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2012 NBA Playoffs: Andrew Bynum, Rajon Rondo Are NBA's Most Unappreciated Stars

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2012 NBA Playoffs: Andrew Bynum, Rajon Rondo Are NBA's Most Unappreciated Stars

One is a seven-foot man-child who is the only true old school big man in the league. The other barely tops six feet and has been called everything from "moody" to an outright cancer. Yet the two have become mirror images of each other. Big time stars who play for big-time teams but still get treated like rookies. 

Andrew Bynum and Rajon Rondo are the two most unappreciated stars in the league. 

For so long they were both just the young guy on veteran-laden title contenders, only now they aren't so young and those veterans need to rely on them to carry their teams. Yet for some reason neither has garnered the respect that should come with their new roles. 

At some point in his career, Andrew Bynum has been talked about in trades involving five of the league's 24 current All-Stars (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and even Rondo). That's over 20 percent of the league's top players. For so long he's been viewed as a trade piece more than an asset himself. Because of this, a lot of fans missed the part when he became good. Really, really, really good. 

Bynum is comparable to Dwight Howard (the league's consensus best center) in nearly every metric. Howard's PER of 24.29 exceeds Bynum's by only 1.29, and Bynum's rebound rate of 18.7 is only 3.2 percent less than Howard's 21.9. In fact, Bynum's true shooting percentage and turnover ratio are actually better than Howard's, implying that Bynum may be the more efficient offensive player. 

Yet when Howard was on the trading block earlier this season, Orlando demanded not only Bynum, but also fellow All-Star Pau Gasol as part of a potential trade. 

The league, like the media and the fans, haven't realized just how good Bynum is becoming. They still think of him as Kobe Bryant's sidekick. Scrap that, they still think of him as Gasol's sidekick. 

If that's the case, then how did the Bynum-led Lakers go 5-2 without Kobe at the end of the regular season? If he isn't a true superstar, explain his 30-rebound gem against the Spurs. 

The one argument that can be made against Bynum's evolution is that he hasn't proved it in the playoffs. The same cannot be said for Rondo. 

Rondo is averaging an astonishing line of 17.5 points, 12.8 assists and 6.5 rebounds against Atlanta so far in Boston's opening series. His career scoring, assist and rebound numbers all go up in the spring, and that doesn't even factor in his marvelous defense.

Most impressive of all, though, is that he has been the best player in a series with LeBron James. In their second round matchup in 2010 (the one in which LeBron has been accused of quitting), Rondo was fantastic, averaging 20.7 points, 11.8 assists and 6.3 rebounds. 

The stats don't tell the whole story with Rondo, though, as he shares the spotlight with three aging stars. For years people have been claiming that the big three "made him," that Rondo was a product of playing with Hall of Famers and not his own incredible skill.

I think the opposite is true. While playing with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen has certainly been helpful to Rondo, I believe at this point he means a lot more to them. How do you think those three guys can keep playing at an All-Star level well into their 30's? Isn't Rondo's presence as a penetrator and distributor what allows them to keep up their own production? 

Yet Rondo is virtually always seen as a second-tier point guard. People don't view him in the same way that they do Chris Paul (which is acceptable), Derrick Rose (not so much), and Deron Williams (a complete joke). 

So here we have two of the best players in the league still being viewed as supporting pieces. Nobody has a problem with Kobe playing hero ball despite Bynum's clutch field goal percentage of 82 percent, and nobody wants to mention that Rondo's gruesome elbow injury was the main reason Boston folded against Miami last spring.

People just want them to get out of the way and let their higher profile teammates run the show. But the thing is, for both of their teams, Bynum and Rondo are the keys to a championship. 

No player in the league is better equipped than Rondo to exploit Miami's holes at point guard and center. Unless the Heat want to stick LeBron on him (which is a disaster waiting to happen because Rondo, unlike Derrick Rose last spring, will simply pass the ball), no Miami defender will be able to keep Rondo out of the paint. 

The Lakers can't get into a track meet with Oklahoma City in round two. They are simply too slow. They need to feed the ball to Bynum down low and exploit Kendrick Perkins' injury and Serge Ibaka's inexperience if they hope to win. 

Rondo and Bynum aren't kids anymore. They are in their sixth and seventh seasons in the league, respectively. Now they are the stars in their prime. Let's start treating them that way. 

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