All the Celtics had were their three stars, people said, and not much else. Well, Rajon Rondo was listening. And, with his play, the second-year point guard out of Kentucky has issued a retort: an average of 10.4 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 31 minutes over 46 games entering Tuesday's play.
"I know a lot of people doubted Rajon Rondo, saying he couldn't handle the point guard situation," Denver forward Carmelo Anthony said. "He is doing a pretty (darn) good job right now."
Boston, which plays the Warriors tonight in Oakland, owns the best record in the NBA. It is on pace to get the top seed in the Eastern Conference, one year after missing the playoffs. It won its first 16 games against the Western Conference.
While Garnett, Pierce and Allen are the biggest reason for the Celtics' success, a fair chunk of the credit goes to Rondo. He is proving to be the perfect point guard to play alongside three All-Stars.
He's a pass-first point guard who wreaks havoc on defense. He's cat quick, wiry strong and longer than his 6-foot-1, 171-pound frame suggests. What has really made him effective is his efficient scoring.
Coming out of Kentucky after his sophomore season, Rondo's one major knock was his poor outside shooting. He entered Tuesday shooting 50.1 percent from the field, which is fourth among point guards behind Toronto's Jose Calderon, Utah's Deron Williams and Phoenix's Steve Nash (Rondo is fifth if you count the Warriors' Monta Ellis as a point guard).
He's making a third of his 3-pointers (up from 20.7 percent last year). It's mostly because he's been smart enough to pull away from the 3-point buffet. He's taken nine so far this season, making three, after going 6-for-29 from behind the arc as a rookie.
Instead of chucking from deep, Rondo is relying on an improved mid-range jumper. According to NBA.com's stats, Rondo is shooting 45.5 percent (70-for-154) on non-3-pointers and layups. Last season, he made 30.8 percent (38-for-123) of those shots.
So well, that some games he's been the star for the Celtics. Feb. 10 vs. the San Antonio Spurs, Rondo had five points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as Boston -- without Garnett -- beat the defending champs. Jan 29 at Miami, with no Garnett or Allen, Rondo stole the show as the Celtics routed Miami. He finished with 23 points and six rebounds.
On Dec. 23 against Orlando, a big matchup of two of the league's hottest teams at the time. Rondo played 38 minutes and finished with 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting with six assists and four steals in Boston's win.
"He's been great all season long," Pierce said. "He's showing tremendous confidence in his jumper, he's getting inside the creases and making passes. ... For a second-year guard, he's way ahead of what we expected and he's playing well."
Assuredly, there are still some question marks surrounding Rondo. His free throw percentage -- 61.7 -- is suspect. And, turning 22 on Friday, he's still young and inexperienced. Many a player has been swallowed up by the postseason intensity. No one can be sure Rondo won't be next.
As for now, Rondo is carving a spot in the next generation of top-notch point guards, for which New Orleans' Chris Paul and Utah's Williams carry the banner.
Rondo is young but mature beyond his years, a process being hastened by a 4-month-old daughter and the tutelage of Allen, who has taken Rondo under his wing.
He's raw but productive, maximizing his athleticism to get to the basket, rebound and be a pest on defense.
He's motivated but patient. Those close to him say he's driven to disprove his doubters, but he's content with staying in his role. One of the advantages of playing with the Big Three is that Rondo can focus on running the team. The fact that despite dominating the ball he's barely ahead of guard Tony Allen for fifth-most field goal attempts on the team is a sign that he is playing within himself.
That certainly isn't making him a weak link.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.