Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

Rondo must stay


Let me repeat that once again – 18-17-20! Yes, but just as impressive as Rajon Rondo’s stats read from the edge-of-the-seat contest against the New York Knicks this past Sunday night, equally shocking is the continued speculation concerning the 26-year-old point guard being traded by the Celtics.

I say speculation because I hope Boston President of Basketball Operations and former Celtics player, Danny Ainge, is only testing waters. I say shocking because that is what it would really be if Rondo, a uniquely talented player, were to exit the Boston franchise.

And therefore, between pulling the trigger and opting to letting Rondo stay, I hope sanity prevails over Ainge.

The Celtics, their veteran core of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, are done. There is no doubting that. They may make it to the playoffs, but I would be surprised to see them do any better than their second-round exit from last year’s playoffs. And given that Allen and Garnett are most likely not to have their expiring contracts renewed at the end of this season by the Cs, who best for the Celtics to rebuild with than a young Rondo?

The predicament that Rondo currently finds himself in, I believe, is because of a couple of reasons. Firstly, he isn’t in the mold of the classical point guard, one who is a good outside scorer or someone who can hit the pull-up jumper, 15-feet from the basket, with remarkable consistency. A quick look at Rondo’s 3-point and free-throw shooting percentages benchmarked against the league’s elite point-guards validates the same:

Player nameCurrent TeamG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG PPG
Chris Paul LA Clippers 455 0.472 0.365 0.853 4.5 9.8 2.4 18.7
Deron Williams New Jersey Nets 488 0.458 0.355 0.813 3.3 9.1 1.1 17.6
Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls 269 0.468 0.312 0.816 3.8 6.8 0.9 21.1
Jason Kidd Dallas Mavericks 1295 0.400 0.347 0.784 6.4 9.1 2.0 13.1
Rajon Rondo Boston Celtics 410 0.484 0.242 0.620 4.5 7.7 1.9 10.9
Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder 283 0.429 0.280 0.816 4.8 6.9 1.6 18.5
Steve Nash Phoenix Suns 1124 0.490 0.429 0.903 3.0 8.6 0.8 14.5
Tony Parker San Antonio Spurs 782 0.491 0.313 0.736 3.0 5.8 1.0 16.8

Rondo has the worst 3-point shooting and free-throw percentages amongst this group. The reason he still shoots the ball at a high percentage (0.484) is because he is quick off the dribble and picks up a lot of easy buckets through steals. But Rondo is not a one-trick pony. He is a multi-dimensional player who has remarkable court vision. This reflects in his assists-per-game which, incidentally, is better than the numbers put up by D-Rose, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.

Above all, Rondo has heart. He has the attitude of a big-game player, who is not afraid of making the big plays in crunch time and will continue to play despite injury. Remember his Game 3 heroics against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year where he inspired the Celtics to a win despite dislocating his right shoulder?

Rondo’s bigger problem, though, is that he is said to have temperament issues. This is hard to understand. Don’t most all-star players in this league come with some kind of superstar baggage? Is Deron Williams, who is alleged to have caused Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan’s exit from the Utah Jazz, any better? Aren’t Orlando trying to ensure that Dwight Howard stays with them at Orlando? Are the Lakers comfortable every time Kobe Bryant asks a question of management? Then why is Rondo perceived to be such a problem, even when there has been no apparent rift between him and the Celtics organization?

The important thing for Boston to consider here is whether Rondo has improved since he joined the Celtics in 2006. The evidence in this regard compels us to believe that Rondo has indeed improved:

06-07 78 0.418 0.207 0.647 3.7 3.8 1.6 6.4
07-08 77 0.492 0.263 0.611 4.2 5.1 1.7 10.6
08-09 80 0.505 0.313 0.642 5.2 8.2 1.9 11.9
09-10 81 0.508 0.212 0.621 4.4 9.8 2.3 13.7
10-11 68 0.475 0.233 0.568 4.4 11.2 2.2 10.6
11-12 26 0.467 0.235 0.600 5.4 10.2 1.6 14.3
Career 410 0.484 0.242 0.620 4.5 7.7 1.9 10.9

Barring his steals-per-game (which have been consistent), Rondo’s PPG, RPG and APG have, largely, shown an upward trend. Of these stats, his improvement in the assists and points per game columns is absolutely remarkable, but the fact that he can pull down double-digit rebounds with a fair degree of regularity, while carrying the relatively diminutive frame of 6-1, must also be appreciated.

Including his Sunday night performance against the Knicks, he already has four triple-doubles this season, which makes him the only player to have more than one triple-double in the 2011-12 campaign. Rondo’s performance on Sunday also marked just the third time in NBA history (after Wilt Chamberlain against Detroit in ’68 and Magic Johnson against Atlanta in ’83) that a player has recorded at least 20 assists and 17 rebounds in a game. And only Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Jason Kidd have ever recorded a game with 15 or more points, 15 or more rebounds and 15 or more assists. It is why Sekou Smith of Hang Time Blog says that given those numbers, “Only a fool would trade Rondo!

Chad Finn, award-winning writer of Globe/Boston.com, made an even more interesting observation of Rondo in his latest online column. Comparing Rondo to former Celtic great Dennis Johnson, Finn wrote in his column, aptly titled ‘Don’t let Rondo become another team’s DJ’, “Did you notice yesterday that Rondo again rose to the challenge on national television against a hyped opponent, in this case Jeremy Lin? Like DJ, he sometimes gets bored with the NBA routine, and [Larry] Bird's he's-into-it-when-he-takes-it-to-the-basket measuring stick probably applies to Rondo as well. When he's challenged and engaged, you wouldn't want him on any other team but the one for which you cheer.”

Ainge, we understand, is trying to prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred in the aftermath of Celtics’ legends Larry Bird and Kevin McHale retiring in the early 90s when Boston went into freefall. He hopes to preempt the end of the Pierce-Garnett-Allen era (read expiring contracts) by making a trade that would at least help the Celtics rebuild faster. But by trading Rondo, currently the most important Celtic, Ainge might be heading for a completely unknown variable. To draw a parallel, we all know what happened to Boston with Ainge’s Jeff Green-for-Kendrick Perkins trade in February 2011.

In a message to The Beat, Bob Cousy, the greatest of Celtics’ point guards, wrote of Rondo, “I’m out of the loop, but boy, unless he’s a serial killer on the side, I wouldn’t let this kid go… I don’t know where you’d find a better point guard.”

Are you listening Mr Ainge?

All stats are after games played on March 6, 2012 (IST)