Rondo has been outright visible all offseason and has not shied away from a single camera or question. What started with a breakout performance in the postseason has carried through to an interesting summer of declarations and speculation.
One in particular is his assessment that he stands atop the league's point guard rankings. This, in turn, has led to speculation of Rondo as a Most Valuable Player candidate.
A lot must go right this coming season for Rondo to be in the conversation. Even then, Most Valuable Player votes are not a sure thing since the rest of the NBA is stocked with so much talent.
Rondo Must Improve His Scoring
A brief sampling of the past 10 award-winners tells us that these players averaged 24.5 points per game during their respective seasons. The outlier is Steve Nash's back-to-back wins in 2005 and 2006, when the point guard averaged less than 20 points.
However, the landscape of the league has changed so much in the past seven years. There is very little chance of Rondo receiving the votes he deserves if he is unable to sniff that 20-point-per-game milestone.
This may prove to be the biggest challenge for him, as the most Rondo has scored in a regular season was just 13.7 points per game in 2009-10; last season, that dropped to just 11.9. Even in Nash's first Most Valuable Player season, he was scoring 15.5 points per game.
The opportunity for Rondo to improve in this area will be no greater than in the 2012-13 season. He has emerged as a special NBA talent, and the Celtics have begun to rebuild around him. While Rondo will be the focal point of the offense, there is enough talent around him to allow for a few easy buckets every game.
The key will be for Rondo to take those easy ones and not look for a more difficult assist. If you take every unnecessary extra pass from Rondo's games last season and add two points instead, his average easily jumps 4-6 points.
Those extra few points also could come at the free-throw line, a spot where Rondo has famously struggled throughout his career. If he has made it a point to work on this shot, then Rondo should be able to boost his percentage near 70. The past two seasons he has fallen below 60 percent from the line, which leaves a couple points on the table every night.
Just by fixing these two flaws in Rondo's game we have added seven or eight points per game to his stats. Improving from his career high, that puts him right around 20 points per game. If Rondo can average 18-plus points per game, he instantly becomes a more appealing candidate for the MVP award.
Can Gaudy Assist Totals Continue?
Over the past couple seasons, Rondo has emerged as the league's premier assist-getter. His 11.7 per game last season not only led the league but was the highest total in more than a decade.
The issue here is that the bar has been set by Rondo, for Rondo. He is in an elite class of distributors, of which he has the clear lead.
However, any slight drop in production leads to speculation of a subpar season. Even if Rondo is able to bump his points per game up to 19, if his assists dwindle as a result and he finishes with just eight or nine per game, the Most Valuable Player award will be out of reach.
And even if he tallies an impressive assist number, if it doesn't resemble his 11.7 or 11.2 of the year before, Rondo's season can be dismissed.
The benefit here is that the Celtics appear more prepared to run with Rondo this season. This gives him a lot more opportunities for the all-important fast-break assist. Rondo can now pick up dimes from players such as Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Chris Wilcox in the open court. Meanwhile, he still has kick-back options on the perimeter in Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, while maintaining a solid pick-and-pop option with Kevin Garnett.
The new additions to this team, along with those returning from injury, give Rondo a much greater opportunity to pile on assists.
This Award is Based on Team Success
As much of an individual award as the Most Valuable Player is, the winners still rely on team success.
Looking back at those same winners over the past 10 seasons, only two played for teams that were not the No. 1 overall seed in their conference; only Steve Nash in 2005-06 and LeBron James last year did not lead their respective team—both of which were No. 2 seeds—to the best record in their respective conference.
A repeat of last year's four-seed will simply not cut it if Rondo is to receive proper consideration for this award. Boston must overtake Indiana, Chicago and maybe even Miami to land a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference.
While this is definitely possible for the Celtics, given their improved roster and the unknown status of Derrick Rose and the Bulls, it is not something that Boston has placed a premium on in recent years.
No matter how much this team is said to be Rondo's, there is the lingering presence of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. All three still assume the leadership roles, and all three know the value of rest during the regular season. They see no issue with landing outside the top-two overall seeds, as long as they are primed for a postseason run.
This plays against Rondo's Most Valuable Player chances. There are going to be games this season when he will need to win himself in order to stay alive for those top-two spots. Pierce and Garnett are sure to miss a few games, even down the stretch when the most eyes are watching. Garnett is an owner of the award, and Pierce has himself a version from the 2008 Finals.
If Boston lands in the No.3-6-seed range, it will not matter what it does in the postseason—Rondo's Most Valuable Player chances will dwindle.
He Has to Want it
As I wrote in a previous piece, there is no one who wants to be the best more than Rondo. His consistent assertion of himself as the game's top point guard is more than posturing or cockiness. It is a self-realization that he will do whatever it takes to prove himself.
Combining this with a few outbursts during the season—some directed at officials, teammates and Rivers—proves that he is one of the most competitive players in the NBA. No one is going to tell Rondo he can't win the Most Valuable Player award.
If they say he doesn't score enough, he will score more. If they say his team isn't winning enough, he will force Boston through a few games. And as we've seen, if you threaten to trade him, he will post eye-popping triple-doubles.
It has been said before, but the only player with the all-around potential of Rajon Rondo is the same player who has won three of the last four Most Valuable Player trophies.
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