After a solid 2011 campaign in which he was selected to his third consecutive All-Star game while earning All-NBA and All-Defensive Team honors, Rajon Rondo seems poised for another memorable season in 2012. During the Nike World Basketball Festival in Paris, Rondo told reporters he believes he is the best point guard in the league. Fans of Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Deron Williams may disagree, but Rondo has certainly has backed up his talk over the last few years.
Despite not being a prolific scorer, Rondo has silenced critics with spectacular play in other aspects of his game. In 2011 he led the league in assists per game (11.7), setting a Celtics franchise record of 28 straight games with 10 or more assists. He also averaged 4.8 rebounds ranking him fourth among guards behind Evan Turner, Paul George and Kobe Bryant.
As if his regular season numbers weren’t impressive enough, Rondo was a human highlight reel in the NBA playoffs — he averaged 17.3 points and 11.9 assists in 19 games including a career high 44-point performance against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With several core members of the 2011 team returning next season (except of course Ray Allen), Rondo should pick up right where he left off. After finishing eighth in MVP balloting last year, all signs point north for the 26-year-old point guard. Barring any significant injuries, he should be able to break the top 10 in MVP voting once again, and maybe even crack the top five.
Here’s a look at why Rajon Rondo will be in the 2012-13 NBA MVP debate, but will fall short of taking home the prized hardware.
Why Rondo could win MVP
Where art thou Rose: Derrick Rose is expected to miss the majority (if not all) of the 2012 season after he tore his ACL in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. With arguably the best point guard in the NBA going down, Rondo will have less competition among Eastern Conference point guards.
Yes, there is still Brooklyn’s Deron Williams, but until the Nets have a respectable season Williams will not get MVP consideration. Other standout point guards in the East include John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings, but like Deron Williams their accomplishments on the court are overshadowed by their teams’ poor win/loss records and lackluster play.
Defense wins championships…and MVPs: Rajon Rondo’s versatility and ability to dominate both ends of the floor has not gone unrecognized. Despite taking a slight step back last year, he has consistently proven to be one of the best defensive guards in the league.
He was the NBA’s leader in steals in 2010 and has made the All-Defensive Team four times from 2009 to 2012. Although it may not be as glamorous as scoring, defense is certainly taken into account when determining a player’s worthiness. Just ask Kobe (2008), Tim Duncan (2002-2003) or Kevin Garnett (2004).
Playmaker: Rajon Rondo led the league with six regular season triple-doubles last year—no other player recorded more than one. An interesting pattern that has emerged with Rajon Rondo is that he seems to perform his best when the lights shine brightest.
Four of his six regular season triple-doubles came during nationally televised games. He tacked on four more during the NBA playoffs obviously in which every game is nationally televised. According to the 2012-13 schedule the Celtics will make at least 15 appearances on national TV—Rondo will definitely have his calendar marked.
Haters gonna hate: If there is anything that motivates Rajon Rondo on a personal level it’s his doubters. One need not be around him long to realize his desire to prove skeptics wrong. His confidence and sometimes arrogance is a direct result of proving himself time and time again.
He takes it personally when his name is not mentioned with the likes of Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. Rondo has expressed this insecurity in the past, when he confronted Paul after a Celtics-Hornets game at the TD Banknorth Garden in 2009. And it was only after getting snubbed from an initial selection to the 2011 All-Star team (he was later named as an injury replacement for Joe Johnson) that Rondo began his incredible 28-game streak of 10 or more assists.
Despite his strong performance last year catapulting him into the MVP mix, Rajon Rondo will not be hoisting the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season.
Why Rondo won’t win MVP
A King is hard to dethrone: The NBA is LeBron James’ league. Despite playing on a team with two other superstars (which in theory should diminish one’s stats) James was able to capture his third MVP award in four years. At just 27 years of age he is the best basketball player in the world and will almost certainly win at least two or three more MVP awards by the end of his career.
Last year James averaged 27.1 points, 6.2 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting an astonishing 53 percent from the field. As long as he plays at this level, he is a perennial MVP candidate, shooting down any chance Rondo has.
And then there is Durant: Since getting drafted in 2007 Kevin Durant has quickly elevated his game. At age 23 he has already become the most prolific scorer in the NBA, earning three straight scoring titles. Along with LeBron James, Durant will be in the MVP discussion for a long time.
This is a scoring league: The NBA is a league that seems to place a higher emphasis on scoring than other statistics such as assists. While the disparity is not glaring, it is definitely noticeable. In the last six years the league’s MVP finished top three in scoring four times.
If Rajon Rondo is going to be a top three MVP candidate he will have to increase his scoring output significantly; 11 points per game won’t cut it. In order for that to happen Rondo will have to continue to develop his jump shot and improve his free-throw shooting (career 62 percent shooter from the line). He also ranked 21st in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among NBA point guards last year and 78th overall due to his low scoring numbers.
While Rajon Rondo is a fantastic player, he does have a few glaring holes in his game. If and when he develops a consistent mid-range jumper and improves his abysmal free-throw shooting, he can maybe be regarded as a potential top three MVP candidate.
After all, Steve Nash was able to win back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 after he averaged roughly 18 points and 11 assists per game. That does not seem out of the realm of possibility for Rondo. However until that happens Rondo will just have to settle for being the MVP of his team.