On March 4, in a nationally televised game against the Knicks at TD Garden, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo produced a stat line for the ages. He finished the game with the unreal line of 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds, becoming only the third player in NBA history to accumulate such numbers in a single game, alongside a couple guys named Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.
It was arguably the game of the year from an individual standpoint and if Rondo wasn't already on the national stage as one of the game's elite point guards before such a performance, he most certainly made the big time in its aftermath.
But as great as Rondo looked that afternoon, as breathtaking as he's capable of being, he is not the best point guard in the league. That honor goes to his counterpart in last night's game against the L.A. Clippers, Chris Paul.
Paul, the former New Orleans star who was shopped by the league owned Hornets following the lockout, was in the Celtics cross hairs and for a moment looked as though he might be coming to Boston, in exchange for none other than Rondo.
With the two meeting for the first time since the near deal last night at Staples Center, it seemed a good chance to examine the matchup. Neither of the two marquee players had that big an impact on last night's 94-85 Celtics win, but each has had a profound impact on his team throughout the course of this season.
From a statistical standpoint, It's very close. Paul averages 20.3 points and 8.4 assists per game to go with 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals. The scoring number is his highest since the '08-'09 season with the Hornets and he is shooting threes at a higher percentage (41.2) than any other point in his career.
Rondo, at 13.9 PPG, is putting up a career year in that department, but still lags behind Paul significantly here. But Rondo's 10 assists per game is second in the league only to Steve Nash and at roughly five boards per game, he's one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA, as the 17 he snared in that game against the Knicks would attest.
Where the two players differ and why Paul is subsequently better, is not as easily measurable. Both are passers of the highest caliber and see the floor with more ease than just about every other point guard not named Derrick Rose. But Paul controls the game in as traditional a way as is possible.
Everything runs through Paul. He has the ball in his hands more than the rest of his teammates combined. They are all always looking for him no matter where on the floor they are. And he has a green light to shoot.
Rondo, as Celtics fans know, is a reluctant scorer. His mid-range jumper has improved but opposing defenses still sag off him and dare him to fire away more often than not, particularly late in games. And his weak free-throw shooting numbers (58.8 percent this year, 61.9 percent for his career) are evidence of why he seems to lose his will to take the ball to the rim as games go on. No one ties himself in more knots on his way to the basket than Rondo, all in an effort to not get fouled.
And further, Rondo is not the one with the ball at the end of games, as Paul is. He may handle the ball more than any of his teammates, but the offense doesn't necessarily run through him. This may explain Rondo's higher assist totals, as he's distributing a bit more while Paul is shooting a bit more.
The point guard position has evolved to where more of a focus is placed on shooting and scoring than ever before. Rose and Deron Williams, two of the best in the league, both lead their teams in field-goal attempts. Paul takes 15 shots a night, three more than Rondo, and makes them at a nearly 50 percent clip.
But he's still the facilitator. No one else has more to do with the tempo and pace of games as Paul does. No one picks his spots better. And he only turns the ball over twice per game, a major part of the reason the Clippers are near the top of the league in turnovers as a team at 13 per night.
Rondo isn't quite at that level when it comes to ball security. He only gives it up 3.6 times per game, but that number is currently a career high. And as far as temperament goes, Paul has never had any issues while Rondo has been ensnared in what seems like constant talk about his attitude and behavior for multiple years now.
Rondo has something Paul does not and that's a championship ring, not to mention another trip to the finals. Paul's teams have won exactly one playoff series in his seven-year career. Advantage: Rondo.
But that's pretty much where Rondo's advantages end. Paul has lived up the hype he earned starring at Wake Forest and getting picked fourth overall in the 2005 draft. With the Clippers, he has the best supporting cast around him of his career, which has made him look even better.
Rajon Rondo is a great point guard. Chris Paul is the best there is.