Is Rajon Rondo the NBA's Best Point Guard and Other Boston Celtics Questions

Stew Winkel@stew_winkelSenior Analyst IMarch 10, 2010

I have come up with five questions for this year’s Celtics team, while still waiting for Doc Rivers to decide to send a double-team at Andrew Bogut:

Is Rajon Rondo the best point guard in the NBA?

I ask this question not to set up an argument with myself.  Rather, because there are definitely moments during games when I watch Rondo play and think he is as good a point guard as there is in the NBA. So, is he the best? Sometimes.

When Rondo is playing well, he dominates the game in a way I don’t think any other guard can or does. As for statistics, Rondo is first in the NBA in steals at 2.47 per game (second place is Monta Ellis at 2.17). He is third in assists (9.8) behind only Steve Nash and Chris Paul.  

Rondo leads all guards in field-goal percentage (51.7), and his 31 double-doubles rank seventh in the NBA, second among all point guards (Nash has 38).

Anyone who has watched Rondo, however, knows statistics do not tell the whole story.  He can create havoc all over the court, and he has at least one move on a near nightly basis that I have to rewind to watch again.

But, and here is where I will argue with myself,  being the best point guard only sometimes is not good enough to really be considered the best. To be the best, the answer has to be better than sometimes.

While Rondo’s best is on a level with anyone else’s, he still has not found a way to maintain that level over long stretches. He remains very inconsistent, not just from game to game, but within any given game he can go from making an impact to almost disappearing.

As exciting a player as Rondo can be, when his game drops off, he essentially becomes nonexistent on the court. There is no middle ground. What really separates Rondo from the elite point guards is that far too often, this disappearing act occurs down the stretch of games. The game will slow down, and Rondo almost becomes a bystander to the action.

He is far too talented for that to happen as often as it does. Until Rondo can maintain a more consistent level of play, and find a way to control the game even when the pace slows down, he will remain just on the outside looking in at the NBA’s elite point guards. 

Rondo is just 24 and has improved in nearly every statistical category each season. So, he is getting very close.

Are the Celtics closer to the Milwaukee Bucks than they are to the Cavaliers or the Magic?

I think the answer is yes. Back on Dec. 8, the Celtics defeated the Bucks 98-89 behind 25 points from Kevin Garnett. At that point of the season, Boston was 17-4, and the loss dropped Milwaukee to 9-11. Since that point, the Celtics have gone 23-18, while the Bucks have done slightly better at 25-18.

It is well documented that Boston has struggled against the elite NBA teams. They went into last night’s game against the Bucks having won four in a row, their longest winning streak since December. The four wins came over Detroit, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Washington. Nice wins, but not exactly the cream of the crop.

Last night was a back and forth game, and the Celtics had a shot at the end to either win or tie. The Bucks are currently the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, in a close race with Toronto, Charlotte, Miami, and Chicago to fill out the bottom half of the playoff bracket.

It is possible the Celtics could see the Bucks again in the opening round of the playoffs.  And what no one would have thought at the beginning of the season may turn out to be true—a Boston-Milwaukee series could feature two evenly-matched teams.

Can anyone remember the last time the Big Three all played well at the same time?

I can’t. Garnett had a relatively good game last night with 14 points and 10 rebounds, just his second double-double in his last 27 games (It should be noted he had zero offensive rebounds and only one rebound in the second half). Allen and Pierce did not play well, though, shooting a combined 3-of-16.

Going through this year’s games, it is a stretch to come up with one game where all three played well. There are a few possibilities.

In the win over the Bucks on Dec. 8, Garnett had 25 points and nine rebounds; Pierce had 15 points, five boards and five assists; and Allen had 13 points. They shot a combined 18-for-31.

The night before, against Oklahoma City, the Big Three combined for 55 points on 20-of-33 shooting, with both Garnett and Pierce scoring over 20 points. But Allen had just 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

Against the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 6, they combined for 58 points on 25-of-46 shooting from the floor, to go with 19 rebounds and 14 assists. But Pierce shot just 5-of-15, and it was in a loss.

Going all the way back to opening night, a 95-89 win over Cleveland, Garnett, Allen, and Pierce totaled 52 points and 23 rebounds and shot 16-of-39 from the floor.

The answer then is it has not really happened this year, at least not at a level warranting the nickname “The Big Three.” Two obvious ways of looking at that: either they are due, or they are over the hill and it isn’t happening. You can decide for yourselves.

Let’s play a few quick games of Boston Celtics would you rather:  Who would you rather see taking the last-second shot, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen?

Almost since his arrival in Boston back in 1998, it has been a foregone conclusion that the ball will be in Pierce’s hands when the game is on the line.

A funny thing happened though on Sunday against the Wizards. The Celtics were down by a point with under 24 seconds to go. A play was drawn up for Allen to get an open look, and it worked out perfectly, with Allen draining the game-winning three-pointer.

Afterwards, Allen said in an interview that the first option on the play was to get him the ball. I nodded in agreement because as great and as clutch as Pierce has been, at that moment, I trusted Allen more with the ball and wanted him to get a look rather than an isolation play for Pierce.

Even last night against the Bucks, Pierce had a shot to tie the game in the closing moments but missed. Neither Pierce (3-of-13) nor Allen (0-of-3) had good shooting nights from the floor. Before Pierce took the shot, I found myself thinking that if I was drawing up the plays, I would have tried to get Allen the shot as the primary option.

And lastly, who would you rather see playing, Rasheed Wallace or Shelden Williams?

Talent-wise, it is not even close. Williams is a very limited player, who can bang inside, score on put backs, and that is about it. 

On a few occasions this season, Wallace has shown he can still be a major factor in games. Most notably, this occurred around the trade deadline when a cynical person could say Wallace decided to try in order to convince Danny Ainge not to think about trading him. Once the deadline passed, Wallace went back to his minimal effort ways.

That is why I would rather see Williams out there. At least the guy is going to play hard, rebound, and maybe get the team some second chances on offense. Wallace does none of those things. I have begun to notice that the only time Wallace grabs a rebound is when the ball comes right to him, and he doesn’t have to move, jump, or box out.

We are not even done with year one of Wallace in Boston, and I have long since tired of watching him play. Every single time he shoots a three, I cringe. I don’t even like it when he makes a three, because yes, the three points are good, but I know it just means there will be more threes on the way.

On a related note, Doc Rivers continues to play the ever-improving, hard-working, effective Kendrick Perkins fewer and fewer minutes (the 25-year old is actually playing fewer minutes this year than he did last year). I wonder how fast Doc would bench Perkins for a long time if Perk ever decided to chuck up three-pointers at the rate Wallace has?

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