Monday, June 23, 2008

The Long Awaited Rondo Post

Way back on June 18 I promised Rajon Rondo his own post after a magnificent Game Six performance in the NBA Finals. But then later that day I posted a Boston Celtics 2007-08 retrospective and it was so chalk full of Rondo that I started to worry that maybe I looked a little weird.

But, lo and behold, people seem to want the Rondo post. Unfortunately, in the time since I made my claim, the rest of the world has finally caught up to all things Rondo and recognized what an amazing game he had. So it does little good to talk about his boatload of steals, his aggressive tone-setting play, or even his refreshing post-game humility while his teammates carried on like they'd just landed on Mars. No, the focus of this post is on Rondo's future and how we can use the 2008 Finals as a yardstick.

The list of point guards under the age of 23 that started for an NBA Champion is not a long one. In fact, there are two that come to mind: Magic Johnson and Tony Parker. And while it is always nice to be mentioned in the company of the Magic Man, I think we can all agree that Parker is the more apt comparison.

So what did those 2003 NBA Finals look like for the 21 year old Parker? Like Rondo, Parker was in his second year in the league and found himself in position to lead a veteran team toward a title. The Spurs won 60 games that year and shared the best record in the NBA with the Mavericks. Tim Duncan was at the height of his powers and the Spurs featured weapons such as Stephen Jackson (who turned in one of the more underrated playoff performances of this decade), Manu Ginobil (just getting going), David Robinson (in his last season), and more. Parker was actually a star on that team, more so than Rondo, as he ranked second on the squad in minutes played (33.8 per game) and points per game (15.5). However, once the playoffs started, Parker's play got a little spotty. Like Rondo, he was incredibly effective one minute and then shaky the next. Like Rondo, he couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with his jumper. Like Rondo, he spent several key stretches of big games watching his backup (Speedy Claxton, in this case) run the team. And, like Rondo, Parker wound up making enough plays and bringing enough speed to the table to help take his team to a title.

Now? Parker is a beast. He can drill open jumpers all day and his ability to attack the rim is almost unparalleled in the NBA. He isn't and never will be the defensive terror that Rondo already is, but Parker is San Antonio's one-man fast break and does a lot of the same damage with his speed that Rajon does to Boston's opponents. So I'd say that the future bodes well for Rondo.

Of course, people rarely remember things as they were. Parker's offensive game is so lethal now that he is rarely remembered for being such a liability on that end of the court that San Antonio tried to bring Jason Kidd to town even after winning a title. No one recalls the fact that Parker shot just 40.3% from the field, 26.8% from three, and 71.3% from the line during that Finals run. (Compare that to Rondo's eerily similar 40.7%, 25.0%, and 69.1%). Or that Parker played just 13 minutes in the Game Six Western Conference Finals against Dallas (going 0-for-5) and 24 minutes in the Finals clincher against New Jersey (2-for-6). It's almost crazy how similar Parker's voyage was to Rondo's.

In fact, you could argue that Rondo actually played better than Parker. Consider:

Games Played - Parker played 24 games, Rondo 26
Minutes per game - Parker 33.5, Rondo 31.9
Points - Parker 352, Rondo 266
Assists - Parker 85, Rondo 172
Rebounds - Parker 66, Rondo 107
Steals - Parker 22, Rondo 45
Blocks - Parker 3, Rondo 8
Turnovers - Parker 47, Rondo 47

Even if you allow for Rondo's games played advantage, he still has the superior line of 10.2 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.8 tpg compared to Parker's 14.7/3.6/2.8/0.9/2.0.

Again, I'm not trying to denigrate Parker retroactively. Rather, my goal is to remind everyone that Parker was very much a 21 year old, second-year point guard that season. And how he's insanely good. All of which is good news for Boston fans. When you factor in that Rondo is already one of the best defensive guards in the NBA and it seems like the future is very bright indeed.

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