As I sat on my couch watching the first half of Sunday’s Boston Celtics and Miami Heat Eastern Conference Finals game four, I was following my usual tradition of watching a big game with my Twitter timeline open.
Twitter was all… well, a twitter with oohs and aahs over Rajon Rondo and his pinpoint passing in the first half. Honestly, I was right with the majority when it came to spending the first half appreciating great play from the often maligned Celtics point guard. I was, that is, until it happened.
It always happens on Twitter. Someone I follow always asks a question that makes me want to argue with them. In this case, @GreyGoose218 asked “You have one point guard to rebuild a team around, would you pick Rajon Rondo or Kyrie Irving? Take Bias out of it. Who do you pick?” Goose was talking to a couple of other Cleveland fans, and since my time line is pretty much all either Cleveland stuff or sports, I tend to see a lot of Cleveland sports questions.
I immediately thought to myself that of course I want Kyrie over Rondo! I started to craft a sarcastic tweet to respond, and got about half way through a Rondo looks like a dinosaur joke before I looked up and saw him knife through the lane and sink a floater over LeBron James. I erased my tweet and set my smartphone down. This was going to need some real thought.
Rajon Rondo is definitely the catalyst of an incredible team. The way that he sees the floor and can consistently get the ball to his playmakers in exactly the right spot puts him in the upper tier of point guards. When he’s directing his teammates and setting up plays, he’s knifing to the rim and putting defenders on notice that he’s not just a passer. Celtics coach Doc Rivers trusts Rondo as much as I’ve seen any coach trust any player.
Rajon Rondo is a premier NBA point guard, of that there is no doubt, but there’s something missing.
Rajon Rondo cannot effectively shoot a jump shot. He just can’t. Sure, he’s had great games that include long range shooting, but even the staunchest Rondo supporters can’t deny that those games are rarities.
Rondo excels partly because he’s an incredible talent, but also because he’s able to find Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the wings. Having quality jump shooters at his disposal doesn’t make Rondo any less of a player – he’s certainly still a top of the league point guard – but 19 year old Kyrie Irving had a year that was just as impressive on a much worse team.
But the phrase just as impressive doesn’t really do the rookie justice. A side by side statistical comparison shows that Irving, in six less minutes per game, outscored Rondo 18.5 ppg to 11.9 ppg. Irving’s field goal percentage was two points higher than Rondo’s, and his three point percentage is a whopping 16 points higher.
This isn’t a hate on Rondo moment at all. Rondo out rebounded Irving by one board per game and dished out six more assists than the rookie, too. The argument could be made that the extra assists are proof of Rondo’s superior balance and dominance as a point guard, but that argument would be wrong. Well, could be wrong. The thing is, we don’t really know about Irving’s balance as a point guard yet.
While Rondo was off filling up stat sheets with three future hall of famers sharing the roster (assuming Paul Pierce will be a hall of famer actually made me vomit a little bit), Irving was on a Cavaliers roster whose next best player was a borderline insane Brazilian flopper who spent 2/3 of the season injured. Because of the roster limitations, Irving needed to attempt five more shots per game just to keep his team competitive.
There are some cases when taking all those extra shots might seem like so much ball hogging, but after spending the entire winter and spring elbow deep in Eastern Conference basketball, I can tell you that Irving wasn’t a ball hog. He was simply the best player on a struggling team.
I’m still pretty even between the two at this point. Rondo runs the hell out of a great team, but Irving has magician handles and can stretch the floor with his jumper. They’re both athletic and contribute more than just offensively. At this point, Rondo might even have a slight edge considering his basketball IQ and defensive presence. But, if I’m building a team around a point guard, I have to be very aware of how that point guard is going to perform in the situations that I need him the most.
As defined by 82games.com, the situations that I need my point guard to perform the most is in the fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, and neither team ahead by more than five points. Yep, I’m talking about the vaunted clutch stats.
Here’s the breakdown of production per 48 minutes of clutch time:
Rondo and Irving have played roughly the same amount of clutch minutes this season, but the offensive disparity is staggering. Not only did Irving outscore Rondo by 45 points, but Rondo’s lack of scoring flexibility practically jumps off of the computer screen by way of his field goal and three point shooting percentage. Compare that to Irving’s trend of actually getting better in the clutch and I’m not sure how anyone can disagree that Kyrie has the instincts to get buckets when the team needs them the most.
Sure, Rondo out assisted the youngster during crunch time, just as he did in his full per game stats, but assuming that Irving can’t pass because he played on a team that relied on him to score can’t be taken seriously. Any 19 year old that can score 56 points per 48 minutes of clutch time is the kind of ice in his veins finisher that I want on my team.
Rajon Rondo is a fantastic basketball player – and his dominance of Miami Heat point Guard Mario Chalmers could be the deciding factor in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals – but I need a player that can knock down open shots in crunch time.
I’m picking Kyrie Irving to build my team around. Not because of Cleveland bias, but based on youth, scoring ability, and the clutch gene. (And also because Rondo looks like a velociraptor)