How Rajon Became ‘The NBA’s Best Point Guard:’ A Timeline of Rondo Hype
Two years ago in a critical Game 5, the Cavs opted to let the Celtics' second-year point guard, Rajon Rondo, make the big play down the stretch. At the time, it seemed like the right decision, enabling Cleveland to focus on all-stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Rondo responded by hitting two crucial three pointers that would propel the Celtics to the win and help them take a 3-2 lead in the series. Boston went on to win the title from there.
Rondo's main assignment up until that point was to distribute the ball and to create opportunities for his teammates. He was subservient to the elite stars who shared the court with him. That game, however, provided the first glimpse into how much the young player was truly capable of contributing. His 20 points and 13 assists earned him the attention and accolade he deserved.
With the way people talk about Rondo today, it's hard to imagine the guard ever had to prove anything, especially his value. During his short career, he's always been heralded as a good court leader, rebounder, and defender. However, it took until this year for him to really join the conversation as a top-caliber player. Many now consider Rondo to be the league's top point guard, leaving casual fans to wonder when that transformation occurred, and how it happened so fast. Here, on the day Boston can clinch its Eastern Conference series, a look back at Rondo's progression over the past two seasons:
January 2009: Kevin Pelton in Basketball Prospectus declares that with Jason Kidd's and Chauncey Billups' departure to the Western Conference, "the coveted title of the top point guard in the Eastern Conference has come open." Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris make the short list. Still, more than anything, it's a shortage of talent at the position - and Dwyane Wade's happy settling into a shooting guard role - that explains why Rondo is even considered near the top.
October 2009: Chris Forsberg at ESPN questions whether it's time for "Boston's Big Three" to be expanded into "the Fantastic Four. Coach Doc Rivers concedes that Rondo doesn't get the credit he deserves, but that plays to the Celtics' advantage.
November 2009: Rondo makes a statement after a game against the Hornets when he confronts New Orleans' star point guard Chris Paul. Some speculate that Rondo's trying to spark a rivalry with Paul, considered by many to be the best point guard in the league. The timing seems to back up this claim since the confrontation comes just after Rondo agreed to a $55 million extension.
March 10, 2010: Basketball pundits begin to seriously discuss Rondo. Even still, Rondo's flaws get highlighted. "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," warns Stew Winkel at the Bleacher Report. Until he can stop being "a bystander to the action" toward the end of games, "he will remain just on the outside looking in at the NBA’s elite point guards." Nevertheless, "he is getting very close."
April 2, 2010: Rondo breaks Bob Cousy's franchise record for the most assists in a season.
April 27, 2010: Deron Williams announces he's the best point guard in the NBA. Kurt Helin at NBC Sports argues that Williams may not be the league's best "only because Paul is in the discussion." Still, "for my team, I'd take Williams."
May 5, 2010: As the playoffs get underway, observers begin to notice the surplus of great point guards around the league. Eric Koreen in the National Post wonders "if we accept that the quartet of Williams, Paul, Nash and Rondo represents the league's best - a point that is arguable itself - ranking them becomes nearly impossible."
May 9, 2010: Rondo registers 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 4 against the Cavs. John Schuhmann at NBA.com calls Rondo "his team's best player." He urges fans to "forget the hyperbole for now. Just appreciate what you're watching." But the hyperbole does follow, in droves. Rick Bozich in The Courier-Journal says Rondo "has become the face of the Celtics." And Jason Parham at GQ contends that "the debate has switched from, 'Who's guarding LeBron?' to 'Who's guarding Rondo?'"
On the other hand, the more level-headed Gregg Doyel at CBS Sports believes that the hype has gone too far: "I'm not willing to concede that Rondo has been the best point guard in the playoffs. Or even in the East. Unless you've forgotten about Orlando's Jameer Nelson."
May 16, 2010: The Times-Picayune alleges that Rondo's stock has spun out of control. Analysts are only comparing point guards playing for teams that remain alive in the post-season, and that Chris Paul has suffered as a result of the Hornets being sent home early. “When Chris Paul is healthy, he’s as good as anyone in the NBA at that position, ” Jeff Van Gundy is quoted as saying. But it's the post-season where it matters, argues Charles P. Pierce at Slate. Rondo's "become the most unstoppable point guard in the NBA and, in the postseason, very likely the best one." No other player at his position "has done what Rondo has done when games truly begin to count."
May 22, 2010: Rondo makes an incredible play during the Celtics' 94-71 blowout win over Orlando, bringing them within a game of the Finals. “I just wanted it,” Rondo said after the game. "He just wanted it," Steve Buckley says in the Boston Herald. "Why should it be any more complicated than that?"
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