I believe the NBA needs to make a couple of changes to the way they count assists.
As of right now, an assist is considered any pass leading to a made field goal. So, if Player A passes the ball to Player B, who then either hits a shot or makes a successful layup, Player A gets credited with an assist. However, if the exact same thing happens, but Player B decides to hold the ball for a few seconds before taking his shot attempt, then Player A doesn’t get credited with the assist. In order to count as an assist, it has to lead directly to a score, which is a completely subjective criteria.
Furthermore, an assist is only given on made baskets. I believe that a player should get an assist if their pass leads directly to a foul in which the player hits two or more free-throws. Think about it: a pass leading to a made shot results in two points, but a pass leading to a foul on a shot attempt can result in two points as well. The passer in either scenario plays the exact same role, yet their involvement in the act counts for less despite the same result on the scoreboard.
Another alteration I’d recommend is the NBA adopt the hockey assist. In hockey, a player receives partial credit for making the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the points being scored.
For example, LeBron James might have the ball at the top of the key. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a teammate cutting to the net. He knows that, from where he’s positioned, he can’t make the pass. So, he dishes the ball over to another teammate in the corner, who then has the wherewithal to immediately keep the ball moving right to the open teammate at the rim for a basket. Ultimately, it was LeBron who orchestrated that basket, yet he wouldn’t receive any credit on the stat sheet for his involvement. If a similar scenario were to transpire on a hockey rink, however, then both players would get credited with an assist.
To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, there’s also one glaring issue with these changes to the NBA’s assist rules. Although I think they’re important and would add value to the league, they’d also mess up the history books. Magic Johnson’s 10,000 career assists would probably be somewhere closer to 25,000 had the NBA been counting free throw assists and hockey assists.
In order to move forward and progress, we need to be okay with assist numbers of the past being significantly less robust than they’ll become in the future. With these changes, there’s no reason why Chris Paul or John Wall can’t average 20-plus assists per game.
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