Hadfield: Remember, people – that Rondo guy is pretty good

Many have already forgotten just how dynamic a player Rajon Rondo is for the Celtics.
Many have already forgotten just how dynamic a player Rajon Rondo is for the Celtics.

 

“Just tremendous heart. I mean, you’ve got to love this team. You really do. This group of guys, we just talk about [how] we choose to live. We’re not going to just roll over. And it’s very important for our guys to understand.” - Doc Rivers

 

The Celtics are exhausted. I know this. You know this. And we all agree that this team will go as far as intangibles like grit, heart, and effort can take them. Veteran team rallies for one more run after losing its best player. A gripping story you’d see in a Disney movie. And the general consensus Out There is that it’s going to be fun to watch just how far Boston can go.

Yet going into the second half of the season, it appears the conversation about the Celtics has shifted around the following question: Is Boston better off without Rajon Rondo on the court?

Look, as always, the expectation around these parts is winning a championship. And despite their recent success, Rajon Rondo donning a suit instead of a uniform does not put the Celtics in a better position to meet that expectation. Simply put, while Boston is playing better without Rondo, removing him from the equation decreases the Celtics chances of winning a title. This is an important distinction. It’s great that Boston is 8-1 since losing its starting point guard; but Rondo is still the proverbial “puncher” in Boston’s puncher’s chance to upset the Heat this spring.

Consider the following: Rajon Rondo led all players in the playoffs during last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals, registering 227 assists (almost a hundred more than the next player, LeBron James, who dished out 129). He averaged 17 points, 6.7 boards, and 11.9 assists a game in the postseason. A sublime run. For some historical perspective, only Magic Johnson has matched those playoff averages, doing so five separate times. (Side note: While watching him blather on ESPN, it’s easy to forget how dominant Earvin was in his prime. His numbers in the 1985-86 playoffs: 21.6 ppg, seven rebounds, and 15 assists. Yikes.)

Naturally, that performance spawned Rondo’s coronation as the sole leader of the Celtics. But after a disappointing 18-20 start to the season, Rondo was victim to the same lingering questions that have haunted him throughout his entire career: Is he really a leader? Does he have maturity issues? How much does he care about his numbers? Why isn’t he more assertive?

A few of these questions are fair. Rondo doesn’t exactly do himself any favors with his demeanor on the court (he’s been suspended four times in the last 11 months, for arguing with officials and for a skirmish with Mr. Kardashian himself, Kris Humphries), or the way he deals with the media (Rondo is notoriously classified as a recluse and aloof; which is a nice way of saying the truth – he’s generally unpleasant to deal with). But that doesn’t mean we should ignore that, prior to his injury, Rondo was leading the league in assists per game, was more assertive (attempting a career-high 12 shots a game, almost two more than last season), and clearly spent time on working on his game this offseason (specifically improving his maligned mid-range jumper. Before tearing his ACL, Rondo shot 48 percent from 16-23 feet this season. His career average was 36.8 percent).

Rondo detractors discard the good, and point to the bottom line: The Celtics were underachieving and (miraculously) are a Kemba Walker jumper away from being a perfect 9-0 since losing their floor general.

And maybe there is credence to the anti-Rondo argument. After all, nine games is a fair sample size to start labeling results as trends. But looking strictly at the Celtics record in a vacuum is unfair to Rondo. For instance, a common narrative from the anti-Rondo camp is that the Celtics offense, which averaged a paltry 99.8 points per 1o0 possessions, is much more fluid now that Rondo isn’t dominating the ball. But the offense isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire post-injury, only averaging 101.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s good for middle of the pack. Moreover, is it Rondo’s fault that Brandon Bass’ production plummeted? How about Jason Terry’s offensive struggles?

Forget those unforeseen circumstances – how about the evaluating the obvious disclaimers many in the media have struck from the record book because it doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative. For instance, everyone preached patience with Avery Bradley and Jeff Green’s progress, because both were coming off serious injuries the prior season. In his 21 games of action, Bradley has made an immediate impact. And that’s great, but Rondo only enjoyed sharing the backcourt with Bradley for 12 of those games. Meanwhile, Green’s game has improved immensely of late, averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting 51 percent since Rondo went down. In the first 42 games of action, however, Green was averaged just 9.6 points on 42 percent shooting.

We’ve conveniently repurposed pre-requisite growing pains as part of the F.O.R. (Failures of Rondo) Act passed in February of 2013. This is par for the course though, isn’t it? Everything about the Rondo narrative is repackaged.

Rondo isn’t clutch, he’s inconsistent.
We incessantly shower athletes with adulation for coming through in big games, yet question why Rondo doesn’t put up the epic performances he produces during nationally broadcast games on a consistent basis.

Rondo doesn’t get others involved, he pads his stats.
Never has superior court vision and a pension for dolling out assists been considered a bad thing. Well, at least, not until Rondo. The most selfless statistic in the history of statistics, has somehow morphed into a source of “a misguided determination to pad his own stats at the expense of the team;” instead of his willingness to distribute the ball and get others involved.

The question of whether Rondo hurts the Celtics chances of raising the Larry O’Brien trophy is obtuse at best and agenda-fueled sensationalism at worst. Alas, “Embrace the debate,” we’re told … even if the topic doesn’t warrant a discussion.

 

Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @Hadfield__



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Labor Day in NYC: Make the last weekend…

Soon, it’ll be time for wool accessories and knee-high boots. Even the Pumpkin Spice Latte has already arrived — but we still have one last…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.