Is Rajon Rondo an MVP candidate?

By: Nick Solari

The Celtics felt Rondo’s absence after he was suspended two games for an altercation with Kris Humphries (Jim Davis/Boston Globe).

There is no denying the fact that Rajon Rondo is valuable to the Boston Celtics.

That’s why, after he was suspended for two games due to an altercation under the basket with Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries, writers and fans around the league questioned both the maturity and the leadership of the star point guard.

With only 29.5 seconds left in the first half of play, the Celtics down 16 points, Kevin Garnett was fouled by Humphries and immediately hit the floor. After the whistle Rondo took note of the fact that Humphries may have given KG an extra push while he was on his way down. He proceeded to shove Humphries under the basket with both hands into the courtside seats, ultimately resulting in the ejection of both Rondo and Humphries, as well as Nets forward Gerald Wallace.

The Celtics went on to lose the game by the final of 95-83, and afterwards the league announced that Rondo would be suspended for initiating the altercation.

Everyone immediately reacted, and it was clear that there were two schools of thought. The first was that Rondo was being a good teammate, backing up KG, and setting a good example for the younger players on the squad whom Garnett had called “soft” only a few days prior. The 36 year-old big man made it clear after the game that the move had his approval.

“We all back each other,” Garnett said to reporters. “We take a lot of pride in putting on this jersey. I know I do. This ain’t the Girl Scouts or the Boy Scouts. That’s what it is. It’s the NBA. You’ve got to get used to it.”

So that was that. Rondo stuck up for his teammate. No big deal, right?

Wrong. What everyone, including his teammates, may have forgotten at the time was that Rondo unnecessarily put himself and his team in a bit of a bad situation due to the fact that he could be suspended. Well, he was, for the next two games (vs. Portland and at Milwaukee).

Throughout the season, the seven-year veteran has been the piece that makes the Celtics offense run. Not only is Rondo the league leader in assists, but he also leads his team in steals and is third in scoring. What’s more is that the Celtics had faced scrutiny already before the event took place for not having a true backup point guard. All season long the committee of Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Leandro Barbosa have taken shots at playing the point in Rondo’s absence. The reality is, though, that Rondo played near 37 minutes a game and that Boston was a much better team on both sides of the ball with him out there.

This, in essence, is the counter-argument to that of Garnett. Writers and fans around the country began to rant about how the move was immature and irresponsible. How could Rondo fail so miserably to control his anger? How could he put his team in this spot?

Well, I’m not going to try to tell you which argument is a more accurate evaluation of what Rondo’s actions were. The fact of the matter is that what happened has happened, and it can’t be changed. The bigger point to be made out of all of this, however, is just how much Rondo means to his team.

The Celtics had no problem with Portland at home in the first of two games without their floor general. Boston got 19 off the bench from Jeff Green, and cruised to a 96-78 victory.

Rondo’s “our leader, so it’s tough when he’s not here,” Green said after the win. “So everybody as a group has to pull together as a team and try and take his place.”

That’s just the problem, nobody can take his place.

In the second act for the Rondo-less Celtics, Boston blew an early 17-0 lead and fell to the Bucks by the final of 91-88. Just as it is when Rondo sits his few minutes on the bench during a regular game, his absence was felt. The Celtics struggled throughout the game to get into their offensive sets and organize their offense, which ultimately led to blowing a double-digit lead. Not only is Rondo a great passer and a good scorer for the Celtics, but he also excels controlling the overall structure of the offense. It’s his team.

Since his return the Celtics are 1-1, the same record they had while he was out. They defeated the Timberwolves in his return by 10 points, and lost by one in overtime in Philadelphia. Individually, Rondo had 17 points and 11 assists in his first game back, and 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists in the lose.


Jared Wickham/Getty Images

Those aren’t the only numbers that speak volumes to Rondo’s success. Let’s rewind back to the night against the Nets when Rondo got ejected. Not only did the Celtics lose, but Rondo’s streak of 10 or more assists in a game ended at 37 contests, nine shy of Magic’s league record 46.

For the time the streak lasted it took on a story of its own. A questionable call from head coach Doc Rivers that pertained to leaving the all-star point guard in the game during a blow-out so he could get to 10 assists against the Pistons had writers and fans in an uproar, just like when Rondo was suspended.

What’s even more bizarre is that NBA fans around the country began to call Rondo’s chase for the record selfish. Does anyone else see the irony in that thought?

Regardless of what you think about the record chasing, it is something that no one has challenged since the days of John Stockton (tied with Rondo at 37 games). I mean, c’mon, isn’t it easier to just score and give the fans what they want. The Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant type-players of the world sure think so.

This is just it. Rondo has not only made the assist cool again, but he’s doing it in a productive and flashy way that ultimately runs the Celtics offense.

One school of thought is that there is nothing cheaper in basketball than the assist. The other is that it is a generous stat that measures team-first attitude, which is hard to find in any other sport.

Regardless, one thing is for sure. Rondo led an elderly, otherwise stagnant Celtics team deep into the heart of the playoffs again last season. In fact, has the Celtics won game two against the Heat, a game where Rondo had 44 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists, they would have won the Eastern Conference Finals and faced the Thunder in the finals.

Again this season Rondo is the piece that makes the clock tick. His 13.2 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, and league-leading 12.8 assists reaffirm any question as to who the most valuable player on this squad is. Oh, and I forgot to mention that his .509 shooting percentage from the field, and.649 free throw percentage are career highs as well.

These numbers can only explain half of the impact that he makes out on the floor, the other half was said best by Garnett himself.

“Obviously, I’m going to be biased, because I play with him, and I see his growth and I see how hard he works, but when it comes to his presence on the game, that’s up there with the modern day Kobe’s and Lebron’s and all that.”

Did he mean Kobe Bryant and Lebron James? Well, Rondo doesn’t have one accolade that those two have: an MVP award. Is he making his push for it?

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