Thursday, November 4, 2010
Updated: November 17, 7:51 AM ET
Rajon Rondo shattering assist records
By Jeremy Lundblad
It's been 16 years since a Celtics player (Sherman Douglas) went off for at least 17 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 steals in a game as Rajon Rondo did on Wednesday in Boston's overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Yet, that performance was primarily relegated to the closing paragraphs of game recaps and highlight afterthoughts. In this case, its placement can be explained by Paul Pierce's 20,000th point rightfully taking center stage. Yet, it underscores the ridiculously high precedent that Rondo has set for himself. He is spoiling us all. After all, that box score-filling performance was his least impressive in the past week.
Last Friday against the Knicks, Rondo turned in one of the most remarkable triple-doubles in NBA history. His 24 assists tied Isiah Thomas' 1985 record for most in a triple-double (though Thomas needed two overtimes to pull off his total). Rondo's 24 assists were also the second most in Boston Celtics history. It was more than 50 years ago that Bob Cousy handed out 28 against the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959. Since then, Tiny Archibald's 23 assists in 1982 came closest.
Rondo followed up that gem with another statistical marvel on Tuesday. His brilliance against the Knicks was slightly marred by seven turnovers. As if trying to negate that, Rondo had 17 assists and zero turnovers against Detroit. It marked the most assists without a turnover since Steve Nash had 18 in 2007. The last Celtics player to even approach that total was Antoine Walker, who had 14 assists without a turnover in 2002.
Together Rondo's first five games are almost hard to comprehend. He's averaging 16.4 assists per game, more than the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder averaged as a team entering Thursday. In the second half alone, Rondo's averaging 9.2 apg. That would rank behind the full-game averages of three players: Jason Kidd, John Wall and Deron Williams. If Rondo only played the third quarter, his 5.2 apg would still lead six teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers.
The result is an early assault on John Stockton's place in the record books.
Through five games, Rondo's 82 assists broke the record set by Magic Johnson in 1988-89 and matched by Stockton a year later. Rondo had previously tied Stockton's record for assists through three games and exceeded the mark through four.
In that 1989-90 season, Stockton broke the NBA records for assists per game (14.5) and total assists (1,134), the latter of which he eclipsed the next season. Rondo is in elite company now but certainly has a long road ahead to challenge Stockton, who maintained that torrid pace throughout the season. To underscore that, Rondo needs 17 assists on Friday against the Chicago Bulls to match Stockton's record of 99 through six games.
If Rondo's start is breaking NBA records, it is shattering Celtics records.
In 1959, Cousy had 49 assists through five games. That stood as the Boston record for 50 years until Rondo put up 52 last season. He's now broken his own record by an astounding 30 assists -- or six per game.
Ignore that these were the first five games of the season. Rondo's current five-game stretch of assists is the most prolific in Celtics history at any point in the season. In 1959-60, Cousy tallied 67 assists over the course of five games. Twice last season, Rondo came within an assist of that mark. Now, he's eclipsed it by 15.
Last season, Rondo broke Cousy's 50-year-old franchise records for assists per game and total assists. With due respect to Jo Jo White and Dennis Johnson, Rondo's prolific start in 2010 only confirms his status as the best pure point guard Boston has seen since Cousy.
The aforementioned Hall of Famers aside, the Celtics dynasty following Cousy is not generally associated with the point guard spot. Many Celtics squads have run the offense through other positions. John Havlicek led the team in assists seven times. Larry Bird did so five times. Even Bill Russell claims one such season. More recently, Antoine Walker (3) and Paul Pierce (1) have filled voids at the one.
Of course, there were seasons in which no one filled this void. In Rick Pitino's first season in Boston, Dana Barros led the Celtics with 286 assists. At Rondo's current pace, he'd pass that total by Dec. 1. Rondo has four 15-assist games this season and 17 in his career. Prior to him, no Boston player had registered 15 assists in a game since Sherman Douglas in 1995.
Despite the presence of the Big Three, there can be no doubt that the offense runs through Rondo. Consider that he has scored or assisted on 106 of the Celtics' 189 field goals (56.1 percent). That's the highest such percentage in the league, and only John Wall (52.9) is producing on more than half.
Along the same lines, Rondo has assisted on almost half -- 49.7 percent to be exact -- of his teammates' field goals. This includes assists on nearly 60 percent -- 58 of 97 or 59.7 percent -- of the field goals made by the Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Rondo's success stems from his ability to effectively integrate all of the weapons around him. He's doled out at least 14 assists to four different players this season, with Garnett (23) his most frequent accomplice, followed by Pierce Ray Allen (16) and Glen Davis (14).
So less than 1/16 of the way there, could Rondo maintain this pace and challenge Stockton?
Since his record-setting 14.5 apg, the highest average (aside from Stockton himself) belongs to Steve Nash at 11.6 apg in 2006-07, nearly three shy of the record. Like Rondo, he had a plethora of offensive weapons to work with. However, Nash benefitted from a high-paced, prolific offense that averaged more than 110 points per game.
The Celtics average of 98.8 ppg -- 17th in the NBA -- makes Rondo's current pace all the more impressive, but even more difficult to sustain.
Though its long-term prognosis may be uncertain, this much is clear: Rondo's current stretch represents the greatest display of ball distribution in Celtics history, and the season is just beginning.
Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.