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Irish Coffee: Why Rajon Rondo’s assist streak is more impressive than John Stockton’s or Magic Johnson’s

11.26.12 at 4:50 pm ET
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This topic stemmed from a conversation with Celtics guard Jason Terry about the evolution of the assist after colleague Rob Bradford compared the dwindling distribution of assists to baseball errors: Considering teams in the 1980s scored at a higher rate, is Rajon Rondo‘s current streak of 37 consecutive games with at least 10 assists more impressive than John Stockton‘s string of 37 in 1989 or Magic Johnson’s record stretch of 46 in 1983?

In a word? Yes. Let the 35-year-old NBA veteran of 13 seasons who grew up on ’80s basketball explain.

“It’s just a different style of play,” said Terry, whose longest streak of double-digit assists lasted all of three games in 2003. “Now, it’s a lot more difficult to get those assists per se as in the ’80s. If you look at the style of play, it was up-and-down, run-and-gun. Now, there are much more intricate defenses. There’s also the zone defense, so it makes it a lot tougher to get assists. So, that makes his feat a lot more amazing.”

Great points all around. Let’s look at that style of play. Last season, when Rondo’s streak began, the C’s averaged only 90.4 possessions per 48 minutes. By comparison, in 1989, when Stockton’s stretch started, the Jazz averaged 98.0; and in 1983, when Magic’s string commenced, the Lakers averaged a whopping 103.8. All three hover around the league average that season, so defense has clearly muddled the pace over the years.

To put a finer point on it, not only must Rondo generate his assists on fewer possessions — and thus fewer field goal attempts — but the maturation of defensive schemes over the past quarter-century has also forced lower shooting percentages. Translation: Even fewer opportunities for Rondo to collect his dimes.

Rajon Rondo

On average, the Celtics have made 36.8-of-77.9 field goals (47.2 FG%) over Rondo’s last 37 games. Comparatively, throughout their runs, Stockton’s Jazz connected on 38.9-of-79.0 (49.2 FG%) and Magic’s Lakers sunk 47.0-of-89.7 (52.3 FG%). So, while Stockton and Magic averaged more assists per game (14.2 and 14.3, respectively) than Rondo (13.8) during their streaks, the Celtics point guard assisted 37.4 percent of his team’s field goals in that span — a higher proportion than either Stockton (36.4%) or Magic (30.5%).

During Johnson’s stretch of 46 straight games with 10-plus assists, the Lakers attempted more than 90 field goals 21 times and fewer than 79 field goals only once. Conversely, the Celtics have attempted fewer than 79 field goals on 22 occasions and more than 90 field goals just one time during Rondo’s run. (Oddly, that occurred on Sunday night, when the C’s finished 47-of-105 against the Magic and Rondo tied Stockton at 37.)

In simpler terms, even if Rondo’s streak of double-digit assists somehow ends before he ties and surpasses Magic, a rather easy argument could be made the C’s point guard is currently performing the greatest display in passing the game has ever seen.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jason Terry, John Stockton, Los Angeles Lakers
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