|Posted on November 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM|
Saturday night was one of my proudest times as a Rajon Rondo fan. We all know how much Rondo loves his increasingly gaudy offensive statistics. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that, as long as Rondo uses it as a way to motivate himself. We all need these little emotional crutches as we go through our day. I try to do a certain number of minutes of exercise as I go through my day. Sure, it's just a number. The ultimate goal is health. But it's a number that keeps me striving to get healthier as I go through the distractions and ennui of the daily slog. If going after Magic Johnson's record 46(?) ten-or-more assists games record helps Rondo motivate during the regular NBA season Trudgeathon, I say more power to him.
But this only works if you keep larger priorities in mind, especially if you are a leader. There has been a growing crescendo of criticism in the Celtics fandom and media universe about Rondo's man-to-man, on-the-ball defense, and it's reached a fever pitch lately. Rightly so. The Celtics have been disappointing so far, especially on defense, and Rondo's man-to-man defense has been getting worse and worse. It has become routine for opposing point guards to abuse Rondo, to the point of owning him, if we are honest about it, especially at key points in games. Fans have been screaming about it, and rightly so.
I don't think that honest Celtics fans really believe that this is because Rondo doesn't care. No player has more pride and more competitive fire than Rondo. I think the reason has been clear; Rondo has been gradually elevating his offensive game. In particular, Rondo has finally achieved a level of consistency that not long ago seemed impossible to hope for. I don't think Rondo has gotten nearly enough credit for this, and I hate it that media and fans call him out for his faults, but don't give him credit when he responds and addresses those faults. To my way of thinking, there is an element of trust-breaking there. I see it as a kind of sacred trust between fans and players that they should respond when we offer just criticism, and we should respond when they make improvements. This, to me, is part of respect between fans and players. Rondo has become one of the most consistent performers in the NBA, on the offensive end. I think that is an amazing achievement that we as fans should honor.
Inevitably, though, a step forward in life comes with paradoxes. The more consistent Rondo is, the more the team depends on him, the more his shortcomings on defense stand out and cause problems. We need Rondo for nearly 40mpg, but that ends up being 40 mpg of terrible defense on the opposing point guard.
It's not easy being an NBA point guard of Rajon Rondo's caliber. Every single game you face arguably the opposing team's best player, and usually their most important player, and they all know that they can enhance their own reputations by beating you. Your team relies on you offensively, but they also rely on you defensively, but this is rarely acknowledged. Almost all defensive glory goes to shotblockers. There's not much glory to be found in chasing the opposing team's point guard around picks all night. But, of course, a true leader knows when to put the good of the team above personal glory. A 20 assist night against the Bucks was surely doable for our resident pg genius, but it might not have won us the game, as Rondo's 20 assist night against the Sixers demonstrated. Playing tough defense on Brandon Jennings probably did win us the game, but you won't find this acknowledged in any post game accounts, nor are there any accolades for Rondo.
Part of this is due to the fact that it took team defense to stop Jennings. No one man can shut down a top NBA point guard, no matter how good they are. It takes a determined team effort. Rondo has to fight through picks as hard as he can, but Bigs have to communicate, and they have to respond to the opposing point guard's attempt to use the pick in a way that is focused and determined, in a way that helps Rondo keep the guy under control, at least somewhat. The Celtics are a team, and Rondo is the penultimate team player. He knows more than anyone that defense is a team process, not an individual process.
What was more important to the team than the actual effect of Rondo's defense on Jennings was, I think, the way it seemed to inspire his teamates. I think Rondo's teamates have been waiting for him to step it up on the defensive end. The victory over the Bucks was barely more impressive than the previous victories against the Wizards, except that the team seemed to play with a spirit and a will that they haven't shown before this season.
Tonight another challenge awaits Rondo. Every point guard Rondo faces wants to take him down, and no one will be more motivated to beat Rondo than Nate the Great. That guy can be amazing when he is fired up, and he'll be fired up tonight. The other side of the coin is that there is no better defensive player in the league than Rajon Rondo, when he is focused and determined. We may see Rondo in the low post more than usual tonight, but he must not take Robinson lightly, especially when Ding up. Robinson is as tough as any guard in the league when he is on fire, on both ends of the court.
Tonight will tell us a lot about how determined Rondo is this season to lead this team. If he bears down defensively on Robinson, he should be able to take Nate out of the game, to a large extent, and at the same time he will continue to inspire his teammates. Sooner or later, this will result in the offense becoming more dynamic, which in turn will make it easier for Rondo to play both ends of the floor effectively. Please give us the Full Rondo tonight! We need it.
Fans and media; if Rondo helps hold Nate in check tonight, please give him the credit he deserves. It's fine to criticize. That's part of what good fans do. But when the player responds to criticism, the other side of the fan's job is to encourage, support, and appreciate. When a player steps up, fans should step up too.