Top NBA Players: #5 and #4 Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul

Oct 22, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Warriors 88-71. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Chris Paul
Resume: 19.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists (3rd in league), 2.5 steals (1st in league), 36.4 minutes, 48% FG, 86% FT, and 37% 3PT… Team record in games played: 37-23 (3-3 without)… Playoffs: 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 43% FG, 4-7 record… All-Star, 3rd in MVP Voting, 1st Team All-Defense, 1st Team All-NBA

Rajon Rondo
Resume: 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 11.7 assists (1st in league, career best), 1.8 steals, 36.9 minutes (10th in league), 6 triple-doubles (1st in league), 45% FG, and 60% FT… Team record in games played: 31-22 (8-5 without)… Playoffs: 17.3 points (career best), 6.7 rebounds, 11.9 assists (career best), 2.4 steals, 42.6 minutes, 47% FG, 70% FT (career best), 10-9 record (1-0 without)… All-Star, 8th in MVP Voting, 2nd Team All-Defense, 3rd Team All-NBA

The hottest debate that my basketball fan friends and I engaged in during this process was “who is the undisputed champion amongst point guards in the NBA?” Really, it came down to two players: Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. Needless to say, I was relatively shocked when Rajon Rondo entered ESPN’s NBA Rankings at #12. To me, the choice between Rondo and Chris Paul was too close to call and that was the sentiment amongst most of my friends and family too. So before I even made a decision, I had to sort it out in a similar fashion to Bill Simmons’ Dr. Jack Breakdown. Let’s do it!

Scoring Ability
We haven’t seen an entire season of Rajon Rondo as the featured scorer for Boston, however we’ve seen him shoulder that burden on plenty of occasions. Those performances usually come in the biggest moments, particularly the playoffs where Rondo’s scoring average has increased every postseason except Boston’s 2008 Championship season. Despite the fact that defenders routinely play about 5 feet off of Rondo, he still finds a way to get into the paint and finish in a variety of creative ways around the hoop. Don’t be surprised to see Rondo take on a bigger role as a scorer in 2012-13, maybe one similar to his counterpart.

Paul on the other hand is more of a natural scorer than Rondo. In his ridiculously impressive 2008-09 season, he was not only first in the league in assists and steals, but also 7th in points per game. Paul has totally mastered the art of facilitating the action early on, and being able to close out the game as a scorer late. It’s routine at this point. Over the last few years as you watch Chris Paul you just know it’s coming. It’s like when you are watching a scary movie and the creepy music starts to play in the background, someone is about to die. When there is six minutes left in a close game Chris Paul is going to start scoring, and scoring, and scoring, and scoring.
Edge- Chris Paul

It’s hard to criticize either of the two in this category. Paul and Rondo have combined to win 3 assist titles and are both legitimately fun to watch orchestrate an offense. Since they are both so entertaining I took to YouTube to decide the winner of this critical category. Rondo’s passing mix is a joy to watch as a former point guard, but unfortunately there aren’t any good Chris Paul passing highlight mixes on YouTube. So who wins the Rajon Rondo vs. Chris Paul passing matchup? Well, I was leaning towards Rondo to begin with. I’ve gone on record saying that I believe Chris Paul plays the point guard position better than anyone else, but Rondo seems to see passing angles that other guys just can’t, even Paul.
Slight Edge– Rajon Rondo

Defensive Prowess
This is a great debate to have since in their own ways, both Paul and Rondo are elite perimeter defenders. Paul is a more typical man to man defender. He’s going to be in front of you and in your grill all game, and if you put the ball in front of him he’s going to take it from you. Plain and simple. Rondo is more of a roamer. His help defense and ability to play the passing lanes is a big reason why he is the only player not named Chris Paul to lead the league in steals per game in the last five seasons. Who has more value as a defender? Paul has been the best defensive point guard in the league basically since he got drafted in 2005. Rondo isn’t out of Paul’s league though.
Slight Edge– Chris Paul

Calling Card
Picking between the trademark moves of Rondo and Paul is like picking between 1995 Academy Award Best Picture nominees The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump. You really can’t go wrong with either one. It just depends on the mood you are in, but it’s hard not to love both of them. Paul runs the high screen and roll better than just about everyone in the league. And if the defenders switch and their big guy is left out on an island guarding Chris Paul, Paul will make him look like a complete fool. That is a sure thing. Rondo uses pass fakes better than just about anyone in the league, most famously the behind the back fake that has never failed to work. He uses these fakes to not only get himself shots, but also to create space and get teammates open looks. Plus it looks as cool as Miles Davis.
Slight Edge– Rajon Rondo

There really isn’t much more that Chris Paul can improve on. He’s basically a finished product and a damn good one. But what happens when Rajon Rondo develops a consistent jump shot? Holy crap, look out.
Edge– Rajon Rondo

Teammate Help
Or lack thereof. The question here is who has done more with less? Rondo has shouldered the burden with banged up Celtics teams the last few postseasons. As the Celtics Big Three was running on fumes in the postseason this year, Rondo averaged 20.9 points, 11.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, proving he is perfectly capable of taking on an expanded role. Still, Rondo was playing with three future Hall of Famers. Chris Paul turned a relatively mediocre Hornets team into a 56 win two seed in an incredibly deep Western Conference in 2008.
Edge– Chris Paul

Neither of the two has what you’d call a squeaky clean image. Rajon Rondo is known for being moody, stubborn, and sometimes hard to deal with. He was a frequently mentioned trade chip for the Celtics, and was even discussed in a deal for Chris Paul, who at the time was basically forcing his way out of New Orleans. Apparently Rondo has matured and taken on more of a leadership role. I buy into that talk, but it still remains to be seen. I give the slight edge to Paul in this category. He was in a crap situation in New Orleans and stuck around for just about as long as he could. He was going to leave New Orleans once he became a free agent, and by demanding a trade he was actually putting the Hornets in a better situation than they could’ve been in. Plus, Paul is highly praised amongst his peers, and that holds a lot of weight in my opinion.
Slight Edge- Chris Paul

Oct 16, 2012; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) sets the play during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Banknorth Garden. The Brooklyn Nets won 97-96. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Best What-If
Did you know that Rajon Rondo is directly connected to Rick Fox, Gary Payton, Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones, Chris Mihm, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart, Antoine Walker, Boris Diaw, Robin Lopez, Joe Johnson, Brian Grant and Rudy Fernandez? How so, you ask. Well, the pick that would become Rajon Rondo originally belonged to the Lakers and was then traded to the Celtics, then to the Hawks, then to the Suns, and finally back to the Celtics. So, in theory, I’m presenting what-if’s that involve Rondo teaming with Kobe Bryant, possibly playing for one of the most lethargic crowds in the NBA in Atlanta, or being Steve Nash’s understudy in Phoenix. It’s hard to predict whether that future 2006 1st round pick the Lakers traded back in 2004 would’ve ended up still being the 21st pick in the draft if they hadn’t made that trade, but what is totally realistic to think about is Rondo being the predecessor to Steve Nash. The Suns drafted Rondo and then traded him to Boston for a 2007 first round pick, which turned out to be Rudy Fernandez. Essentially, the Suns traded Rondo for nothing since Rudy Fernandez turned into James Jones and James Jones wound up with Miami. It’s an interesting scenario to imagine Rondo learning under Nash, eventually cutting into those minutes, and maybe making the process of moving him a little easier than it ended up being for Phoenix. Personally, I’m glad it worked out the way it did, even if that means LeBron having to deal with Rondo year in and year out. It’s hard to imagine Rondo playing anywhere else but Boston.

There are two great what-if’s that relate to Chris Paul. The first being what if three teams didn’t stupidly pass on Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA Draft. It makes total sense to ask this since, well, Paul was the best player in that draft and anyone who watched college basketball the year before could’ve recognized this and been able to forecast that Paul would be an elite point guard. The what-if that is still somewhat fresh in everyone’s mind is “What if David Stern didn’t veto the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade?” What we know for sure is that the Lakers were going to part ways with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and in return get Chris Paul. We don’t know if the Lakers would’ve made further moves and tried to get Dwight Howard this offseason. We don’t know how the Paul/Kobe dynamic would work, just like we aren’t sure how Kobe will work with Steve Nash (I expect that it would work since they have spent a few summers playing for Team USA together). Ultimately, I couldn’t decide which option is better if you are a Lakers fan, so I decided to ask four friends/family members who are Lakers fans if they would rather have the current Lakers team, or if they would’ve wanted the Chris Paul trade to go through with no guarantee of getting Dwight Howard over the summer. It was a 2-2 split whether they’d keep things the way they are or if they’d rather have Paul, so basically nothing was concluded. I guess that makes for a good what-if, and probably a pretty good debate.
Slight Edge- Chris Paul

2011-12 NBA Season
This one is pretty simple in my eyes. I thought that Paul had the second best regular season of anyone in the league (over Durant), but the MVP vote said otherwise.  Paul finished 3rd in the MVP vote, nothing at all to scoff at. If you conducted a Playoffs MVP vote, Rajon Rondo would’ve finished 3rd behind LeBron and Durant (go figure). Where do you put more stock, individual success in the regular season or postseason?
Edge– Rajon Rondo

Defining 2012 Moment
I just got done touching on how Rondo’s postseason brilliance gave him the edge when it came to the 2011-12 season. What Rondo did in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals was one of the best postseason performances I’ve ever seen in a win or a loss. With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all on their last legs, Rondo went all 53 minutes and was doing just about everything he could to try to steal a game in Miami. Rondo became the first player in playoff history to finish a game with 44 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds, and somehow the stats don’t even explain how great he was. Rondo had an unusually good shooting game, making 16 of his 24 field goal attempts, and even more impressively/pretty uncharacteristically, making ten jump shots, showing all non-Celtics fans that we should all be completely terrified when that jump shot becomes consistent.

Paul didn’t have a performance that were even close to being as statistically impressive as Rondo’s , but he proved in his performance why the conversation for best point guard alive usually begins and ends with him. In the Gold Medal game of the 2012 Summer Olympics, closing duties were shared between LeBron James and Chris Paul. People remember the LeBron dunk and backbreaking 3, but they tend to forget about the should have been 4-point-play Chris Paul had early in the 4th quarter, two tough drives and finishes, and one shimmy move that dropped my jaw to the floor of the Big Room at my Grandma’s house. Paul was the general, and I felt completely comfortable with him at the reins in the game that featured the biggest stakes of 2012.
Slight Edge– Chris Paul

And there lies the biggest difference between Paul and Rondo. I hate to use international basketball as a tool in ranking the players, but there is no way Rajon Rondo takes over a game on that stage like Chris Paul did. It just wouldn’t happen.

Overall Edge: Chris Paul