The streak is over, but the assists keep pouring in. Does Rajon Rondo go out of his way to pad his assist numbers? Sure. But is it a problem that compromises the success of the Boston Celtics? Absolutely not.
Rondo has posted at least 10 assists for the Celtics in every game he hasn’t been ejected from this season. Were it not for an ejection, he may very well have passed legends John Stockton and Magic Johnson for the most consecutive games with double-digit dimes in NBA history.
As Rondo neared the all-time mark (he ultimately tied Stockton with 37 and fell short of Magic’s record 46), controversy began to surround his methods. He was accused of stat-padding, that his primary focus was on his individual statistics rather than the success of the team.
The most intense criticism came after the Celtics’ November 18 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Despite the Celtics being down by 20 points late in the game, Rondo stayed on the floor in order to get his 10 assists and keep the streak alive.
After the game, coach Doc Rivers openly acknowledged (h/t ESPN.com) not only leaving Rondo in the game to chase the streak, but even drawing up a play designed to get his point guard another assist in garbage time. Basketball purists, of course, were mortified by this admission.
They shouldn’t have been. First of all, the game was in no way jeopardized by the pursuit of a number. The issue developed around play during meaningless minutes, and therefore should not have been an issue at all.
Furthermore, statistical records are part of every sport’s history, and the one Rondo was chasing was legitimate. He is among the best point guards in the game today, averaging more than three assists per game above any other player in the league. His streak placed him among the best point guards of all time.
On top of that, it must be remembered that at their core, sports are entertainment. Early in an NBA season, the importance of each individual game is minimal. Rondo chasing Magic’s record added another element to each contest and made each game that much more entertaining.
Had Rivers sat Rondo against Detroit and abandoned the streak, fans would have had much more of a reason to be upset. A chance to make history would have been thrown away, denying Celtics fans the opportunity to see one of their favorite players achieve something special.
Instead, the streak ended due to Rondo’s own actions. The question moving forward is if his continued quest to put up big assist numbers is in any way a detriment to the team.
The most popular criticism is that he passes up open shots in order to dish to teammates, even when he has a high-percentage shot available. As a pass-first player, however—as the point guard position is meant to be played—that has to be expected and even embraced.
And for anyone who would criticize Rondo for passing unnecessarily on fast breaks to give a teammate a layup instead of taking it himself, it should be totally unacceptable for players to attempt flashy dunks when they have an uncontested shot, right? Statistically speaking, a highlight-reel windmill is a lot more likely to miss than a textbook layup off the glass, but when was the last time an argument against entertaining dunks became a prominent story?
While we’re on the topic of statistics, let’s not forget that Rondo averages 13 points per game. The assist machine is clearly not entirely averse to scoring himself.
It’s true that Rondo routinely passes up open shots to look for teammates. He’s a true point guard, and like any true point guard, he’s at least slightly obsessed with assists. But faulting him for focusing on that particular statistic is like chastising a big-spender for donating too much money to charity. His obsession translates directly to making his teammates better, which translates directly to the Celtics winning basketball games.
Tony Manfred of Business Insider sums the entire anomaly up nicely in a piece he wrote right after the game against the Pistons: “Stat-padding is bad because it’s inherently selfish, but at the same time assists are inherently unselfish.”
So, sure, Rondo can be accused of padding his stats. Rivers and the Celtics can be accused of helping him do it. But in no way is it a problem; if anything, it makes the team better.
And as if we deserved confirmation as to where Rondo’s motivation truly lies (which we didn’t), he addressed the issue after Friday’s loss to the 76ers" target="_blank">Philadelphia 76ers. “If you play great and lose every game, that don’t mean anything,” he said. “It’s about wins and losses.”