Friday, August 24, 2012
Summer Forecast: The importance of Rondo
By Chris Forsberg
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesFor the final installment of this year's Summer Forecast series, we wanted to close with a focus on the key element of the Celtics' 2012-13 season, the one topic that will be in the spotlight more than any other, and the one that would ultimately dictate the success of this year's team.
Will the Celtics hop on Rajon Rondo's back again this season?
We had to close with Rajon Rondo.
During our 15-part series, we've touched on a variety of key topics, including who will emerge as the team's starting shooting guard, whether a rookie like Jared Sullinger is ready to make an immediate impact, and if this is the year that Boston finally gets a much-needed boost from its bench.
Along the way we also debated who would emerge as the team MVP and it was a landslide victory for Rondo. It's not hard to see why: The 26-year-old point guard is vital to the success of the team and will be the focal point on a star-studded roster.
It also seemed appropriate to end with Rondo given the way the Celtics offseason played out. Sure, the team put its core back together and added some supplementary pieces, but the biggest story line was the departure of Ray Allen -- officially ending the Big Three era. In the aftermath, Celtics coach Doc Rivers came out and again hammered home the notion that this Rondo's team.
Our panel, which did a spectacular job carrying this series all summer long, nails it again with this one. We'll let them do most of the talking. But one theme jumped out and it's something we'll spotlight here before passing the microphone.
The most intriguing aspect about Rondo is his continued growth and development. We've seen him morph from a deep-on-a-bad-depth-chart rookie to the spunky young point guard that defenses ignored on a championship team to now the focal point of a title-caliber team littered with Hall of Famers. And we're all left wondering the same thing: What's next?
Each year, Rondo has taken a step in his progression. Each year, he wows us with something new in his arsenal or an improvement in another area of his game. He's come far in six seasons, but there's this excitement about what still lies ahead.
And it's with that growth that the Celtics jump on Rondo's back a little bit more.
Read on as our panel explores the importance of Rondo.
Rajon Rondo's importance to the Celtics might be the furthest thing from a mystery in the NBA. He's the engine that propels the vehicle, the floor general calling the shots, the conductor of the symphony, or any other analogy you want to go with. I mentioned it in an earlier forecast question, but I firmly believe Rondo is poised for whatever his equivalent of a "breakout year" is. He's already established in the NBA, without question, but I fully expect to see him become even more dominant. He'll do this by piling up the assists at his now customary dizzying rate, but he'll also probably have to score more for this group, so we'll probably see him attack the rim even more and show more confidence in his mid-range jump shot. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren't blind to his importance to the team -- they've been preaching it for years now -- so they won't have an issue letting Rondo control the offense even more than he has in the recent past. Combine all of this with the younger nucleus Rondo now has around him and can unleash in the open court, and I think we'll see career-high numbers in a host of categories (particularly scoring), and some truly dynamic play that will propel the C's to some significant success.
Last season's playoffs went a long way towards easing the Rondo anxiety I've carried the last few years. Ever since his name first appeared in trade rumors, I've (not-so) secretly hoped that Danny Ainge would move Rondo for a talent and consistency upgrade. He seemed like a career-long tease, and miscast as a No. 1 player. But Rondo's 22.1 playoff PER actually undersells the growth in his game, because he was often tasked with manufacturing an entire offense for a batch of gimpy-legged or marginally talented teammates (along with, admittedly, the resurgent KG). If the C’s fell short against Miami, you could hang none of that on Rondo, who exhausted himself in service to the team. With more athletes to run with him in transition next season, and fewer carryover concerns about his willingness to attack the rim, Rondo could challenge for a spot among the top 10 players in the league by the end of the postseason. To claim it, he’ll have to carry Boston to the conference finals or beyond and outduel the upper tier of stars he regards as his peers. It also wouldn’t hurt if his defensive effort more consistently matched his defensive reputation.
After Ray Allen left the Celtics, all but admitting a feud with Rondo on his way to Miami, Doc Rivers came to Rondo's support. He stood up for his star point guard, saying he didn't agree with Allen's reasons for leaving and that Rondo has emerged as a leader. Rivers didn't demean Allen, but he made it clear: He's on Rondo's side. When Rondo was captured later in a summer photograph with Kevin Garnett and Snoop Dogg (err, Lion), Boston sports radio focused on Rondo's t-shirt, which said one word: "high." What the radio shows should have focused on was considerably more important to Boston's future success: Rondo and Garnett are now tight enough to hang out during the offseason. The young, uncontrollable stallion is growing wiser. Rondo rattled off a string of double-digit assist games after the All-Star break last season and even displayed an ability to morph into a scorer when Boston needed him to (see: 44 points in Game 2 against Miami). He's improved every season since being drafted and always boosts his production once the postseason arrives. He seems to have grown a layer of maturity and his jump shot might even be evolving, at least a little. He remains a riddling mess of stubbornness, singularity, and occasional inconsistency (though he addressed the latter issue significantly during this past campaign), but he's also one of the NBA's finest competitors. When Allen left, the Big Three as we knew it was dead. But Rondo long ago passed Allen, anyway. Long live the Big Three.
Every year I expect Rondo to get better, and every year he does. Some of that is because he hasn't taken exponential leaps forward so much as he's taken a few steps forward -- with the occasional step back along the way. But still, if he had hit the open market this summer, he would have gotten a max contract, so he's a bargain at his current price ($11 million next season). I do believe it is his team now and he's established enough consistency to be considered one of the game's greats. Kevin Garnett is essential, Paul Pierce is critical, the bench is key, but Rondo is the most important piece, in part because he makes all the other pieces work together to be greater than the sum of the parts. Last year he led the league in assists despite quarterbacking a below-average offensive team. What's he going to do with guys that know how to score? I can't wait to find out.
Your turn: How important is Rajon Rondo to the Celtics' success? Sound off in the comments.