When Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson went down with tendinitis in his knee and was then ruled out of this weekends All-Star festivities, it was greeted without much surprise or debate that Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was chosen to replace him on the roster for the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact that Rondo has had a nice season to this point, I find it hard to justify this decision and think that there was at least one far more worthy candidate.
First, let’s dispel the notion that he Rondo had no business being on the All-Star team. He’s put up very strong numbers during the season to this point, especially considering the lack of talented or non-AARP eligible players around him. He’s averaging a career high 14.8 points per game, dishing out just under 10 assists a night and also pulling down an impressive five rebounds. In most cases those are definitely all-star worthy numbers, but as anyone will tell you, games are not played on paper or based on statistics. If games were played on paper, a player like Stephen Jackson would have made multiple All-Star teams during his lengthy career. The reality is, Rondo was chosen based more on reputation than anything he’s actually done on the court this season.
When he hasn’t been getting suspended for throwing balls at officials and acting like a petulant child, he’s been injured for a good portion of the season, missing eight games to injury plus two more for the aforementioned suspension. While that may not seem like a whole lot of games, in this compressed season that means Rondo has missed more than a quarter of his team’s games. In addition, the team actually performed better without him on the floor, sporting a 6-4 record during his 10 game absence and a disappointing 9-13 record when he’s been on the floor. This is not to say that the Celtics are a better team without Rondo, in fact he’s hardly the reason this team is so terrible, but the overall record of the team is worth considering when you start talking about which teams deserve multiple all-stars (Paul Pierce will also be participating). Rarely will you see a team with a sub-.500 record like this Celtics squad get multiple all-stars. In fact, I can hardly remember the last time it happened. Were Rondo playing for a team like the Sacramento Kings or Charlotte Bobcats, he would hardly have even gotten a look as the all-star sub.
The candidate that should have filled Joe Johnson’s shoes? Look no further than his own teammate, and a player who has actually been better than Johnson this season anyway, Josh Smith. In the absence of the Atlanta Hawks best player (Al Horford) thanks to a torn pectoral muscle, Smith has put forth the best season of his career averaging 16.1 points per game, just under 10 boards, 1.5 steals, 3 assists, and over two blocks per game (all either at or above his career averages). In addition, the Hawks have continued to be an above average team in the Eastern Conference, sporting a 20-14 record at the halfway point of the year, good for sixth in the East. Smith’s all around contributions and newfound leadership skills in the face of injuries to their best players has been a big reason that the Hawks have managed to stay afloat in a suddenly very talented East that could finally have an eight team playoff field with nobody below .500.
The other problem with adding Rondo to the All-Star game is that he is being added despite his, frankly, horrendous attitude this season. His sulking on the bench, whining to the media, and treatment of officials has been downright appalling at times this season. His seven technical fouls thus far lead the team and match his total from the last two seasons combined. In fact, the announcement from commissioner David Stern that Rondo would be Johnson’s replacement came down right after it was announced that he would miss the teams last two games before the All-Star break for throwing the ball at an official during the teams loss to the impossibly bad Detroit Pistons. The message? You won’t be allowed to play with your team the next two games, but we’ll permit you to represent the NBA during All-Star Weekend.
None of this should be taken as an indictment of the abilities of the Celtics talented but mercurial point guard, but a team without a winning record should not be sending multiple all-stars, particularly when there is a worthy candidate on a winning team that will now be without a representative in the sports biggest showcase event. Atlanta’s Josh Smith earned his spot on the All-Star team by leading his undermanned team to a winning record at the break, while Rondo earned him because of the name across the front of his jersey.