It isn't surprising that people like to talk about Rajon Rondo. He's a complicated, unique, sometimes-dominant basketball player who currently doubles as the face and captain of an iconic NBA franchise.At times, everyone involved in the Rondo debate seems to have some kind of axe to grind. Personally, I love the way Rondo refuses to bow down to authority figures and this is a non-basketball reason for my liking him. A Rondo hater such as Bob Ryan seems to hate Rondo for the same reason I like him, so fiercely that he seems to want to bully Rondo, as if to prove to Rondo that even a has-been writer can make things difficult for an athlete who doesn't pay respects. But even minds that aren't trying to prove some point can get confused over Rondo. Few athletes seem to pose so many riddles within riddles.
He's also a polarizing dude -- in a world where that adjective gets tossed around far too often -- who once induced compelling discussion from those who truly enjoy NBA basketball. Watching him can be an absolute blast and a frustrating mystery at the exact same time. He's as fascinating as he is great. But when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets, the discourse plummeted into a pit of hackneyed interrogation, where it tragically lies to this day. "Will the Celtics trade Rondo?" "Why haven't the Celtics traded Rondo yet?" "Wait, did the Celtics just trade Rondo?"
This overshadows a far more interesting set of rhetorical questions: What is Rondo's absolute ceiling from this point forward relative to other point guards around the league? Can he still crack an All-NBA team? Assuming he's 100 percent healthy heading into Boston's training camp in October, is it reasonable to expect Rondo leads the NBA in assists for a third time? Will his range finally stretch out to the three-point line? Is he good enough to drag bushy-tailed teammates into the Eastern Conference playoffs as an eight-seed? What about the year after, when Rondo is presumably on the first season of a pricey multi-year contract, or two years after that, when he's entrenched in his early 30s. When will he stop getting better? When will he decline? Where do things go from here?
These questions aren't easy to answer, but Rondo is good enough of a player for them to deserve a solid debate ...
Take Rondo's scoring. Rondo is a spectacular scorer. In virtually every game, Rondo makes terrific scoring plays and on a regular basis, Rondo makes highlightfilm - worthy plays that match career highlights of not just other players, but HOF stars: the mid-lane hook shot over a seven footer; the dribble drive that starts at half-court and ends in an epic throw-down; the scoop shot that seems to meander all over the glass before spinning lazily down into the twine, like a basketball caught in a giant pin-ball machine; the pass fake that freezes the entire defense in its tracks as Rondo waltzes to the basket. These and many other plays aren't just beautiful. They are often downright uncanny. A guy blocks Rondo's shot, but Rondo redirects the ball into the basket. With a playoff series on the line, Rondo looks down at the three point line, and then steps three feet further back, before unleashing a perfect splash. Falling out of bounds, and with an opposing Big all over him, Rondo arcs the ball high over the backboard from behind for another perfect splash. Not only does Rondo make great plays, but he makes creative and unexpected plays that mess with the minds of opponents.
What Rondo has never been able to do is develop a bread and butter scoring play that he can consistently rely on. Every top scorer has one or several of those. Rondo can make spectacular scoring plays with the best of them. It's the unspectacular play that holds him back. He doesn't have one. It's not that he hasn't tried. He's tried the elbow jumper. He's tried to post up other guards. This last season he even tried to own the three. Rondo just can't find that one 'bread and butter' scoring option.
So Rondo isn't a scoring machine, but he's an uncanny scoring threat, whose forays to the basket draw ridiculous amounts of attention from defenses. How can a conversation about Rondo take the measure of his impact, even in just one aspect of the game, such as scoring? And how can one ascertain what he is capable of? If Rondo's confidence in his shot continues to sag, he may struggle to score 10 ppg next year. If he finds a bread and butter shot, though, he could push 20 ppg. Is Rondo worth the max? Can you build a championship team around Rondo? Can you see the future?
At least let's discuss these matters in a constructive way. Rondo has at least earned that much respect.