The Boston Celtics‘ Saturday night victory over the New Orlean Hornets was notable for a number of reasons, but of particular interest was the play of starting point guard Rajon Rondo and backup point guard Delonte West.
Rondo had another disappointing night. Despite hitting a couple of unexpected mid-range jumpers, for much of the game Rondo seemed a step slow. His mediocre tally of five assists was well below his season average, but about on par for his recent performances.
Delonte West, on the other hand, was a revelation. Putting up almost identical numbers (nine points, five assists), West managed to do so with 10 minutes less playing time. Unlike Rondo, West was a blur on the court. Whether sprinting down the court to lead the fast break or posting up his man down low, West was clearly a positive to the team every minute he was on the floor.
Now, this is not to say that West is a better player than Rondo. Far from it. West is a good player. Rondo is a great player—and one with a proven record of leadership. It is similarly not fair to compare an almost healthy West, less fatigued from less minutes, with a banged up Rondo. But on Saturday night, West has a better player, pound-for-pound, than Rondo.
With Rondo’s recent admission of a lingering injury to his pinky finger, and his related run of poor form in recent weeks, it is perhaps time to question whether it is time for Doc Rivers to bench Rondo in favour of the recently returned West.
West looked very comfortable running the point for the Celtics in recent games. His speed and ability to go down low in the post make him a matchup nightmare for most teams. Rondo meanwhile could do with some time to rest and recuperate.
Although the Celtics have an uphill battle trying to retain the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Rondo is not the right man to lead that fight. His injuries, combined with a general slump in form, have hurt the Celtics in recent games.
West, meanwhile, continues to improve with each game. Benching Rondo in favour of West would have a number of benefits. Rondo would get a chance to rest and recuperate and West would better familiarise himself with the new Celtics team.
However, perhaps the biggest argument against giving Rondo some bench time in favour of West is Rondo himself. Rondo has shown himself to be stubborn and proud, almost to the point of arrogance. It is what makes him such a tough player. But, it also can work to the detriment of his team. It is unlikely his ego could take being benched, or even having his minutes reduced.
Benching him could be received as a slight against his contribution to the team. And the last thing the Celtics need is an unhappy Rondo, with a chip on his shoulder. However, Rondo shouldn’t think a move to bench him undermines his importance to the Celtics.
In fact, the exact opposite is true.
The Celtics need a healthy and rested Rondo for the playoffs. Right now, Rondo is neither. For the greater good of the Celtics, and for Rondo, Doc Rivers needs to sit him in favour of West. At least until the playoffs. And then, hopefully, the Celtics can ride a 100 percent battle-ready Rondo all the way to an 18th championship.