The Legend of Playoff Rondo

Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray (27) has the ball stripped away by Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo, right, during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo.

Rajon Rondo is one of the most historically underrated and undervalued players in modern NBA history. Cast aside after a gruesome ACL tear, the belief he was a locker room problem and the notion that players who don’t shoot threes are not valuable, nearly 10 years of playoff greatness have somehow gone under the radar. Rondo epitomizes the idea of playing best when the lights shine brightest, and we are seeing his impact again in his 14th season as a key contributor to the title favorite Los Angeles Lakers.  

One important question sums up Rondo’s current value on the Lakers: Who catalyzes the offense when LeBron James goes to the bench? That player can’t be Anthony Davis. Passing has never been his forte, and he draws double teams constantly. It is essential to have a cerebral coach on the floor to orchestrate the pieces of an offense to maximize a championship window. With LeBron carrying so much of the offensive burden already, that guy who has stepped up at the guard position has been Rondo.  

Ever since the 2007-08 season, the first season Rondo broke out as an all star level talent at the age of 22, his player efficiency rating has increased from his regular season statistics in eight out of the 10 playoffs he has participated in. In 2010 against LeBron and the No. 1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, Rondo averaged 20.7 points, 11.8 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game on 54.1% shooting and led the Celtics to an upset series win while outshining every member of the big three in Boston. This series also included a 44-point, 10-assist and eight-rebound outburst from  Rondo, who was then  already considered one of the league’s elite point guards. Every real basketball fan knew that team was the big four.  

In Rondo’s last postseason before tearing his ACL, he averaged 17.3 points, 12.0 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game, including recording double-digit assists in 16 of the 19 games that postseason, four of which he had 15-plus assists and had four triple doubles as well. In the series where the Celtics faced the soon-to-be-champion superteam Miami Heat, he averaged a Magic Johnson-esque 21.0 points, 11.3 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals on 49% shooting from the field. As the opponents get tougher, Rondo gets better. Consequently, Rondo is tied for sixth in all-time playoff triple doubles, which is ahead of NBA greats such as Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.  

Fast forward to the 2017 season, Rondo led the eighth seed Chicago Bulls against the top seeded Boston Celtics and Chicago took Games 1 and 2 in the Celtics’ home TD Garden. Unfortunately, Rondo broke his thumb and the Celtics proceeded to win the next four games, but this shows the impact of Playoff Rondo. His harassing style of play on defense, anticipating passes and making stars hesitant to dribble in his vicinity are all key assets to a winning team and have been shown time and time again to be extremely effective in the most pivotal moments.  

In this year’s playoffs, we see Rondo’s obvious chemistry with Davis, whom he’s played with before on the New Orleans Pelicans, and how he allows LeBron to be great as the game wanes. Rondo might not be the explosive passing highlight reel that he used to be statistically but he is everything you want as a floor general and leader. Put some respect on the name of the guy that just surpassed the great Kobe Bryant for ninth all time in playoff assists. Playoff Rondo is real and Playoff Rondo is live in the 2020 NBA Bubble.  

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