TrueHoop: John Stockton

2012 Team USA: Better than Dream Team?

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
12:59
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
US PresswireWould the current U.S. Olympic team have a chance against the Dream Team?
Kobe Bryant believes the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would beat the 1992 Olympic team. Is he correct?

According to AccuScore, which ran 10,000 computer simulations, the 1992 team would win 53.1 percent of the time and by an average margin of one point per game.

No one will ever know the true answer, but let's take a look at the Next Level analytical facts about the rosters at each point of their careers to help make the case either way.

REBOUNDING AND DEFENSE

Much has been made about the current team’s weak frontcourt. The 1992 team had four players who grabbed at least 15 percent of available rebounds in 1991-92 (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson). The current team has three players at that rebound rate last season (Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love).

The 1992 team had two players (Ewing, Robinson) who blocked at least 5 percent of the shot attempts they faced in 1991-92. No 2012 player had a block percentage higher than 3.4 last season (Chandler).

SHOOTING

Four current members had a true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of at least 60 last season (Chandler, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James). Chandler (70.8 in 2011-12) led the NBA each of the past two seasons. Only one of the 1992 members had a 60 true shooting percentage (Barkley), although three others fell just short of that threshold in 1991-92 (Malone, Robinson, John Stockton).

PASSING

Five Dream Team members assisted on at least 25 percent of their teammates’ field goals in 1991-92 (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Stockton), plus Magic Johnson had a 49.3 assist percentage in his most recent NBA season (1990-91). LeBron, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams had a 25 assist percentage or better last season, but none were as high as Stockton (53.7), who was in the midst of leading the league in assist percentage for 10 straight seasons.

AGE, EXPERIENCE AND CHAMPIONSHIPS

The 1992 team was about 2½ years older on average (28.8-26.2). Other than Bird and Magic, every Dream Team member was 30 years old or younger. Every member of the current team is 29 or younger, other than Kobe, who is 33.

But the NBA experience level is about the same. The 1992 team had, on average, 7.3 years of experience per player. This year’s team has 7.1.

As far as NBA titles, give the edge to the 1992 team. Its players had a combined 12 championships as they entered the Olympics -- five by Magic, three by Bird and two each from Jordan and Pippen.

The 2012 version has seven championships among them, carried by Kobe’s five. LeBron and Chandler each have one. The current team has members of each of the past four NBA champions, while the 1992 team had members of the then-past two champions.

PLAYER VALUE/EFFICIENCY

Using average win shares per 48 minutes in their previous NBA seasons, (including Magic’s 1990-91 season and not including Christian Laettner), the 1992 squad’s average is higher by 9 percent (.215-.198). Prefer player efficiency rating to win shares? The Dream Team’s PER was 3 percent higher (23.8-23.0).

IN THEIR PRIME?

Other than Laettner, all 11 Dream Team members are Hall of Famers. And only two could be considered in the twilight of their careers. Bird had just finished his last NBA season, while Magic had retired the previous year, although he made a brief comeback in 1995-96. As for this edition, one could make the case that all but the 33-year-old Kobe on the roster could appear on another Olympic team again.

The 2012 team gets under way with an exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Only time will tell whether this team is the modern-day Dream Team.

Rondo among elite playoff point guards

May, 6, 2012
5/06/12
11:17
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

David Butler II/US PresswireRajon Rondo (right) has double-digit assists in each of his last three playoff games.
Rajon Rondo is making it clear how important point guard play is in the NBA playoffs.

Rondo is the first player with at least 20 points and 16 assists with no more than one turnover in a playoff game since Tim Hardaway for the Golden State Warriors in 1991, who had 27 points, 20 assists and one turnover against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Rondo, Hardaway and Magic Johnson are the only players to accomplish this feat in the last 25 years.

In the last 25 seasons, a Boston Celtics player has had at least 16 assists in a playoff game eight times. Rondo has seven of those performances (Larry Bird had the other in 1990).

Rondo consistently gets it done in the playoffs. Among players in NBA history with fewer than three turnovers per game, only John Stockton (10.1) averages more assists per game than Rondo (8.6).

With Rondo on the court in the playoffs, the Celtics are 14 points better per 100 possessions than they are when Rondo is off the court.

Their offense is significantly better with Rondo, scoring 21 more points per 100 possessions. They're shooting 10 percentage points higher from the field and 13 percentage points higher on 3-point attempts, and they're averaging nine more assists with 5.5 fewer turnovers per 48 minutes with Rondo on the court.

A popular definition of a great point guard is one who makes his teammates better. There’s no better example of that in the playoffs than Rondo with Kevin Garnett. When Rondo is on the court in this series, Garnett is averaging eight more points per 48 minutes and shooting 25 percent better from the field.

Garnett, Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass are all scoring more, shooting better and have a better plus-minus when Rondo is on the court.

How important is a reliable point guard in the playoffs? Just ask the Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose to a torn ACL and went from an NBA title favorite to a First Round underdog.

Or how about the New York Knicks, who were outscored by a combined 60 points in their first three games against the Miami Heat before barely staying alive in Game 4?

Certainly, injuries to Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert have hurt the Knicks at point guard. No team has fewer assists (12.5) or more turnovers (19.5) per game in the playoffs than the Knicks. Their starting point guard, Baron Davis, who exited Game 4 with a dislocated patella, has 13 assists and 13 turnovers in the series. Every single other playoff team has at least one player with more assists per game in the playoffs than Davis, who leads the Knicks.

Still not sure how important strong point guard play is in the playoffs? Over the last three seasons, point guards with at least 12 assists are 19-6 in playoff games.

Rondo dishing, Howard swishing

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
12:31
AM ET
By Kevin Conlon and Mike Lynch, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
The Dallas Mavericks topped the Boston Celtics on Monday night in Dallas, but it was Rajon Rondo's latest stat-sheet stuffing performance that caught our eye. Rondo posted 15 assists and five steals, pushing his season averages to 14.8 APG and 3.1 SPG.

• Rondo now has at least 10 assists and three steals in five straight games. That is the longest such streak by an NBA player since John Stockton did so in five straight in 1991-92.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 118 assists through eight games are the second-most an NBA player has ever had in the first eight games of the season. That record belongs to Stockton, who posted 135 assists in his first eight games back in 1989-90. Stockton set a still-standing NBA record that season by averaging 14.5 APG.

• He has posted at least 15 assists in a game five times this season. That matches the total number of 15-assist games that every other NBA player combined has had so far this season.

• Rondo has had at least five steals in a game seven times over the last two seasons. Only Monta Ellis has done this more often over this span.

Let's take a look at some other notes from Monday's action:

• Dwight Howard led the Orlando Magic to a win over the Atlanta Hawks as he put up 27 points and 11 rebounds. He has scored 79 points over his last three games and has scored at least 18 points in each game this season. Howard has displayed a little more range in his offensive arsenal this season. According to Hoopdata, Howard has hit eight field goals from 10 feet and beyond this season after hitting just 19 such shots all of last season. Perhaps his summer work with Hakeem Olajuwon is paying some dividends.

Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph had his third straight double-double and seems fully recovered from the tailbone injury he suffered in a season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He put up 23 points and 20 rebounds as the Grizzlies avenged an earlier loss to the Phoenix Suns. It's his fifth career 20-20 game, with three of them coming over the last two seasons. Dwight Howard is the only other NBA player with three 20-20 games in the last two seasons.

• The Golden State Warriors improved to 5-2 on the season as they picked up their first road win of the season over the Toronto Raptors. Stephen Curry scored a season-high 34 points, with 16 of them coming in the fourth quarter. The 5-2 start is the team's best seven-game start since a 6-1 start to the 1994-95 season. Unfortunately for the Warriors, that team finished 26-56 and failed to make the playoffs.

Pau wows as Lakers roll

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
12:55
AM ET
By Mike Lynch, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Pau Gasol put up 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the first half as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 121-96. Gasol finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth career triple-double. It's his second triple-double with the Lakers.

The win propels the Lakers to 7-0 for the second time in the past three seasons. It's the fifth time in the past 25 seasons they have started 7-0. Over the past 25 seasons, no other NBA franchise has started 7-0 more than twice. The Lakers are also the first defending champions to start a season 7-0 since the 2001-02 Lakers did so. That team went on to win its third straight NBA title (just as this edition will try to do).

• While the Lakers were looking to remain perfect Sunday, the Houston Rockets were just looking to get a win. The Rockets entered their matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves sporting an 0-5 record. However, the five teams they lost to entered the day with a combined record of 24-4. The Rockets took out their frustration on the Timberwolves in a 120-94 win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, their 26-point margin of victory is the third-largest in NBA history by a winless team with at least five losses. The largest win of this variety belongs to the 1995-96 Cleveland Cavaliers. They lost their first seven games that season before picking up a 114-82 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. That Cavaliers team went on to win 47 games and make the playoffs.

• The Timberwolves' loss dropped them to 1-6 this season with five straight losses. Each of those five losses has come by double digits. They have been outscored by 130 points during the losing streak, meaning they have lost by an average of 26.0 points per game. Thanks to some digging from the Elias Sports Bureau, we have yet another note relating to a mid-1990s 76ers team to offer: Minnesota's -130 scoring differential over its past five games is the worst scoring differential any NBA team has had over a five-game span since the 1993-94 76ers were outscored by 155 points during a five-game losing streak in April 1994.

• The Boston Celtics defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder despite Kevin Durant's season-high 34 points. He shot 11-of-22 from the field as he hit at least half of his shots for the first time this season. Rajon Rondo had 10 assists and three steals for the Celtics. It's the fourth straight game in which Rondo has had at least 10 assists and three steals. That's the longest such streak within a single season since a five-game streak by John Stockton in 1991-92.

The Great Wall

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
1:30
AM ET
By Mike Lynch, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
WALL
Tuesday night's best game was arguably a matchup between a pair of winless teams that held the top two picks in the 2010 NBA Draft. John Wall was the reason why.

In his home debut, Wall put up 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals as the Wizards topped the 76ers in overtime. There's a plethora of interesting notes on that line (many courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau), so let's dig right in:

• Wall is the first player in NBA history to have at least 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a single game.

• He's the fourth player in NBA history to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in his home debut.

• Only one NBA rookie has ever had more than Wall's nine steals in a game (steals have been an official stat since 1973-74). That was Ron Harper back in 1986-87.

• Though Wall's nine steals were not a rookie record, they did match the Wizards franchise record. Gus Williams and Michael Adams are the only two other players in franchise history to post nine steals in a game. Additionally, Wall's nine steals represent a Verizon Center record in an NBA game.

• His total of 31 assists through his first three career games are tied for the most in NBA history along with Jamaal Tinsley and Damon Stoudamire. Wall and Stoudamire are the only two players in NBA history to post at least nine assists in each of their first three career games.

• Wall posted eight points in the first half, 17 points in the second half and four points in overtime. He has developed an early knack for taking over games in the second half. Through three NBA games, Wall is averaging 15.7 PPG in the second half (6.7 PPG in first half).

• Six of Wall's steals came in the third quarter. He's the first rookie to notch six steals in a quarter since Rajon Rondo in 2006-07.

Speaking of Rondo, he made some special history on Tuesday as well. The Celtics point guard racked up 17 assists against the Pistons, which gives him 67 on the season. That is the most assists a player has had in his team's first four games of the season in NBA history. Magic Johnson and John Stockton each had seasons in which they compiled 65 assists in their team's first four games.

Rondo's triple-double is one for the ages

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
1:05
AM ET
By Mike Lynch, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
RONDO
It was a historic Friday night for Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. With 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 24 assists, Rondo posted his fifth career triple-double and the first triple-double of the 2010-11 NBA season. Obviously, those numbers jump out of the box score. So let's dig into some of the history:

• The 24 assists represent the second-highest single-game total in Celtics history. The record belongs to Bob Cousy (28 against the Minneapolis Lakers on Febuary 27, 1959).

• Rondo is the second player to dish out 24 assists against the New York Knicks. The other was Guy Rodgers on December 21, 1966. The only player to ever drop more dimes against the Knicks was John Stockton (27 on Dec. 19, 1989).

• So we've established that 24 assists is a lot under any circumstances. How about 24 assists in a triple-double? According to our friends at Elias, only one other player in NBA history ever had at least 24 assists in a triple-double. On February 7, 1985, Isiah Thomas also had 24 assists in a triple-double in a 2-OT game against the Washington Bullets.

• Lest we forget, Rondo put up 17 and nine assists in the first two games of the season, respectively. Elias tells us that his total of 50 assists through the first three games of the season ties John Stockton's NBA record.

While Rondo's performance stole the statistical spotlight on Friday, let's check out some other notes from a busy night around The Association:

Jeff Green hit the game-winner for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their win at the Detroit Pistons, but it was Kevin Durant's 30 points that led the way. Dating back to last season, he has scored at least 30 points in nine straight regular-season games. That's the longest such streak in the NBA since LeBron James' 10-game streak in the 2005-06 season.

• The New Jersey Nets knocked off the Sacramento Kings to improve to 2-0. Research from the Elias Sports Bureau indicates that the Nets are the 4th team in NBA history to start 2-0 one season after finishing a full NBA season with fewer than 20 wins. The last team to do this was the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets. That Rockets team went 37-45 and made the playoffs led by a rookie named Elvin Hayes.

• The Miami Heat rolled the Orlando Magic thanks to some suffocating defense. The Magic mustered just 70 points, which is their fewest in a game since December 2, 2005 (69 vs Grizzlies). Only 25 of those points came after halftime (four points more than the franchise-record for scoring futility in a half). The Magic's five assists set a record for fewest assists in a game in franchise history. Furthermore, the Magic's total of 21 field goals made is tied for the fewest in a single game in franchise history. Orlando hit just seven field goals in the second half. The only other time the Magic hit so few field goals in a half was on November 9, 1991 against the defending champion Chicago Bulls.

• LeBron James scored 15 points for the Heat one game after posting 16 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. It's the first time James has scored fewer than 20 points in back-to-back regular-season games since 2007-08.

• Chris Bosh shot just 2-for-9 from the field for the Heat, but perhaps was more important than his numbers indicated. In the past two games, the Miami Heat are +52 with him on the floor. Without Bosh on the floor, the Heat are -16.

Dirk Nowitzki entered Friday with 80 consecutive made free throws. He hit his first two against the Grizzlies but then missed his third. Nowitzki's streak of 82 consecutive free throws made is the third-longest streak in NBA history. Micheal Williams owns the record with 97 straight during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.

• Human-rebounding machine Reggie Evans posted just two points to go along with his 14 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the season opener, Evans had no points and 16 rebounds. He's the third player in NBA history to grab at least 30 rebounds while scoring 10 or fewer points in the first two games of the season (joining Sam Lacey and Wes Unseld), according to Elias.

• Blake Griffin went for 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Clippers loss to the Warriors. The rookie has now started his career with consecutive double-doubles. According to Elias, he is the sixth player to debut since 1990 to post double-doubles in each of his first two career games. Coincidentally, the last player to do this was also a Clipper (albeit a more obscure one): James Singleton in 2005-06. The other players on this list are Emeka Okafor, Damon Stoudamire, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo.

Experts on success will tell you, and I think they're right, that the great ones tend to believe in themselves in profound ways.

Early in today's Hall of Fame press conference, the extraordinary C. Vivian Stringer encouraged a young Springfield, Massachusetts student journalist with advice largely along those lines. 

But that's not how John Stockton did things. And I suspect a whole lot of people will find it wholly inspiring that Stockton managed to be among the greatest basketball players ever despite both being way too small for the job, and seemingly lacking any kind of conviction that he was among the best.

Speaking on the day of his induction into the Hall of Fame, he talked of when he first made it to the NBA.

I thought they'd figure me out pretty quickly. I thought the Jazz would figure out they had made a mistake. So I saved every cent. I did get the first paycheck. I saved every cent. I rented a one-bedroom apartment that was already furnished. I never bought a television set. I went to the discount food store and bought cans of McNally's chili. I made my mom's lasagna and stacked it up in the fridge.

So I was pretty sure I was a one year-and-out guy.

I don't know if that ever changed. I think if you asked my wife, who's sitting over there with my family, she'd tell you that part of me hasn't changed much.

Two things I love about this. First of all, if you can't relate to the part about being sure things would go badly, and feeling you couldn't afford to spend a penny on indulgences ... consider yourself lucky. I suspect we can almost all relate to this.

Secondly, you can just feel the work ethic in all this right? The determination? As much as believing in yourself (and on some level, I'm sure he always did) is important to success, there's nothing like doing the work, and Stockton's approach sure seemed to keep him motivated.

John Stockton
Frank Layden had a feeling, in a Chicago elevator, that John Stockton was special.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

The 16th pick. Right now it's projected to be James Johnson, or maybe Omri Casspi.

Just imagine if either one went on to be one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, a two-time Olympic champion, a multiple record-setter, an All-Star game MVP and a Hall of Famer.

The GM who picks such a player 16th would have to be considered, essentially, a genius.

Frank Layden did it.

Layden picked John Stockton 16th overall 25 years ago, in what was probably the greatest draft in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley ... and a little guard from the Pacific Northwest no one knew all that much about.

Layden, of the Jazz, made the pick. For many years the pick made the Jazz, and Layden.

Wouldn't you just love to know what Layden's great insight was? What was his system? What did he see in John Stockton that teams drafting higher did not?

The answer is kind of hilarious. Lots of people told him he should check out that Stockton kid, but he paid little mind to the recommendations, as basketball executives get those by the gross.

The moment that Stockton made an impression on Layden wasn't even on the court. It was in an elevator. Filip Bondy tells the tale, in his really good book "Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever:"

"We met in an elevator inside a Chicago hotel," Frank Layden said. "John introduces himself to me, and I shake his hand and grab his arm to see how thick he was. He doesn't look very big. He looks small and pale. But you grab his bicep, it's like gripping iron." That stuck with Layden, who didn't really hang around long enough to watch the college kids play in Chicago. He left that up to his son and the scouts. Scott eventually returned to Utah and told Frank what the father already knew was coming but really didn't want to hear: Scott told Frank he should draft Stockton with the number 16 pick. 

We live in an era of very sophisticated analysis. But isn't some part of you just dying to go around grasping people's arms to see if they'll make history or not? I have half a mind to try this on some draft prospects tonight.

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