Fans argue he rides the Big Three's coattails. Sports writers harp on the 25-year-old's lack of outside shooting. Heck, Tony Parker called him the most overrated point guard in the league back in 2009.
But here's the thing: Everyone knows that Rondo plays with the Big Three and struggles to score from outside the paint — meaning if he is worth less than his market value ($10 million a year), it's not for lack of taking those facts into account.
In other words, we all admit the kid has flaws. Question is: Do his pros outweigh his cons enough to place him amongst the top five point guards in the league?
Yes, and here's why.
Outside of Steve Nash, no one in the NBA sees the floor as well as Rondo. Even as the Big Three aged, the Kentucky native's assist numbers have improved every year. Rondo was a big reason why both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, no longer the prolific scorers they once were, posted career highs in field-goal percentage last season. Allen, the all-time leader in 3-pointers made, even posted a career high in 3-point field-goal percentage. Plus, for the past two years, he's finished in the top four in the league in assists.
2. Basketball IQ
Two-time NBA Coach of the Year Doc Rivers has called Rondo the "smartest player" he's ever coached. Each of the Big Three has echoed that sentiment, noting their floor general's ability to call plays and improvise as necessary.
Derrick Rose alone rivals Rondo's athleticism at the point position. Coupled with the above qualities and Stretch Armstrong-length arms and hands, this guy can get just about anywhere on the floor against just about any defense. Forget shooting from outside. Rondo has developed the ability to penetrate and score in the paint (especially in transition), sometimes at a prolific rate. Take his 30-point performance in Game 2 against the Knicks as an example. His shooting percentage in 2010-11? 48.5 percent.
"Elbow" is all I should have to say to prove this point. That was Rondo's competitive grit defying nature. Think back to his performance against the Bulls in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. With Kevin Garnett out and the chance of another Finals appearance slim at best, Rondo pulled off one of the more remarkable series a Celtic has ever played — 20 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and three steals. It's a refuse-to-lose quality that few possess.
He gambles too often on this end of the floor, but his intelligence and speed combine to make Rondo a steals machine. For the past three seasons, he's finished in the top five in the league in that category (including first in 2009-10). And when he's assigned to lockdown one-on-one defense, he is superb. Ask LeBron James, who was hounded by the 6-foot-1 guard for a key stretch of a Celtics-Heat game in February and struggled to score. Boston, bolstered by a big run during the LeBron-Rondo showdown, went on to win that game.
Is all this to say that Rondo is the best point guard in the league? No. I put Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rose ahead of him — mostly because they're more versatile scorers and can more effectively spread the defense.
But few would argue that he's No. 1. Rondo gets paid less than Williams and Paul (and will undoubtedly soon earn less than Rose), doesn't get consideration as an MVP and isn't a starter in the All-Star Game. He's right where he should be — a top-five point guard with the potential to be a two- or three-time champion.
It's hard to make the case that a player of that caliber is overrated.
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