On Friday night the Pistons' faithful witnessed Will Bynum (aka MFWB) shatter his career assists record and accomplish something (20 assists) another Pistons player hasn't done in nearly 25 years. If you're not quite 25-years-old yet, like me, it's the first time in your life that you saw a Piston rack up at least 20 assists -- the last being Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas' 21 on April 12, 1985. Bynum's 20th assist came after Ben Gordon knocked down a long two with a little less than three seconds remaining in the game -- a game that was all but already won by Detroit.
Normally, teams with a 12-point lead run out the final seconds, but Bynum took a Charlie Villanueva pass after a missed free throw, dribbled past half court, and made a 20 foot, or so, pass to Ben Gordon in the corner. When Gordon made the jumper, it gave Bynum his 20th assist.
It also opened Bynum up to criticism to those who felt like the Pistons should have followed an unwritten rule and simply run out the final seconds rather than try to help Bynum reach a statistical milestone. Justin Rogers of MLIVE wrote that it reminded him of a couple of schmucks:
It was March 9, 1996 and the Orlando Magic were soundly beating the Pistons. [Anthony] Bowie was having a particularly big night starting in place of injured Nick Anderson. He had 20 points, nine rebounds and nine assists when he grabbed his tenth rebound in the final seconds of the game.
Despite his team having a 20 point lead, Bowie called a timeout wanting to rack up one final assist and net his first career double. Orlando's head coach, and current Pistons assistant, Brian Hill
, refused to draw up a play for the stat-padding stunt. Possibly even more disgusted, Pistons coach Doug Collins told his players to not defend the play.
Bowie ended up with getting the assist and the triple double, but ended up looking like a schmuck.
Rogers went on to say that Bynum's assist "sacrificed class" and that the moment of celebration afterward was "unnecessary" because Bynum didn't need the 20th assist to seal a "dazzling" night.
I'll admit I don't know why 20 assists is commemorated so much more than 19 assists undoubtedly would have been (It may be an "arbitrary milestone" because Bynum could also be the first Piston to have 19 assists in 25 years -- I don't know), but 20 is a nicer, easier number to keep track of in the record book, I guess. It's a milestone, nonetheless.
It's completely different than those other two players Rogers references, though. Bynum didn't do anything crazy, like call a selfish timeout or shoot on the wrong hoop (which is just ridiculous!), to allow him to collect that last stat. All he did was play out the clock with his teammates.
However, it didn't receive any mention from the Wizards' head coach, Flip Saunders, as far as I know, and the players seemed to place blame, if any, on themselves:
Asked afterward if he was upset, [Andray] Blatche said: "You can be, but you can't be. Guys in this league, they got their own accomplishments that they're trying to meet. It's our job to stop them. If they make a play at the end of the game like that, that's our fault. We can't criticize them because of it. It's part of the game."
Mike Miller actually praised Bynum and the Pistons' ball movement
after the game. We only hear something from a frustrated assistant coach. On the other hand, as Rogers mentions in his piece, Pistons' head coach at the time, Doug Collins, tried to make it a point that Anthony Bowie's tactic lacked class
by attempting to remove his players from the court, but because he technically couldn't, he instead told them to not defend the play. In the Ricky Davis situation, Utah coach, Jerry Sloan, was irate
after the game and said he would have fouled Davis harder than DeShawn Stevenson
did to prevent the impure triple-double. If Bynum's 20th assist was at all classless don't you think we would have heard something from the Wizards' head coach or players about it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't find anything that says that final assist was at the expense of the Wizards' dignity.
(This is probably the segue into a debate specifically about running up the score. Some feel that playing your starters and playing really hard late in a blow out is classless and others think that there's nothing wrong with it. I think the NBA is a little less cut and dry than other sports in these regards (like in the NFL when a team winning by a lot late, it's pretty clear you can run it or a baseball team up by a bunch of runs late isn't going to stretch out hits or steal). In any sport, however, some would argue that if the other team can't stop it, then it's their fault, and Blatche explicitly states as much. These are elite athletes (or coaches) with enormous, competitive egos and they're not mentally programmed to give in. In this case, Flip Saunders was more worried about criticizing his own players in his post-game comments than to concern himself with an otherwise meaningless assist.)
In addition to being accomplished in a far more orthodox manner, 20+ assists is arguably a much more prestigious accomplishment than a triple-double because it doesn't happen nearly as often. In the last five years, 20+ assists has been cracked just 25 times. There were 40 triple-doubles last season
(54 if you want to include this season's totals). 20+ assists has happened just a little over 100 times in NBA history, while triple-doubles happen on the reg
alone has 100+).
Factor that all together and ask yourself if this really makes Bynum (and his contributing teammates) anything at all closely related to Bowie and Davis. Personally, I have no problem with last second, meaningless shot attempts, unless they are emphatic, backboard slapping dunks. I don't think I've ever felt uneasy about a player, on the winning or losing team, throwing up a last second shot just for the hell of it. I'm even more at ease in this case because the Wizards appeared to actually defend it, somewhat, and Gordon still had to hit a shot he hasn't been making this season. If one is going to take off his/her bias tinted glasses and nitpick a feat that hasn't occurred in almost 25 years of Pistons' basketball, one should bother going in the other direction and actually try to figure out if all 20 assists were legitimate -- similar to the analysis done on Darren Collison's alleged 20-assist night
just earlier this week -- because a schmuck Bynum is not.