After talking about what made John Stockton a unique and amazing player on the court yesterday, I’d like to look at the statistics all those great attributes helped him amass over his ridiculously long career.
Here are the big ones that we already know:
Career Leader in Assists 15,806 (closest active player is Jason Kidd at 10,199).
Career Leader in Steals 3,265 (closest active player is Jason Kidd at 2,198).
Most Assists in a Season – The top 4 seasons are all Stockton’s, and he’s got 7 of the top 10 (no active player in top 15).
League Leader in Assists – 9 consecutive times (the only other player to lead the league more than 3 times was Bob Cousy in the 1950s).
League Leader in Steals – 2 times.
It’s hard to give perspective to those assist numbers. Kobe might have a chance of catching Kareem. Or LeBron. Who is going to catch John Stockton? Kidd would have to play another 1/2 a career just to get within 600 assists. Chris Paul is less than 1/5th of the way there. More impressive than the totals to me though are the seasons leading the league. 9 in row. 9. I was a kid who was totally engrossed in the NBA in the mid-1980s and really developed my appreciation for the game in the 1990s. As far as I knew nobody else was even allowed to lead the league in assists. That place belonged to Stockton. It was a foregone conclusion before the season even started. I remember the first time he didn’t win it. Mark Jackson? It felt like a mistake. It was like Bird missing that corner jumper against LA in ’87. Impossible! Mark Jackson?! Ironically that was the year the Jazz got over the hump and made the Finals.
Now let’s take a look at some of the more advanced numbers. There are certain statistics that make us think of point guards. Assists for sure. Assist to turnover ratio. Steals. Of course we know he has a strangle hold on those. But there are non-point guards who put up big assists and steals as well. Michael Jordan averaged 10 assists in his first Finals. Larry Bird was an assist machine as a forward, and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James put up similar numbers to Jordan and Larry. What sets a point guard apart is his high Assist % and his low Usage %. Assist % indicates the percentage of his teammates’ points a player assists on while on the floor. Usage rate indicates the the number of a team’s plays that a player uses while on the floor. A point guard is expected to help his teammates score as much as possible and score his own points in select situations. Stockton led the league in Assist % 15 times including 10 in row. He even led the league in Assist % in his last season. Stockton’s career Usage is not unusually low for a point guard, but it is low enough to clearly demonstrate that he was a pass first, second, and sometimes third player.
On top of being the most prolific thief and distributor ever, Stockton was also singularly efficient as a shooter. He is the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 51 FG%, 38 3PT%, 80 FT% for his career. Give that a little thought. You’ve got a lead guard who only looks for his shot when he can’t create one for someone else and then shoots the best percentages you could possibly ask from a perimeter player. To my way of thinking, those are ideal numbers for a point guard.
Stockton’s Career Metrics:
PER – 21.8 (Highest of any player with a Usage rate under 22)
Win Share – 205.3 (3rd All-Time)
Wins Produced – 311 (Most in Jazz history)
Statistical +/- 5.63 (3rd best PG behind Magic and Oscar. Best under 6′ 3″)
If you don’t know what these various metrics mean, I recommend following the links and looking around these websites. If you’re too lazy, Basketball-Reference.com has a great glossary here.
Let’s wrap this up by saying that John’s numbers show us something near point guard perfection. The unmatched ability to set up his teammates is made even more valuable because of the unmatched shooting efficiency. When we make All-Decade teams and we look at Stockton matching up against the Big O, Magic Johnson, and Chris Paul, it’s easy to see the ’90s team at a significant disadvantage. But when Michael Jordan takes off on the wing, he won’t have to worry about breaking stride to make the catch, and he won’t have to worry about passing the ball out of the double team, because Stockton distributes like Magic and shoots like Jerry West. He doesn’t dominate. He puts his teammates in position to dominate and punishes the defense for every mistake.