The Rajon Rondo roller coaster continues — the Chicago Bulls announced that their starting point guard fractured his thumb in Game 2 against the Celtics and is out indefinitely. If this is the end for him, it was one of the wildest seasons a player has ever had.
It started out poorly. Bulls fans and NBA Twitter mocked Chicago for signing a point guard who couldn’t shoot, put up empty numbers in Sacramento and hasn’t played good defense in five years.
It was a questionable move by itself. Add in the fact that he’d be playing alongside Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, and it was more or less…laughable.
For most of the season, just about everyone who has ever watched a basketball game not named John Paxson or Gar Forman looked smart. The Butler-Wade-Rondo on-floor product was clunky at best. Rondo still couldn’t shoot, defended only on rare occasions and was reluctant to go into the paint. Off the floor, Butler and Wade bashed the rest of the team to the media, while Rondo bashed Butler and Wade on social media. Fred Hoiberg benched him completely around the turn of the year.
Later in the season, injuries (and the fact that one of the Bulls’ point guard options is Michael Carter-Williams, who at this rate, will soon be out of the league) forced Hoiberg’s hand: Rondo would play backup point guard minutes. He played pretty well, and eventually reclaimed the starter’s role: Rondo averaged 7.2 assists and shot 51.4 percent(!) from deep in March. The Bulls’ leading 3-point shooter this season, minimum of 100 attempts? It’s a tie between Doug McDermott and Rondo. No, seriously. He shot nearly 38 percent from deep this season.
And as you know, he was outstanding in his limited playoff sample size, posting near triple-doubles that actually meant something. Most importantly, Rondo was a menace defensively — he certainly didn’t shut Isaiah Thomas down, but he made life difficult for him, and he was good enough that the Bulls weren’t forced to cross-match. He was enough of a threat to drive the lane that the Celtics had to honor him; that allowed the one skill that never evaded Rondo, his incredible floor vision, to shine through.
That guy is a solid NBA starting point guard. The player we saw for most of the season is a low-end backup.
Some guys are good enough to play entitled in the regular season. Had LeBron James expended 100 percent energy on both ends of the floor, he probably would have been the MVP. He didn’t, because his goal is to win a championship, and those two things don’t align — but he was still an awesome player this season, because 85 percent of LeBron James is better than about damn near everyone else.
When he tries as hard as he can, Rondo is a good player — an intuitive, nasty defender with elite playmaking skills. 70 percent of Rondo is an ineffective NBA player. The margin for error with point guards is small.
So it’s baffling as to why he so blatantly coasts during the regular season. Is it health related? Maybe. Rondo is on the wrong side of 30 with an injury history, but he’s not ancient. Does he just have a bad attitude, and he’ll only give it his all if he’s in the perfect basketball situation? Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Playing for the Kings and the Bulls must take a toll on you.
It would be fun to see Rondo operate with three shooters and a rim-running center. Here’s a fake NBA 2K lineup: Rondo, J.J. Redick, Otto Porter, Kevin Love, Brandan Wright. That team wouldn’t overwhelm you with talent, but it would likely be an outstanding offensive group — Rondo’s skill set is so specific that it takes a specific, intentional supporting cast to make it work. You can’t just plug him in and expect greatness.
The Bulls effectively have a team option on Rondo (he has $3 million guaranteed out of $13.4 million for next year), and at this rate, it looks like they’ll exercise it — a hilarious sentence to imagine three months ago. The Rondo-Paul Zipser-Butler-Nikola Mirotic-Robin Lopez group has been Chicago’s best lineup this season, and it follows a similar model to the fantasy starting five above.
With this recent injury news, this Rondo season may have just come to an anticlimactic end. Jerian Grant will get the start in place of Rondo for Game 3, but get ready for more MCW, Bulls fans.
I need a drink.