The evolution of the point guard has brought us Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook: big, fast, unguardable. The era of game managers and pure passers has slowly faded, leaving only a few of that breed left to hold the torch for the old school.
This new school lead guard style has temporarily masked the brilliance of the likes of Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, and the other pure point guards who manage a game rather than control it with scoring. But over the last three months two East Coast purists have been putting on a display of passing that proves the old school role isn’t extinct yet.
In little-known New Rochelle, New York, is an even littler-known MAAC school where a barely-recruited player is embarking on point guard history. Scott Machado has the Iona Gaels at 15-5 (7-2 in the conference), and poised to make a run in the conference and the NCAA tournament. Machado is on pace to do something that only two other players have ever done in the history of college basketball: average 10 assists per game in a season.
The pedigree is different along Tobacco Road in North Carolina, but the performances are not. The historic Tar Heels have another elite playmaker gaining national recognition, and battling with Machado assist-for-assist all season. Kendall Marshall has his Tar Heels at 16-3 (3-1 in the conference) and sitting strong at No. 8 in the country. He has uncanny pinpoint accuracy with nearly every pass in the book, and is always making his seven other McDonald’s All-American teammates happy.
But few even know these two are chasing history. Both were once on a torrid pace of 10 assists per game, and even though Marshall recently dropped below that magic number, it wasn’t by much. A look at these two shows they are in rare territory. Only three times in NCAA history (assists per game weren’t recorded from 1952–53 to 1982–83) has a player averaged more than 10 assists per game for a season: Avery Johnson in 1986-1987 (10.74), Johnson again in 1987-1988 (13.30), and Nelson Haggerty in 1994-1995 (10.14). No Steve Nash, no Jason Kidd, no Gary Payton, no Mark Jackson, and no Chris Paul on that list.
When Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) and J.J. Redick (Duke) were battling it out point-for-point back in 2005-2006, it was all the buzz and made national headlines daily. A new story always pops up, whether it is Morrison and Redick, Jimmer Fredette or Stephen Curry scoring in volume each season.
Machado knows that new-school basketball is about scoring, but passing has its place to feed the shooters.
“People like it when you can score the ball, but I feel like passing is a lethal weapon in this game and I feel it should get more notoriety,” he says. “We cannot control that though.”
Machado isn’t ignorant to Marshall’s chase, though, saying, “Sometimes my teammates come up to me and tell me, ‘Yo Kendall had 15 assists. You have to top that’ and stuff like that.”
In his fourth season, Machado is climbing up the ladder historically. He is on pace to finish third all time (857) in career assists, 13th all-time (6.4) in assists per game in a career, and have the most assists in a single season this year (299) according to Basketball-Reference.
Marshall was all smiles to hear that his competitor was nearing historic marks
“It is a huge accomplishment for him and shows the hard work,” says Marshall, currently at 9.5 assists per game.
Now that conference play has begun, Marshall knows the defenses won’t be caught off guard.
“Early in the season it is easy to rack up those assists,” Marshall says. “I like to throw a lot of up-court passes just because teams are not ready for it. Now teams are going to be looking for that which takes two-to-three assists out off of the scouting.”
Machado agreed, saying, “I’m not going to say it will slow it down, but it comes harder.”
Not sure even conference play can slow these two, with the pace they’ve been on. A recent 16-assist performance by Machado gave him some cushion above the 10-plus mark. He already has four games of 15 or more assists this season. Marshall has three.
The two have noticed the battle and Marshall took to Twitter to plead with Machado to slow it down on Dec. 14 after Machado had 15 assists on the road against Richmond: “@Scott_MAaC_Pro3 come on son, I was about to catch you… chill out lol.”
As serious guards who know the place in history they’re chasing, they also know they’re a part of a small group keeping the pass-first point guard alive.
“Obviously we are not all on the same level,” says Marshall, “but you have players like me, Machado, Ricky Rubio, Steve Nash, (Rajon) Rondo really take pride in getting players involved.”
Both players have gained help in the mainstream with the arrival of Rubio in Minnesota. His style has brought back respect for the assist.
“I think Rubio is definitely bringing that type of skill back,” Machado says. “That is something I can bring to the table, Marshall as well. It can change, it can change quickly.”
In the end, both are throwback players on the court and in conversation. They constantly mentioned that assists are nice and numbers are great, but the win is more important. Machado and Marshall are unselfishly carrying their teams to great seasons and making history. Do you notice now?
Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about assists in college basketball?
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