Consistency is the easiest way to gauge a player’s greatness. At the NBA level, anybody can score 20 points, or grab 10 rebounds or dish out double-digit assists in a random game. The great ones produce these numbers night after night, week after week, year after year, regardless of the opponent.
This season Rajon Rondo is looking to become better known as a great NBA player rather than just a great point guard. In order to do that, he not only needs to follow the tried-and-true “be the best, beat the best” mantra, but also run circles around players who aren’t household names.
In six games this season, Rondo has faced Brandon Jennings, Beno Udrih, A.J. Price, Jannero Pargo Jrue Holiday, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers. Aside from Jennings, who Milwaukee chose not to offer a contract extension to a couple weeks ago, none of these players have ever, or will ever, come close to seeing an All-Star level of point guard play. (My sincere apologies to Holiday, who may eventually make me regret writing that sentence.)
Despite Boston’s inability as a team to look competent in any of these contests, Rondo emerged as the victor of his individual matchup in nearly all of them.
How? Well, tons of reasons.
One hundred percent of the time, Rondo holds an advantage when he’s attacking his man. He’s one of the quickest ball-handlers in NBA history, and thanks to hand-check rules out on the perimeter, no human being alive can backpedal faster than Rondo racing forward.
In order to embarrass an opposing point guard, he needs neither a screen nor a brilliant scheme born in the mind of Doc Rivers. Rondo has unparalleled stop-and-go quickness and deceptively skillful handle; which sums up a good chunk of what’s required of elite guards in today’s NBA.
Containing him in space is like corralling a ferret and then flossing its teeth. He’s a threat to score as much as he is the best in basketball at raising the self-esteem of his teammates.
Of course, NBA games are so much more than one-on-one performances. In order to succeed, you first must possess timing, chemistry, awareness and trust in your teammates. You need to mold these traits in your mind, take them on the road, then execute them all on the court in front of thousands of fans on a consistent basis.
Opposing coaches are beginning to treat Rondo like a bumble bee: "Ignore him and you won’t get stung.” That's pretty much the wisest strategy you can have at this point. Getting up in Rondo’s face, harassing him or forcing him to drive will almost certainly result in the annihilation of your defense. It's best to leave him alone, sag off and let him shoot open jumpers.
Making him mad (i.e. guarding him) opens up more options than a defense wants. Once he breaks his inferior defender down, he'll either get to the basket for a layup, draw a foul or dump it off for an easy dunk. No option is a good option if you're coaching the other team.
When Rondo gets going, the Celtics get going. He's their most important offensive player right now. (When he's off the court, Boston scores just 75.3 points per 100 possessions, a number that would make Charlotte's coaching staff dissolve into laughter.)
I’ve already covered Rondo’s improved mid-range game this season—he’s shooting 48 percent on 4.6 attempts per game from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata.com—but let’s look at how he’s doing compared to other point guards around the league.
For shots from 16-23 feet: Russell Westbrook is averaging 4.7 attempts and shooting 25 percent. Kyrie Irving is averaging 4.2 attempts and shooting 48 percent. Deron Williams is averaging 4.3 attempts and shooting 38 percent. Chris Paul is averaging 3.5 attempts and shooting 48 percent. Tony Parker is averaging 3.7 attempts and shooting 32 percent.
From those figures, it’s safe to say Rondo is the best mid-range shooting point guard in the league right now, but what makes him so dynamic is his play at the rim. Three point guards around the league are attempting more shots at the basket per game: Ty Lawson, Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook, with Walker leading them at 60.7 percent. Rondo’s shooting 64 percent, and, remarkably, not a single basket has so far been assisted by a teammate.
Rondo is spending the early parts of his seventh season as one of the most dominant players in the entire league. If he wants to keep it up, keeping his foot on the gas against every single opponent, regardless of skill, is absolutely necessary.