Examining Rajon Rondo's Ceiling as a Star

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterSeptember 27, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics speaks with the media after losing to the Miami Heat in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on June 9, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rajon Rondo has a command over NBA fans that only a select few can muster. He is talented, flawed and so deeply controversial that the mere mention of his name invites debate. The basketball world remains intently focused on Rondo's every move and, if the fervor of comment sections and message boards give any indication, prepared to argue every aspect of Rondo's play in explicit detail.

Asking a question about Rondo is one of the clearest ways to get NBA fans to draw their own line in the sand, but the controversy surrounding his play comes for good reason. The Celtics' promising point guard is an unbelievable talent and a remarkable athlete. There is little question that he stands among the best at his position in the NBA, but given what we know of Rondo's game and career thus far, how good can he truly be?

A familiar refrain

The knock on Rondo should not be at all unfamiliar at this point, even to the most casual of NBA observers. Rondo manages some impossible passes, often defends at an All-NBA level, comes up big under the bright lights of the NBA playoffs and can not consistently make any shot outside of about eight feet. His shot is not broken, so much as wholly untrained. The developmental arc of this particular player never quite made it around to shooting accuracy, thus leaving an otherwise dominant point guard without an attribute crucial to his position.

As a result, opposing teams have no reason at all to respect Rondo as an offensive threat from mid-range or long distance. They are free to sag off of Rondo to help defend pick and rolls, temporarily leave him open to engage in a double team or stray from his immediate zone to rotate to a worthier threat. 

Until Rondo rectifies that bit of disadvantage, he will always have a cap on his—and his team's—offensive performance. A player can only do so much good for the offense if he is also a frequent liability, all of which puts the pressure for evolution squarely on Rondo's shoulders. He owes himself and the Celtics some quality time with a shooting coach, lest he squander some of his incredible potential.

A better balance

On the flip side of the notion that Rondo elevates his game in certain situations: if the All-Star centerpiece of Boston's future really is capable of producing that much more on a regular basis, what's stopping him? Ability always come saddled with the weight of expectation, and though much is expected of Rondo, he's perhaps a bit too inconsistent to be fairly elevated to superstar status.

The line between tremendous talents like Rondo and the league's elite is indeed that thin. All it takes is the slightest wavering or the slightest inconsistency, and Rondo does his reputation no favors with a moody approach and waffling effectiveness. He's valuable even at his worst, but Rondo oscillates between capable scorer and unwilling shooter at a moment's notice. There are games where he rightfully takes over a contest that should very well be his, and others where he willingly fades to the background. It's not important that he "step up," or fulfill any other stubborn sports cliché, but merely that he round out his performance in a way that more accurately represents his skill set.

Rondo can drive through the teeth of most every opposing defense, and he is both clever and athletic enough to finish at the rim. Yet he willingly tilts away from the possibility of creating shots for himself, and instead controls the ball with the intent to make plays for others. It is a noble aim, and largely an efficient one. But Rondo has a had time threading the delicate scoring balance when it comes to his individual production vs. the team's output, despite his incredible capacity to satisfy both regards.

He does not have to fully understand the functioning of an offense just yet, but he can not rightly ascend the NBA ranks without a more sophisticated grasp of how to use his all-encompassing vision. Seeing the entire floor is one thing, but understanding when to make difficult passes and when to pursue a shot is another matter entirely.