Locked in an epic first-round series during the 2009 playoffs, Boston?s Rajon Rondo and Chicago's Derrick Rose demonstrated on a grand stage why they will soon stake their claim alongside Chris Paul and Deron Williams as being among the NBA?s elite point guards.
Rose, who is a much more advanced scorer than Rondo was at the same stage of his career, struggled earlier in the season to find a balance between scoring and distributing the ball, but found his rhythm in seven playoff games versus the then-defending champion Celtics. He averaged 19.7 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 80 percent at the line ? narrowly outperforming Rondo as a scorer and shooter.
Rondo?s postseason performance was extraordinary. On the heels of a regular season in which he put up career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and field goal percentage, Rondo took his game to another level in the playoffs. In 14 total playoff games versus the Bulls and Magic, Rondo averaged 16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.7 assists, and 2.5 steals ? nearly joining Oscar Robertson and Jason Kidd as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire postseason.
Each seems destined for greatness. Rose is two years younger than Rondo, which should give him the edge. But Rondo is somewhat of a late bloomer after a bizarre two-year stint under Tubby Smith at Kentucky, a rookie season in which his minutes were senselessly yanked around, and a one-year apprenticeship in the shadows of the Big Three.
While you can?t go wrong with either player, RealGM executive editor Chris Reina and I have exchanged several emails over the past six or seven months debating which player will emerge as the better point guard. I like Rondo. Reina prefers Rose. Below, we?ll tell you why.
The Case For Rondo ? by Brandon Hoffman
Rajon Rondo is unquestionably better than Derrick Rose. When it comes to hype, though, Rose is the popular pick. Selected first overall in the 2008 draft, Rose was a near unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, despite finishing a distant sixth among rookies in John Hollinger?s Player Efficiency Rating.
Offensively, Rose scores more per 40 minutes, but Rondo puts up points more efficiently. Rondo shoots better from the field, mostly because he finishes a higher percentage of his attempts inside (62.1% on shots in the immediate basket area) while Rose has the edge in effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal), and is far better from the line. All told, Rondo is more efficient while Rose takes up a higher percentage of his team?s offense. So I?ll call it a draw.
Rondo gets the nod over Rose as a playmaker, and while Rose can cut through opposing defenses almost at will, he is still a notch below Rondo in that aspect of the game. Rondo has terrific speed and ball-handling ability - along with excellent court awareness ? which makes him a terror on the drive. Cross-court bounce passes, baseline slings, kick-outs, interior-drops, full-court lobs, strong and weak handed dimes on the move ? you name it, Rondo has every pass in his arsenal, and does a good job of delivering the ball so that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Co. can catch-and-shoot with no extraneous movements.
Rose, by comparison, isn?t particularly good at creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. He?ll make the simple pass ? like drive and kick-outs, or ball reversals to open shooters ? but he needs to show better judgment when he drives the ball into the paint. To be fair, Chicago runs a pick-and-roll heavy offense that's poorly tailored to Rose?s strengths, plus his supporting cast pales in comparison to Rondo?s. Still, Rose?s court vision leaves a lot to be desired, and he lacks the creativity that seems inherent in elite point guards.
Defensively, well, there?s really no comparison. Rondo is a great defender as evidenced by the defensive acclaim he received in this year?s GM survey. He came in as the fourth best perimeter defender and split with Kobe Bryant for the league?s best on-the-ball defender. He tends to gamble too much, especially when defending the screen-and-roll, but his length and exceptional lateral quickness, combined with his competitiveness, make him an excellent defensive player. Statistically speaking, he finished fifth in the league in steals, and third in defensive rebound rate among point guards.
From a physical standpoint, Rondo once again has the edge. Both players possess awesome explosiveness, with Rose being the better leaper of the two. However Rondo?s incredible wingspan and large hands allow him to play much bigger than his size. Because of this, the difference in sheer athleticism between the two isn?t as far apart as one would be inclined to think. Specifically, Rondo is a terrific perimeter defender and rebounder thanks in large part to his 6-foot-10-inch wingspan. Moreover, his ability to finish at the rim is aided by his freakishly large hands (reportedly the largest hands the Celtics current training staff has ever measured), which enable him to palm the ball off the dribble, absorb contact, and maintain ball control while elevating to the cup.
In sum, Rondo?s talents cover the entire scope and possibilities of the game. He can do almost everything at the highest level ? rebound, pass, dribble, and shut anyone down on defense. I?ll concede that Rose will likely become a better scorer. However let?s not lose sight of the fact that Rondo and Rose are point guards. Teams rarely win championships when their go-to scorers are under 6-foot-6.
The main question from here is whether Rose can match Rondo?s versatility. I have my doubts. There are all sorts of basketball abilities that can be taught and refined, but you can?t teach length, anticipation, creativity, or competitiveness. Rondo has all of those in spades, plus a flair for the dramatic that manifests itself in big games. Of course, as noted above, you can?t go wrong with either player, but if I can only have one, I?ll take the point guard who can do it all and find people to fill in the blanks.
The Case For Rose ? by Christopher Reina
My preference of Derrick Rose over Rajon Rondo on the objective level of which player will have the superior individual career is somewhat problematic for me because I actually like Rondo more overall on the subjective level. Rondo is endearingly enigmatic and has become the most indispensable part of a championship contending, veteran-laden Celtics team.
Brandon makes a compelling argument why he believes Rondo is the superior player and he might just be the better fit for what Boston needs, but if I had to start a franchise from scratch with either Rondo or Rose, here are the five main reasons why I would unwaveringly go with Rose.
1. The Purer Basketball Player
From his AAU days in Chicago to his successful freshman season at Memphis and ROY campaign with the Bulls, Rose has always seemed exceptionally mature mentally, physically and also in terms of skill set. He is advanced in every aspect of his game (except for his jumper) in the same way guys like Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and LeBron James were at an identical age.
?Late bloomers? like Rondo usually peak at a lower ceiling than the aforementioned prodigies, with many more Patrick Ewings, David Robinsons and Shaquille O?Neals than Hakeem Olajuwons. I believe this is especially true of point guards because every single great at the position had a remarkably high basketball acumen and were great almost immediately.
2. More Dominant Athletically
As uniquely athletic as Rondo is with his wingspan and those freakish hands Brandon mentions, Rose is built broad like a tank and is almost essentially a 6?3? version of LeBron James. He can impose his will on opposing players, which we?ve already seen glimpses of while he plays against opponents that are a decade older than him. He will eventually learn how to take great advantage of that physical superiority to become unstoppable the same way we?ve seen from LeBron and Dwight Howard at their respective positions.
Rose already does a much better job drawing fouls when he penetrates in comparison to Rondo, which invaluably creates foul trouble for opponents and creates easy points from the line.
I don?t legitimately expect Rose to ever challenge Rondo as a complete defensive player, but I do expect him to follow a similar trajectory as we?ve seen from LeBron. Rose will eventually learn the intricacies of being a very good defensive player and will have an on/off switch where can be suffocating defending the perimeter and also be an occasional help shotblocker, even if it is based on his strength and athleticism alone.
Rose also can be counted on to defend shorter swingmen, which is something Rondo isn?t really equipped for due to his lack of height and more slender frame.
3. Superior Shooter
Even though Rose has a long ways to go to become a dependable jump shooter and even longer to develop into a legitimate three-point shooter, he is unquestionably the better shooter already. He shot 78.8% from the line as a rookie, while Rondo has shot 64.7%, 61.1% and 64.2% in his three full seasons.
Jason Kidd came into the NBA shooting in the high 60% range, but was soon consistently in the high 70% and low 80%, which I don?t expect Rondo to ever reach no matter how many summers he spends with Mark Price.
Rondo?s shooting isn?t currently a severe liability because he isn?t the main focus for opposing teams. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are dangerous perimeter scorers, creating open lanes for Rondo to operate and post that efficient field goal percentage. Even an offensive player of LeBron?s caliber occasionally struggles due to an inconsistent jumper due to how much focus teams dedicate to him on that end of the floor.
If Rondo was the lead offensive option, I believe he would be fairly easily neutralized and this is the single-biggest reason why I believe Rondo cannot be considered a franchise player.
Rose, on the other hand, has all of the same abilities to penetrate and get to the bucket, while projecting as at least an above average jump shooter that must be challenged.
4. Leadership Quotient
Though quiet at this stage in his career and naturally shy, Rose brings a quiet confidence and calm to the floor, with the full trust of his teammates. He doesn?t have any of the same extroverted characteristics as a Magic Johnson or Gary Payton, but has the reserved likability of a Kidd. From the minute Rose stepped onto the floor of the Berto Center, the Bulls have been his team and all plans revolve chiefly around him.
Rondo has been and continues to be the little brother of a team of All-Stars. He seems to be more tolerated than well-liked by his teammates and by the time KG, Pierce and Allen are gone, Rondo will be an untested leader at the age of 25 or 26.
5. Remaining Potential
Most players are about as good as they?ll ever be by the time they?re 22 or 23, Rondo?s current age, meaning I think we?re seeing him at his essential peak. Rondo will likely make some marginal gains as a shooter, but an inevitable drop in explosiveness will all but cancel that improvement out. I don?t think we?ll see Rondo have a PER run in the 20?s like we saw from Payton between ?97 and ?03, who probably is the closest recent comparison minus the height differentials.
Rose had a similar rookie season as Kidd?s back in ?95 with Dallas, albeit one year younger, with superior scoring numbers and inferior rebounding and steal numbers. I would be utterly shocked not to see an extended run in the low to mid 20s in the PER department for Rose, while being the unquestioned best player on his team.
As Brandon highlights, Rose was sixth amongst rookies in PER, but had a superior mark in the category as a rookie, at the same age or younger than Kidd, Payton, Kevin Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Mike Bibby, Deron Williams, John Stockton and Tony Parker, while trailing only Magic Johnson and Chris Paul as 20-year-old point guards.
Brandon Hoffman is a frequent contributor to RealGM. To read more from Brandon, check out his blog at BallerBlogger.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter.