With his seventh assist in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo officially passed Michael Jordan for most assists in the NBA playoffs. He finished the night with nine dimes, and now has 1,025 assists in his playoff career, three more (and counting) than Jordan does. It’s yet another interesting wrinkle in the ongoing GOAT conversation.
Rondo was, of course, humble about the achievement afterwards, telling reporters on Zoom that his success “just means I’ve played with a lot of great players” throughout his career.
“I can’t take a lot of the credit even though my job is to get guys the ball. At the end of the day, you don’t get an assist if those guys don’t put it in the basket. So it’s a credit to how I’ve been in the game for a long time, and played with a lot of great players,” Rondo continued. “Those guys have made me look pretty good.”
Rondo not bragging about this achievement isn’t surprising because that’s the kind of leader and winner he is, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge that he’s now building a convincing argument as being better than Jordan when the games matter most.
As great as Jordan obviously was, the one pervasive criticism about him throughout his career was that he wasn’t always someone who made their teammates better. That isn’t the case with Playoff Rondo, who in addition to having more total assists than Jordan in the postseason now, is also averaging more assists per 36 minutes the 2020 playoffs — 10.2, in a year everyone was calling him washed all season — than Jordan ever did in his entire postseason career. And he’s doing so at almost the same age Jordan was when he retired the second time, without a fake first retirement to help him rest up for the stretch run of his career.
Are those stats not good enough to sway you? Well, Rondo, in his age 33 season, is also averaging a higher offensive rating than Jordan did at the same age (122 vs. 114), meaning the Lakers’ offense is literally better than the Bulls’ was during the final two years of second threepeat when Rondo is on the floor. Still not convinced Playoff Rondo is actually the GOAT? Well, what if I told you his steal percentage this year (1.3%) is actually better than Jordan’s was during any playoff run of his career? Is that good enough, or do you just hate math?
Now, I know one could say “Harrison, these are cherry-picked stats that ignore a ton of context,” but that person would be dead wrong, because those numbers don’t even fully account for the most important metric that defines Rondo’s success: SWAG.
“His impact is always measured in swag with our team,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel after Game 1, using the term “swag” to describe Rondo’s impact for at least the fifth or sixth time this season, kind of like a dad whose kids have only taught them one slang term. I’ve always thought it stood for “Superior Winner, Amazing Guy,” but have not been able to ask Vogel to confirm. Still, he did offer something of a definition after the win on Friday.
“He elevates the group’s confidence every time he’s on the floor. His ability to compete on the defensive end, and bark out coverages and quarterback that end energizes our group. His voice. His energy,” Vogel said. “Offensively, his ability to orchestrate and quarterback the offense just settles everybody down. He’s able to create good looks for those around him. The group usually succeeds when he’s out there. Just another stellar Rondo performance for us.”
Did Phil Jackson ever describe Michael Jordan as having “swag?” A quick Google search would seem to imply he did not. Yet another point in Rondo’s favor.
And if all that isn’t enough for you, I don’t know what to say. If you can’t recognize the tsunami of unstoppable and unexplainable greatness that is Playoff Rondo™ by now, you probably just never will.
The preceding article was (hopefully obviously) mostly satire, although Playoff Rondo is obviously amazing. Congrats to him on this great career milestone. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.