Can Rajon Rondo Lead Boston Celtics Into Post-Doc Rivers, Big 3 Era?
If Danny Ainge elects to move the Boston Celtics firmly into rebuilding mode by parting ways with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers, don't expect Rajon Rondo to lead this franchise back into the promised land.
While Rondo is one of the best point guards in the league—the fifth best in fact, behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and a healthy Derrick Rose—he's not capable of keeping the C's in contention once the rest of the Big Three departs Beantown.
Boston would inevitably take a step backward without the two legends and a truly elite coach. While the Celtics would eventually rebound, it would take a while.
In the absence of Pierce and Garnett, Rondo becomes the clear leader in Boston. There's a chance that he could mature into a coachable player with a complete game, but there are too many flaws associated with him for the Celtics to experience much success right off the bat. Well, at least the level of success this historically excellent franchise is used to.
Three main problems exist: The remaining roster isn't particularly strong, Rondo isn't easy to coach, and he's not the best player to build around.
Let's break 'em down.
The Remaining Roster
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were clearly the three best players wearing Celtic green during the 2012-13 campaign, and losing two members of that trio cripples the roster. Jeff Green took some massive strides forward, but he's not the type of established player you want as your No. 2 guy.
Even if Boston buys out the contracts of both Garnett and Pierce, Ainge still doesn't have much money to work with this offseason. With the two former All-Stars on the roster, the Celtics are on the books for $73,886,331, spread among 12 players.
Losing the two players would give the C's an opportunity to sign another solid player, but not a max guy. Not even close.
It's quite likely that Boston only gets to add some role players to the roster, meaning that it's not going to be strengthened much. Unless Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger notably improve during the offseason, the Celtics aren't going to look much like a playoff squad.
Rondo and Avery Bradley form a terrifying defensive backcourt, but neither of the two guards can shoot the ball with any semblance of consistency. The scoring would have to come from the frontcourt or the bench, and there aren't many appealing options.
Green may have to average 25 points per game to keep this team afloat in the absence of Pierce and KG.
It's not a knock on Rondo to say that he couldn't lead this remaining roster deep into the playoffs. With the possible exception of LeBron James, no one could.
Tough to Coach
This part is more of a reflection on Rondo because it deals solely with him.
The talented point guard has never been the easiest player to handle, even when he was under the tutelage of a player's coach like Doc Rivers. Rondo respected Rivers greatly, and even still, he was tough to coach.
I still am. It’s not that I’m hard to coach, it’s just that I may challenge what you say. I know the game myself, I’m out there playing the game. So I may have saw something different versus what you saw from the sideline. I’m going to be respectable. I’m going to let the coach talk.
Throughout his professional career, Rondo has displayed some on-court antics and received a few suspensions. He's not exactly beloved in the minds of most teammates, and rumors of intra-team clashes aren't that uncommon.
And that's with Rivers in charge.
What happens when a new coach is looking to earn respect in the locker room and Rondo challenges him? What if the new signal-caller is more of a strategist than a coach who specializes in easing locker room tension?
There's some potential for disaster here.
Not a Point Guard to Build Around
While Rondo is a fantastic point guard capable of helping lead a quality team to a championship, as he did during the first season with Garnett and Ray Allen, he's not the type of player you want to build around.
Instead, he's much more of a complementary piece, one who can make already talented teammates even better.
The problem is that Rondo has too many holes in his game, particularly when it comes to scoring. He's not the best at finishing layups, and his outside shooting allows defenses to pay more attention to his teammates.
Rondo's jump shooting has improved rather dramatically, but it's still a weakness. That's largely because his biggest improvement came from 16 to 23 feet away from the basket, also known as the least efficient area of the court and the one that coaches want to steer their players out of.
According to Hoopdata.com, Rondo made 48 percent of his 3.6 attempts per game from that range, which is a pretty stellar percentage. The problem is, you don't want to be taking those shots.
Rondo would be best served stepping in to the shorter portion of mid-range—10 to 15 feet—or backing out to the three-point line. And yet, those are the two areas he struggles from the most.
The point guard made just 37.9 percent of his tries from 10 to 15 feet, and he only let fly from that distance 0.8 times per game. Among all point guards who played at least 20 minutes per game, he was No. 41 in accuracy from the range in question.
If we move out to three-point range, Rondo shot 36 percent, but he only took 1.3 attempts per game. Only three point guards who met the aforementioned criteria made fewer triples each game: Shaun Livingston, Andre Miller and John Wall.
These deficiencies were already detrimental, and they'll be even more readily apparent when Rondo is expected to step his offensive game up in Pierce and Garnett's absence.
Can Boston rebuild a championship-caliber team around Rondo?
The Celtics aren't going to experience much success until Rondo is surrounded by more stellar scoring options. He can certainly create looks for other players, but he needs talent around him in order to truly thrive.
While the Kentucky product may eventually lead Boston deep into the playoffs during the post-Doc, post-Big Three era, that won't be happening in 2013-14. He needs to build a rapport with his new coach in this hypothetical situation, gain chemistry with the new rotation and play on an upgraded roster.
Again, Rondo is a fantastic point guard. He's just not the right one to lead this team in the franchise's next era.
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