Rajon Rondo continued his streak on Sunday night of games with 10 or more assists, reaching 34 in a row (albeit a bit cheaply). You can find stuff about that in a lot of other places. What this brings me to is the assist itself: the assist is a flawed stat, as many have pointed out recently when referencing Rondo’s streak. It was designed to reward players who directly set up a teammate’s score – in fact, the NBA rule book (in some language other than English) notes that an assist should come when the pass leads to a player’s "immediate reaction"of scoring a basket.
Today, official scorers give out credit for assists more loosely than ever. Add that to how assists themselves have limits – they don’t include missed shots, passes to free throws, or extra weight for threes, just to name a few important things – and I find the stat to be limited. It’s why I didn’t put much value on Rondo’s streak even before Sunday night’s display.
Meanwhile, Jrue Holiday stands 4th in the league with 8.6 assists per game. The 8.6 would be a career-high by 2 per game. His assists numbers have ignited some optimism for his future in a year that otherwise seems pretty bleak. But with my feelings about assists and my remaining questions over whether or not he can be an elite primary ball-handler, I decided I would track Jrue’s passing numbers in more detail a few times throughout the year. Aside from "hockey assists" (which I hope to track going forward, but I wasn’t sure how well I could do it this first time), I believe I tracked pretty much everything important. The ultimate goal is to see how many shots Jrue has a hand in creating for his teammates, not simply his assist numbers. I also would like to see how efficient the Sixers shoot on shots he creates, which I’ll also get into.
Before I reveal and discuss the results from Sunday’s game, I should list what I tracked. "Shots created" – credit for this language needs to go to Tim Donahue from 8 Points 9 Seconds, as I had always thought of them as "shots assisted" and just this weekend realized how confusing that terminology was – means what it says, really. It counts the shots someone created that would have resulted in an assist had the shots all been converted. The difference between shots created and assists would be "unconverted assists," which again is self-explanatory. I also separated assists and unconverted assists into threes and non-threes, because assists on threes should be worth more than two point assists, since they provide more points (similar to eFG%, which counts a three as 1.5 field goals). Finally, I added a category called free throws created for plays that created free throw opportunities. Aside from these passing categories, I also tracked shots taken and threes Jrue took, along with his turnovers. I didn’t list them in the chart, but Jrue made 6 of his 14 shots and 2 threes for 14 points.
Also, one warning: this is one game. The sample is ridiculously small, and every small sample size alert should apply. My goal is to do at least one of these each month. Focusing on this aspect of the game each time is just too much, but by the end of the year hopefully I have 6-10 done.
For Sunday’s game against Cleveland, here’s the breakdown, by quarter, of Jrue Holiday’s shot creation night:
With this in mind, I have a few observations:
- The Sixers ran for a ton of threes in the first quarter, it seemed, and Holiday made a concerted effort to dish to the shooters then. The game had a quick pace, which allowed for some open threes on the break and on secondary breaks.
- Holiday sat for about 6-7 minutes in the second quarter. Evan Turner played really well and had control of the offense for much of that quarter. Hence, he didn’t do much.
- Of Holiday’s fourth quarter assists, two were on long twos, one was on a lob to Thaddeus Young, another was a Spencer Hawes layup of a pick-and-roll situation (and yes Hawes rolled for a change), and the final was a pass into the post to Evan Turner which shouldn’t have been an assist under any reasonable guideline. Turner made a dribble move, spinning and turning away from a double team that somehow enveloped him while he was making an "immediate reaction" to Jrue’s pass. I added it in to get consistency with the official scorecard, but suffice it to say I disagreed with the call.
- In total, between his 14 points on 14 shots and his teammates' 22 points on 14 field goals, Jrue created 36 points on 28 shots. Only one free throw though, which is a bit concerning.
- Jrue only had two turnovers. When you create 8 real assists, three of them threes, and manage to only turn it over twice, that’s really good. It’s not like he faced much pressure with Kyrie Irving defending him, but it’s still a good sign. Also, that defense, Jrue, I love it.
At some point, the NBA (or some independent stats firm) will track things such as this on a regular basis and release them to the public. Heck, with things like Synergy, which I don't subscribe to since I would spend literally all of the time on it, we may not need to track manually like this. But until then, I can at least do this a few times this year to dig a bit deeper into Holiday's new game.