Friday, May 23, 2008

Well, I'm Exhausted

Look, I hate to harp too much on the broadcasting of these playoff games, and I'm normally a fan of ESPN's lead team. But good night, nurse. Jeff Van Gundy and Co. absolute beat me into submission tonight with their analysis of Rajon Rondo's sketchy jumper.

Look, we all know that drilling open shots is not yet Rondo's forte. He's not a Vujacic or a Boobie Gibson type of player that just stands out there and stretches defenses. Okay, big deal. Is that the only skill that now matters in a basketball game?

To hear Beetlejuice tell it, Rondo is single-handedly destroying Boston's every offensive set simply by breathing and having a pulse. EVERY TIME someone from the C's would miss a shot or turn the ball over, JVG would chime in with, "It's because the Pistons are doubling off Rondo!" As for Mark Jackson, he would chide Rondo for not shooting every time the young point guard passed up a shot. It didn't matter if it was a wide open look that indeed warranted pulling the trigger (which happened maybe three times the whole game) or if it was just any crease, regardless of rhythm, time left on the shot clock, or available scoring options (this happened more like 96 times during the game). I know Rondo has to keep defenses honest, but this doesn't mean firing the ball up every time it hits his palms! Had he taken even 20% of the shots that Mark Jackson was advising, he would have been benched and blasted in every publication in America tomorrow morning.

Not only that, but repeatedly banging the Rondo Can't Shoot drum misses several other key points:

1. Rondo does other things. Sure, he missed a few open shots and passed up a few more. Yes, he's not yet effective at keeping defenses honest with his perimeter shooting. Again, big freaking deal. If he could do that, he'd be Deron Williams. And focusing on the negative ignores all the positives: he plays tenacious defense, he rebounds like a beast, he gashes the defense to create plays for teammates, he pushes the ball very well in transition, and he gets to the rim to create layups, free throw attempts, and even easy offensive rebounds for his squad. Tonight he nearly had a triple-double (10-9-8) and boasted a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while holding Billups to 10 field goal attempts. You could tell that Mike Breen noticed, because he kept trying to sneak in Rondo's rebounding numbers. But to Jackson and the Juice, Rondo might as well have been winging the ball into the 19th row and defecating on the court.

2. The double teams come from other places as well, folks. I hate to break it to ESPN's esteemed analysts, but double-teaming is not unique. It happens to every team, in every game, on almost every trip down the court. Teams double hard up top to slow dribble penetration. Teams double in the post. They double on the wing. They trap in the corner. They double off the pick and roll. They double all the damn time! Tonight, when Eddie House replaced Rondo for a few ineffective minutes (House came right into the game, fouled Billups on a 3, jacked up a bad jump shot, caused KG to get an offensive foul by throwing a hideous entry pass, and kept them out of their offense by taking 16 seconds just to dribble to the three point line), Paul Pierce absorbed a double-team from Tayshaun Prince (his man) and Antonio McDyess (doubling off of P.J. Brown), spun away from the trap, and hit a tough fadeaway. What did Van Gundy say? "With Rondo out of the game, Pierce finally got single coverage." Um, no he didn't! Pierce didn't see single coverage all game. There was always someone lurking, ready to double. Always help defense just a few yards away. Whether that double came off of Rondo or Brown or Perkins or Posey (ironically, not one mention was made of Posey's 1-for-5 brickfest from three, which didn't exactly keep help defenders glued to him) or even KG wasn't really the issue. The point is that Detroit decided not to let Pierce beat them, to play aggressive help defense, and then try to recover on shooters - whoever that might be.

Now, I understand it is a little more noticeable when Rondo gives the ball up and peels toward the corner, only to have his defender leave him to go trap. But guys get open due to help defense all the time. This is not unique. It is not special. It is not some Rondo-specific issue. It boggles my mind to hear it presented that way.

Not only that, but while Rondo didn't make the double-teams pay with jumpers, he did kill them with offensive rebounds, plays in the passing lanes, and other mischief that went unchecked because he didn't have someone putting a body on him.

If anything, he should be applauded for having such an impact on the game without being a great shooter. Put a sock in it, Beetlejuice.

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