their stars after falling behind 3-2 in the series.
Over the past few years, Rondo has transitioned from a formidable defender that deferred to the Big 3 into one of the most decisive and dangerous guards in the league. If the Celtics get past the Heat, first praise goes to Rondo and Rondo only. Without him, the Celtics championship window would certainly have closed already.