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Rajon Rondo has made us take a closer look at the evolution of the assist

11.23.12 at 1:06 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo will be looking to extend his assist streak Friday night. (AP)

The debate regarding just how important or impressive Rajon Rondo’s streak of 35 straight games with at least 10 assists will continue into Friday night’s game at TD Garden.

But one of the more interesting elements of the run has been the opportunity to reflect on how the assist statistic has changed over the years, and if that evolution makes Rondo’s feat any more, or less, impressive.

The stat itself can be compared somewhat to an error in baseball, with just enough subjectivity involved to spark conversation.

For instance, in 1980 there were 3,609 errors given out in 4,210 Major League Baseball games (0.85 per game). Last season, in 4,860 games there were 3,008 errors (0.61 per game).

The most errors given out to any one team in ’80 was 174 (Cubs), while last season’s top team was the Rockies, who committed 122 (which would have been the 23rd most 22 years ago).

The lesson is that different statistics are viewed differently through the ages and the eyeballs, and assists are no exception.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers recalled after Tuesday’s practice how different arenas offer different expectations when giving out assists. Washington, he said, was notorious for being a difficult environment for visiting players to extract assists. Upon further examination, Rivers was right.

During the Celtics coach’s playing career he averaged just four assists per game (20 games) when playing in Washington, compared to 6.1 per game in Boston and 8.3 on the court he primarily called home, Atlanta.

When looking for the arena that is easiest to uncover assists as an opposing player, that would be Golden State’s home court, where opponents have managed more assists per game than any other venue in four of the past five seasons. (Although some of that stems from lousy defense by Warriors teams.)

Also, during the last full NBA season (2010-11), the Garden crew allowed the fewest assists by the opposition of any arena. But the Celtics also had given up the fewest opposition field goals made at home, resulting in a 1.9 assist-to-FG made ratio. This season, opponents have been afforded 1.5 assists per field goal at the Garden.

So, where does this leave us with Rondo’s pursuit of Magic Johnson’s record (46 games), or even John Stockton’s 37-game run in 1989?

First off, if nothing else, Rondo should be recognized as the premier distributor in the game throughout his current run, which started on March 11. During the 35-game stretch, no player has come close to the Celtics’ point guard’s 13.6 assists per game, with Chris Paul trailing at 9.8.

It should also be noted that over that span the Celtics haven’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut, placing in the middle of the league with 36.4 field goals made and 94.5 points per game.

The team offense was something that undoubtedly helped Johnson’s run in 1984-85, with the Lakers making an NBA-best 49 field goals per game. That was also during a season that saw the league average 52 assists per game, compared to the 43 it currently averages.

But, it should be noted that the NBA, across the board, was scoring more during Magic’s run, with the assists-per-field goals at around the same 1.6 per game today as it was back then.

In the end, it is because of the team that surrounded Stockton during his 1989 stretch that makes him even more of the standard bearer than Magic. With offense still ruling the league, Utah sat at a modest 38.7 field goals made per game. The Jazz guard not only finished his streak averaging more assists (14.1) per game than either Johnson or Rondo, but carried it through the postseason, which Rondo failed to do (finishing under 10 in three playoff games).

Rondo has, however, topped Stockton when it comes to assist-to-turnover ratio, currently sitting at 3.67 over the last 35 games compared to the Utah guard’s 3.42 during his remarkable run.

The moral of the story is that while times have changed, along with style of play and overall expectations, it’s inarguable that Rondo’s feat should be recognized with more than just a passing mention. … A conversation-starter, at the very least.

Read More: John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Rajon Rondo, Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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