Rondo playing 'MVP caliber'

The NBA evaluates the total performance of its players through a convoluted efficiency formula. And based on that formula, the only player on the 16 playoff teams playing better than Boston's Rajon Rondo is LeBron James.

"He's been playing outstanding basketball. The only question mark is his ability to knock down the jumper. I don't think those question marks will stop. But how much better will he get?" said ABC analyst Mark Jackson, the former NBA point guard.

Rondo has filled up the stat sheet in the post-season, averaging 23.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 10 assists, 3.5 steals, and only 1.75 turnovers in 43.3 minutes per game.

James, who averaged 32 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists in Cleveland's four-game sweep of Detroit, has a 39.0 efficiency rating. Rondo is at 35.5.

And if the second-seeded Celtics, sans Kevin Garnett, hope to knock off seventh-seeded Chicago in this first-round series, which is tied at two games apiece, they will need their "best player in the playoffs" to continue playing at an elite level for Game 5 Tuesday night at TD Banknorth Garden and beyond. Rondo says he can live up to the challenge.

"I feel like I am one of the best in the game already," Rondo said. "I have a lot of confidence. I will continue to work on my game. But I play confident regardless to how people may view me. I just want to go out there and win."

Jackson said, "He has been (the Celtics') best player in the playoffs, which is saying a lot. He is playing with a sense of urgency. As a former point guard, it's a joy to watch the way he is playing now."

With Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce all in their 30s, the 23-year-old Rondo is expected to be the Celtics' centerpiece of the future. And they have an opportunity to ensure that happens by extending Rondo's contract this summer.

Rondo is making $1.3 million this season, $2.05 million next season, and he is expected to receive a major increase in 2010. Rondo's agent, Bill Duffy, said it would be a "natural move for both parties" to talk extension this summer. If he isn't re-signed, Boston could face stiff competition for Rondo in the free-agent market in 2010, with a lot of thirsty teams projected to have money.

Said Pierce, "He is one of the league's great point guards. He is playing at a high level and we have to keep him going. He is playing MVP-caliber basketball."

At 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, Rondo isn't an imposing figure in a league with men as much as a foot taller. He also has been playing on two bad ankles and sore feet in the playoffs while chasing around rookie of the year Derrick Rose on the defensive end. Despite those challenges, he has posted two triple-doubles and is the fifth-leading rebounder in the playoffs.

Larry Bird had 10 playoff triple-doubles in his Celtics career while John Havlicek had five. It's unknown how many Bill Russell had because the NBA didn't start charting blocked shots until after he retired.

"Rondo's done about it all for us so far," Rivers said.