"I'd like to see Porter's turnover totals," huffs Philadelphia Assistant Coach Chuck Daly. "He had a 12-turnover game against us."
Porter indeed led NBA guards in turnovers (337), but he more than made up for them with all those assists—each of which, it must be remembered, was worth two points to his team. In fact, Porter was worth more points to the Pistons last season than any other guard in the league was to his team, including the NBA scoring champion, George Gervin of San Antonio, who pumped in 29.6 points a game. Porter's productivity is determined by adding his scoring average (15.4) to the points resulting from his assists (26.8 a game), and then subtracting one point for each turnover—in Porter's case, 4.1 a game. (The Elias Sports Bureau, which keeps NBA statistics, has figured that for every two turnovers, one basket is scored by the opposing team.) The final tally on average points produced: Porter 38.1; Gervin (including his 2.7 assists and 3.6 turnovers a game) 31.4.
Few are ready to accord Porter a place in a pantheon with Cousy, Robertson, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens. "Let's not even mention Porter and Cousy in the same breath," says Kansas City Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. But there are reasons other than sheer passing skill for Porter's assist numbers being remarkably better than those of the alltime greats. The most significant is the higher proficiency of today's shooters. "Years ago each team had a few good players and the rest were garbage," says Boston President Red Auerbach. Adds Wilkens, now the coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, "Today a guy who has the ball knows he has four people he can hit with a pass, each of whom has an excellent chance of scoring a basket."
Cousy's 1960 Celtics were the NBA's second-best shooting team that season, with a .417 percentage. Porter's 1978-79 Pistons ranked in the bottom third and still hit .475. Another difference is that until 1970 all defensive fouls resulted in free throws, eliminating the chance for an assist. Today, if an offensive player is fouled when he isn't shooting and if the bonus rule is not in effect, his team takes the ball in from out of bounds, so there is a good chance for an assist. A third factor, and by no means the least important, is the change in scorekeeping.
"In the old days, the pure assist was a pass that led directly to a layup, period," says Morry Moorawnick, who has been the official scorer for the Pistons since they moved to Detroit from Fort Wayne in 1957. "Sometimes the shooter would be allowed one dribble, but the shot had to come immediately. It had to be the pass that made the basket and not the shot."
Among the players who occasionally complained to scorekeepers that they were being shorted in their assist totals was Al Attles, whose job with the Warriors was to feed Wilt Chamberlain for slam dunks and fadeaway jumpers.
"You only have me down for three assists," Attles griped to Moorawnick during one halftime. "Wilt had eight baskets and I passed for all of them."
"That doesn't mean they're assists," said Moorawnick. "For you to get an assist, Wilt must shoot immediately, without movement or fakes."
"Well, at home they're assists," said Attles.
This illustrates some important points. First, what is and what is not an assist varies from scorer to scorer. Second, because the official scorer is the hireling of the home team, he may apply a more generous standard for assists to the local players than to the visitors.