By Ben Golliver
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that's particularly true when it comes to elite point guards.
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo sprained his ankle earlier this week, forcing him to sit out a loss to the Nets on Thursday. Rondo was back on the court for a blowout victory over the Raptors on Saturday, dishing out 20 assists in just 32 minutes of action, guiding Boston to a team-wide 56.6 percent shooting mark from the field.
Afterwards, MassLive.com reported that the discussion in the Celtics locker room was about Rondo's possible MVP credentials.
Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry threw teammate Rajon Rondo's name into the early-season MVP hat Saturday.
"I've said that from Day 1, that he's the best point guard in this league," Terry said after watching Rondo notch 20 assists in a 107-89 win against the Toronto Raptors. "This year, he's definitely going to be in the talks when they're talking about MVP, if we can continue to win. The way he controls the game, his leadership, his ability to dominate the game on both ends of the floor is what makes him special."
Asked specifically about the MVP award and Terry's comments, Rondo replied, "Well, JT's on my side, so he's a little biased, but the MVP is in the picture. I would like to be one day. But we've just got to keep winning."
Asked why he'd like to win the MVP, Rondo said, "Who wouldn't? That's a dream."
Here's a little more from Boston's win over Toronto, via the Associated Press.
"We have an offense and then he creates another offense at times,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
Rondo appeared at full strength after sitting out a loss at Brooklyn on Thursday night. He had 11 assists at halftime, extending his streak of consecutive games with double-digit assists to 33. "Something I look forward to every game is just trying to make my teammates happy. And somehow I keep getting to 10,'' Rondo said. "Tonight it was a collective team effort as far as assists.''
The Celtics had assists on 37 of 43 field goals, with Rondo leading the way and finishing just four shy of his career high. Rondo, who played only 1:26 in the fourth quarter, is within four games of tying John Stockton for the second-longest streak in NBA history for consecutive games with 10 or more assists. Magic Johnson holds the record at 46. "I'm making some OK passes - just taking what the defense gives me,'' Rondo said. "It means my teammates are making shots.''
On the season, Rondo is averaging 14.3 points, a league-leading 12.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2..1 steals. Entering 2012-13, his name was on the outer fringes of an MVP discussion that was dominated by Heat forward LeBron James and Thunder forward Kevin Durant. According to one Las Vegas oddsmaker, Rondo's MVP chances stood at just 28-to-1, with 13 players ahead of him. Those names: James, Durant, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker.
Rondo's track record for garnering leaguewide recognition hasn't been all that great. Currently in his seventh season at age 26, Rondo has three All-Star Game appearances, one All-NBA third-team selection, two All-Defensive first-team and two All-Defensive second-team selections to his name. Whether it's because of his quirky personality, the number of stars surrounding him on the Celtics roster dimming his light, or a major lack of range on his jumper, Rondo has generally been viewed as a cut below the likes of Bulls guard Derrick Rose or Clippers guard Chris Paul.
The advanced statistics don't like him much either. He currently ranks No. 13 among point guards, just barely above average, in PER for the 2012-13 season, although Value Added does treat him as a top-five player. He finished No. 19 among point guards last season despite averaging 11.6 points, 11.4 assists and 1.7 steals. His 44.8 percent shooting and 23.8 percent shooting in 2011-12 just weren't good enough to place him among the elite when it comes to the advanced metrics. (It's unusual for general sentiment and the numbers to be this misaligned.)
His MVP candidacy, then, becomes a bit of a war between the numbers versus the eyes and ears. Celtics players like Terry and future Hall of Fame forward Kevin Garnett will stop at nothing to make it clear how important Rondo is to the team's success. Celtics coach Doc Rivers, considered one of the best in the league, votes with his rotation, playing Rondo as many minutes as he can possibly handle; Rondo is currently averaging 38.9 minutes per game this season. His stellar play in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals proved that Rondo can go toe-to-toe with the likes of James, as he carried the bulk of the weight when Boston pushed Miami to seven games. His teams have always won too: he has a ring, two Finals appearances, three Eastern Conference finals appearances, and five playoff appearances to his name in just six seasons.
It's extraordinarily difficult to come out of nowhere to with the MVP. Last year's top-five vote-getters, James, Durant, Paul, Bryant and Parker, all look to be legit candidates again this season. Rondo, who finished No. 8 last season, should have a chance to work his way into that top-five crowd if he keeps posting monster assist numbers and the Celtics keep winning. For him to actually win the award this year, though, would take a significant change in public opinion about his worth, one that involves turning a blinder eye towards the advanced numbers and focusing instead on his importance to Boston's success and the Celtics' sustained winning. That's not impossible, but it's definitely an uphill battle. Hat Tip: ProBasketballTalk