With the 2012/13 season around the corner, SportsKeeda presents the NBA Top 20 – a countdown of who we predict will be the NBA’s 20 best players in the upcoming season. Six of the finest basketball writers on this website – Karan Madhok (hoopistani), Sabarinath Sankaranarayanan (sabarinath.sankara), Siddarth Sharma (sidbreakball), Siddharth Srikanth (darthsid), Sidhartha Patra (sidhartha), and Souvik Roy Chowdhury (souvik) – put their minds together to vote for the NBA’s best, the players who will be most “valuable”, not just to their team but in determining the course of how the upcoming season unravels. Enjoy!
In 2009 a tiny point guard with freakishly long arms stamped, drilled and cemented his name in the annals of the NBA by averaging a near triple double in the playoffs. Rajon Rondo’s 2009 playoff averages read: 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game, with 2.5 steals thrown in over 14 games. In the coming season Rondo is poised to be among the top five players in the league with the skills he has and the position he is placed in with the revamped Boston Celtics.
The biggest anomaly in the NBA is not a stretch four who knocks down one foot fadeaways from 20 feet. Its not a point guard who routinely was among the top in the league in points in the paint while rapping in French and tapping Eva Longoria. It’s a 6″1 guard with lanky arms who generates triple doubles with seemingly effortless ease. You can watch an entire game featuring Rondo without noticing much and by the end he will have notched up 16 points 12 assists and 10 rebounds. And you will do a double take trying to recall when exactly he slapped his hand-prints all over the game?
Rondo isn’t Chris Paul. He won’t kill you with his mid-range game. He doesn’t even have a mid-range game yet. That’s the one weak link in his game. If Superman had a cure for Kryptonite, there would be no stopping him. If Iron Man would stop drinking he would be unstoppable too. If Rajon Rondo would develop a consistent jumper he would be in the talks for the best player in the league, instead of the best point guard in the league. He has a legitimate claim for being the best point guard in the league. Only Chris Paul is way too good of a floor general, scorer, leader and finisher over Rondo.
Rondo has had a very unique situation growing up in the league. Imagine having to play along with players whose resume taken collectively can top that of half the players in the league. For a young green sapling to be thrust among three future hall-of-famers can be unreasonably intimidating. Of course veteran players are older, wiser, secure and more accommodating to new blood thus making the adjustment easier.
Rondo had to put up with the most psychotic forward in the league. He had to feed the best shooter in the league and along with a small forward in Paul Pierce who loves his plays above all. It would have been easier if the young green guy was the new big man on the block who went along with the flow on offense and redeemed himself on every possession with defensive rebounds and by contesting shots.
Rondo had to play point guard and manage all of their egos. Luckily Rondo is a freak. No hyperbole here, he is a freak for real. Science has proved it:
‘Raon’ Rondo. Not a typo. ‘Ason’ Kidd earned the J in his name back when he developed a long range shot later in his career, its a testament to Rondo’s versatility that his jumper isn’t viewed with as much scorn as Jason Kidd’s was. Even though Rondo has never averaged over 70% from the free throw line.
No other aspect of basketball is as variable and dependent on the psyche than the jumpshot. Imagine elevating for a jumper while the power forward snarls on one corner, the shooting guard feels he is in a better position; better position being anywhere on the right side of the court and the small forward shakes his head at every miss reinforcing the view that every time you let up a shot, there are three other player who could have taken a better shot.
Now imagine being in that situation possession after possession, day after day. That is not really a conducive situation to develop a jumper for a young player.
The most reliable offensive threat which Rondo had at his disposal has left to join the arch rivals down at South Beach. With Ray Allen’s absence. This is as good a reason as any for Rondo to take that jumpshot with abandon. To shoot and shoot even if he misses and misses.
His playmaking is where his true game shines. There are three kinds of passes in basketball. Chest pass, overhead pass and bounce pass. When it comes to Rondo that goes out of the window. There are umpteen types of passes which he throws around. Fake behind-the-back pass. Between your legs pass. Between their legs pass. Behind-the-back fake pass. All manners of wraparound passes in general. In addition to these pass and regular fakes, where Rondo stands alone in the league is his amazing repertoire of standstill pass fakes. Other premiere point guards in the league strive to keep their dribble alive at all times. Rondo is comfortable with stopping and unleashing a series of pass fakes till an opening comes up for him to thread a dime through.
If you had a team stacked with scorers and had the choice of Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, you may lean towards Rondo. Rondo is a better defender and rebounder. His abnormally long arms and pesky disposition can get under the skin of the most calm players. Sometimes even under the huddle of the opposing team.
After Ray was traded, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce came together with Rajon Rondo and again reaffirmed his role as the leader of the Celtics. Call it the passing of the torch. The old guard acknowledging that the time is now for the young upstart to assume the mantle. Something for which he has been groomed for for years. ”KG always told me what separates the great ones is that there’s a certain edge you have to maintain. I’m very critical of myself. I want the best for myself. My standards are very, very high, for me and my teammates.” Rondo, said.
Rondo averaged 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the regular season last year. Come playoff time, he elevated those numbers to 17.3 points, 11.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds. Talk about leading by example and setting high standards. It’s not just his numbers. A true point guard is as renowned as a leader as he is as a player. Rondo leads by example and sets himself up as the best in the business. Rondo said, “It’s always the whole package. Some fans look at a point guard and say he had 26 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds, and they’ll say he had a great game. But there is a lot of talent in the NBA, and eventually that talent catches up with you. The mental game is where it’s at. I would say the game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, for me at least. What separates great players from good ones is performing consistently. I can dominate the game in any number of ways, not just with the numbers.”
You have to see yourself as the best before anyone else will. Rondo sees himself as the best. Usually a star’s appeal grows on you with time. Not so with Rondo. I can remember exactly the game which turned me into a lifelong fan:
Talk about taking a team on your shoulder. It’s a recurring theme every year. The Knicks pursue some gunner. The Bobcats go into treatment for depression over the previous season. Kobe sacrifices babies’ blood to the heathen Gods for his sixth ring, and everyone says that this is the year that Rajon Rondo finally develops a reliable jumper. Regardless of if he becomes a legitimate threat from the outside, he is poised to take the Celtics deep into the post-season.
SportsKeeda NBA Top 20
20. James Harden
19. Chris Bosh
18. LaMarcus Aldridge
17. Pau Gasol
16. Dirk Nowitzki (for 20-16, read here)
15. Blake Griffin
14. Tony Parker
13. Andrew Bynum
12. Russell Westbrook
10. Kevin Love
9. Derrick Rose
7. Dwyane Wade
6. Kobe Bryant
5. Rajon Rondo