Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Rajon, the overrated?
By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
I was shocked to see Rajon Rondo at No. 17 in #NBA Rank and recently irked by his presence in the All-Star game. I am what you might call a "Rondo hater," insofar as that term means believing an athlete to be worse than consensus. Obviously, Rajon is good, obviously he can help a squad. This is simply a matter of, "Should he really have made three All-Star teams?," the way even Nash admirers question Steve's two MVPs.
This touches on a broader issue, one of what we expect from our point guards. The position has a certain cachet in the league. It means more to the average observer than say, power forward. A point guard is a team's "quarterback," its "engine," that drink-stirring straw. The point guard does not play on a squad so much as he animates it, infusing four others with his giving spirit. Or so the legend goes.
There is a platonic ideal for the point guard position, and that is to be an unselfish distributor. Rajon Rondo passes that test, no pun intended. The man is second in assists this year, and he notched a whopping 11.2 per game last year. For this reason, Rondo is considered a "pure point guard," the way other role-fitting stars might be considered "pure scorers." That he embodies an archetype might help explain how Rondo received a No. 17 #NBARank after a season in which he garnered a No. 69 PER.
But Rondo does not fit my platonic ideal for a point guard, because Boston's offense, to put it mildly, stinks. They are 23rd ranked in offensive efficiency this year, and this season is not exactly aberrational. In five-plus years with Rajon, the Celtics have only had a top 10 offense once. There are external factors to explain the anemic attack, but Rondo might be somewhat to blame despite his respectable PER.
To quote Bill Simmons on the matter: "Any smart team (like the Lakers last night) plays six feet off Rondo in tight games, daring him to shoot, paralyzing Boston's offense and leading to the dreaded "Clogged Toilet" play (Pierce ending up with the ball 25 feet from the hoop with seven seconds left trying to create something)." So he racks up assists, and certainly contributes. But Rajon's shooting woes might prevent him from running the kind of humming offense that Nash puppeteers.
Boston's defense was paramount during Rondo's reign, and the ball-hawking sprite deserves credit for his role. The issue is that point guard--as a position--might be less important defensively than those frontcourt spots. Recall how KG's arrival brought with it a renaissance of stringiness. While it is important for every man to play his defensive role, defense relies on occupying space, and the largest players are often the best space takers. This might have something to do with why Gary Payton was the last point guard to win Defensive Player of the Year, way back in 1996.
So this is a question of what you think a point guard's role is. Is it to get assists? Is it to run an efficient offense? Inject the question of whether defense is really 'half the game' for an offense-oriented position, and you have perhaps the NBA's hardest player to gauge.