Everyone knew about our Big 3--Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. But, in last year's post season, unknowing basketball fans became educated to an addition to the Big 3--Rajon Rondo, the short but lightning quick PG with gorilla arms and monster hands. Rondo stepped up his game in the epic 7 game battle against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, and in the process put his name on the map. He is now a household name in many homes across the country (there are still a few fans in North Dakota who have never heard of him--but oh, they will).
He had his moments of truly inspiring basketball, when he and Rose traded blow after blow, and then would stand right back up and trade more blows. But due to fatigue and 2 bum ankles, Rajon sputtered out, and was left with little in the tank when we advanced to the next series against the Orlando Magic. Newly acquainted fans who looked forward to see more of Rajon were left scratching their heads, as Rajon wasn't the same player he was against Chicago. How can a guy take on a stud in the making (Rose) and look equally as impressive, and then take on a role player like Rafer Alston, and look a step slow?
Again, the ankles were tender, and fatigue set in, but the average fan didn't know that. They probably thought Rajon was a flash in the pan, who had his 10 minutes of glory.
But of course, we know this isn't the case. We know what he is capable of doing, and we also know there's more to come.
So with that said, I will give my straight forward assessment, and say that Rondo hasn't arrived yet. He's progressed a whole lot over the course of three years, becoming more vocal, conjuring up an aggressive spirit, and showing a semblance of a jump shot--but he hasn't arrived at the level where I can say that he belongs in the same group as the Big 3.
If anything, his performance against the Bulls in last year's playoff earned him a foot in the door, making him a member of the Big 3 and a 1/2.
But this year will be different--it won't be the Big 3 + Rajon anymore (not after what he experienced last year). He tasted how good it felt being the Man and coming up big in Garnett's absence. He looked comfortable, and even thrived, with all eyes on him. His confidence took a leap to the next level when he witnessed that on any given night, he is one of the top players on the court.
Add that to the fact that this is a contract year for him, as well as the fuel Ainge added to the fire when he publicly criticized Rajon for being late to practices, and also pointing out shortcomings in Rajon's game (I think Ainge is using these quibs to motivate Rondo), and I can see Rajon putting in overtime in his summer workouts to be a much better player than the one we last saw last season.
Not that Rajon needs motivation--he's a gym rat to begin with. But I think he senses that he is on the verge of stardom, and I'm confident that he won't let anything stop him.
Let his critics put their foot in their mouths. Let the uneducated fans frantically google his name and watch his YouTube highlights. Rajon is going to step up his game this year, making it the year of the....
This year will be Rajon's first trip to the All-Star game. He will take his place as one of the league's best PG's. His jerseys will begin selling like hotcakes. Shaq will give him his very own nickname (I'm surprised Celtics fans haven't already done so).
And we will leave the competition in the dust. Seriously, in 2007 when we were champs, teams paid zero attention to Rajon, and instead put an extra defensive player on Pierce, Ray, or Garnett. Last year was the same, as Orlando egged Rondo to shoot the ball (they learned from the Chicago series that if you back off of Rajon and force him to shoot, he becomes much less dangerous).
But this summer, I know Rajon has been extensively working on his jumper, and I wouldn't doubt that running floaters are on his workout regime too. My advice to Rajon is, watch Tony Parker highlights, and mimic what he does.
When he shows up for training camp, the buzz is going to be around him. I think we're going to see a new and improved Rajon--a much more confident Rajon with the poise of a leader. No longer a quiet guy who rubs his teammates the wrong way--but a vocal floor general who will use his voice to raise the intensity level of his teammates.
I think he'll control the action more, not immediately lobbing passes into the post to Garnett, not feeding Pierce or Ray the ball as quickly as he used to do. He's now a scoring threat, and if he feels he has a better matchup, he's going to exploit it.
He'll make better decisions, he'll attack more, and he'll take pressure off of the Big 3. And at the end of the game, defeated teams will shake their heads and say, "who can stop the Big 4?"
And the simple answer to this is--you can't. Not with Rajon playing like an All-Star.
I agree that Rondo is critical to our success as a franchise. I would like to see him be more of a game manager as time goes on. That is, the offense starts with him as a primary option. He has to know where all his players on the floor are and what they are going to be doing. I look for him to take more shots when the offense stagnates. I still think we need a backup PG like a Brevin Knight. Perhaps Danny Ainge can address this through a midseason trade of Tony Allen, one of Giddens or Walker, and Brian Scalabrine.
Good points Ron. I agree with Derren that if Rondo plays on an all star level the Celtics will be very tough to beat. One thing I hope Rondo works on (along with his shot) is being more consistent on the road. He struggled on the road a lot of times last season. That will come with experience and maturity, though.