Ever since he essentially quit on the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 playoffs, the mystique surrounding Rajon Rondo evaporated into thin air. Viewed as an excellent playmaker and heady defender during his glory days in Boston, Rondo is now seen as a stats-seeker, choosing to pad his assist numbers over making a more sound play.
That’s basically what Rondo did in his one year stint with the Sacramento Kings last season. He led the league in assists with 11.7 dimes per game, but Rondo’s playmaking didn’t help the Kings become successful in the least. (Not that much would have, as the Kings had a myriad of problems. Rondo wasn’t to blame for everything.) Yet after that year with the Kings, Rondo seemed like he was the only person unaware of his destiny as a past his prime former All-Star.
All of this is why Rondo signing with the Bulls last summer was met with just a giant eye roll. Bringing in a name like Rondo was a very Bulls type of move to make. And then the decision to bring in Rondo was viewed as even more questionable after the Bulls signed Dwyane Wade. How could three non-shooters like Wade, Rondo and Jimmy Butler co-exist with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who preferred a more free-flowing, spread out offense?
The answer to that question was quickly answered once the season began as the Bulls were just an inconsistent mess. They experienced success in the beginning but also racked up plenty of loses in splendid fashion And on top of all of that, things quickly soured between the Three Alphas of Rondo, Butler and Wade.
During the season, Rondo was benched by Hoiberg due to his inefficient play. Rondo responded to the benching with some rather curious quotes but he also remained an engaged teammate, working with and encouraging the young players on the Bulls. This relationship he had with players like Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams caused Rondo to post an antagonizing Instagram after Wade and Butler criticized Chicago’s younger players. The Three Alphas then engaged in an indirect war of words through the media (social and tradiational), while maintaining they had no problems with each other.
With all of this drama, it wasn’t too surprising to see the Bulls struggle throughout the regular season, though it was a surprise to see them grab the #8 seed. Even more surprising, Chicago beat top-seeded Boston in both of the first two games, opening up a commanding 2-0 lead.
Averaging 11.5 points, 10 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals, Rondo was key to Chicago winning the first two games of the series. Playing like the legend of “Playoff Rondo,” the Bulls guard pushed the ball in transition, found his teammates for easy baskets, and played pesky defense, which in the process limited the scoring prowess of Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
The Bulls also seemed to feed off Rondo’s energy, as Butler and Wade followed his lead by playing at an elite level. All of this was quite strange, since the Bulls played better without Rondo during the regular season. Somehow in the playoffs, it was a different story.
However, Rondo is now out for a few weeks after he fractured his right thumb, an injury that has drastically altered the Chicago’s fortunes.
Without Rondo in Game 3, the Bulls floundered. Chicago’s depth at point guard is not a great area of strength for them, and it showed.
Grant got the start, and he had four turnovers and no assists in 15 minutes. Carter-Williams wasn’t any better, finishing with two points (on a dismal 20 percent shooting), three assists and three turnovers. The Bulls as a team had just 14 assists against 18 turnovers. If that isn’t enough, Boston’s trio of guards, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Terry Rozier, all played well and took advantage of the poor defense of Grant and Carter-Williams.
So what are the Bulls to do? Rondo is out for at least the rest of the series, and Grant and Carter-Williams don’t look like they can even remotely fill in for him.
The good news for the Bulls is that they have Butler and Wade, perhaps the two best players in the entire series. Wade acted as the primary ball handler and playmaker for a stretch in Game 3, which worked out well for Chicago and could be repeated. Butler also can handle point guard duties, especially if the Bulls have shooters like Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser in the lineup with him.
But the Bulls will have to play either Grant or Carter-Williams at some point, and they will need them to step up. Both players have had their moments during the regular season and even if it’s just for a few minutes, the Bulls desperately need better play from their point guards.
That may end up being too much to ask. But with Rondo out, the Bulls don’t have any other choice.