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Rondo fits in with best point guards

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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WALTHAM — They’re all different.

Derrick Rose is what LeBron James would be if he were a compact car, perfectly engineered to combine speed, strength, and scoring in a point guard’s body.

Chris Paul is an assist-seeking missile, always a blink away from a lob pass but also a deft ball-handler and efficient shooter.

Deron Williams is a marksman and a maestro, molded under Jerry Sloan in the image of John Stockton.

Rajon Rondo is the pass-first, shoot-rarely anomaly, a magician when he handles the ball, a puppeteer when he passes it.

Among the talented young point guards in the NBA, Rondo is in the most enviable position, surrounded by scoring outlets that make it look easy for him to ring up his league-leading 13.2 assists a night.

The other guards may think that if they had the weapons Rondo had, they’d run up their assists just as high.

“They wouldn’t do it,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “It’s a lot of people who say that. Very few people do that.’’

In his five seasons, Rondo has tailored the point guard position here to himself. Every wrinkle, every detail is a product not just of the playbook, but of the relationships he has developed with Rivers and his future Hall of Fame teammates.

Standing at the top of the key, Rondo can throw a blind pass and know that Ray Allen will be there for the catch-and-shoot. He knows Kevin Garnett’s legs almost better than Garnett, throwing alley-oops that force Garnett to trust his springs. And even though everyone knows where Paul Pierce’s sweet spot is on the floor, Rondo always knows how to get him there.

No matter how talented, no other point guard could run the Celtics sets with the same comfort, according to Rivers.

“They’re for Rondo,’’ said the coach. “I’m not going to run an offense that Deron Williams would run for us, because that’s Deron Williams.

“I’m not a big believer in you just throw a guy in and fit him in your system. You figure out what the guy can do, you understand the system you want to run, and you figure out how to run it through that system.’’

So who is the best point guard in the league?

Rose (24.7 points a night) has the best scoring average. Williams can score (22.1), shoot the 3-pointer (38.2 percent), and ranks fourth in the league in assists (9.5) behind Rondo, Steve Nash, and Paul, who has returned to form after missing 37 games last year with a knee injury.

“Rondo uses more of his athleticism,’’ Allen said. “Him and Chris Paul are similar. They’re defensive. They swarm the ball. They get steals. Deron Williams uses more power at the point guard position and he can shoot the ball really well. So they’re all different.’’

Rondo’s biggest strength on the floor is also his most obvious weakness in the argument for best point guard.

“I can just tell you that what makes him successful in our offense is that we have great shooters around him,’’ Rivers said. “We keep the floor spaced and we have great picking so Rondo can get to where he wants to on the floor, and if you help, then Ray Allen is going to make a shot. For us, it works.’’

Paul said last season that Rondo was “lucky’’ to be surrounded by the type of talent on the Celtics roster.

A year ago, Rondo was anticipating matchups with marquee point guards so he could knock them off. This season, he’s finding that other top point guards are trying to put his jersey on their mantels.

After tonight’s matchup with Utah’s Williams, he’ll face the newest addition to the fraternity of electric points, Washington’s John Wall, tomorrow.

“It’s amazing,’’ Rivers said, “I said five years ago, ‘Where the hell are the point guards?’ I guess they heard us, because they’re all here.

“I think everybody’s different anyway, but the difference between Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Rondo — there’s very few similarities in the four guys, yet they’re all dominant.’’

After spraining his left ankle in Wednesday’s win over the Pistons, Marquis Daniels sat out yesterday’s practice. Daniels has played in all 41 games, but Rivers was unsure about his availability tonight . . . Rondo left practice early after being hit in the mouth. He split his upper lip but didn’t require any stitches.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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