Basketball What Is an Assist?


When it comes to watching basketball at any level, it is easy to get caught up in the shooting game.


People say that basketball is broadly a shooters game, so if you aren’t taking shots your team won’t be doing so well.


However, that does not mean that every time you get the ball you need to take on a deep three-point shot.


Nor do you need to try and force an isolation to drive to the hoop and try to get a layup or a dunk.


Unless you are James Harden or another world class player, you’ll need to get used to passing and making assists!


Basketball is a team-based sport, though it is true that most teams will have a player or two who is elevated above the rest of the squad.


For a modern basketball team to function, though, it needs to have its eye on the passing game as much as anything else.


Passes lead to chances for other teammates, which leads to the passer-building assists.


If you are new to basketball, though, you might wonder ‘What is an assist in basketball?’


And that is fine – many players might not be able to determine what an assist is just by watching a game of basketball.


Especially if you watch the NBA, you will find the pace of play can be so intense that it can be hard to work out what is and is not an assist.


Well, let us help you!


Assists in Basketball: Do they matter?


Of course they do! In a team-based sport like basketball, every team needs to make passes.


You cannot always hope for your own shots to come off, nor can you expect your teammates to always set themselves up.


Few things are more glorious in basketball than a disguised pass leading to a dunk assist, or an alley-oop.


You might wish to focus on trying to understand the importance of passing and assisting first and foremost, though.


For example, if you have come from a sport like American Football you might not value the assist as much.


In other sports, assisting is often seen as a useful benefit but not an essential part of a teams game.


However, if you are someone who wants to really make it big in basketball, it does pay to fully understand the value of having a good assist ratio.


Especially if you play in a creative position like Point or Shooting Guard, you will be expected to give assists to your wings and central players.


The simple thing to note here is that assists do matter, and they do provide you with a crucial part of adding to your team.


Today, a modern playmaker could be an excellent assister of the ball whilst lacking their own natural shooting technique.


A decade ago, you might not have made it in the NBA simply being a good passer. Today, though? Assist-makers are as valuable as the traditional shot-taker.


Are assists counted in basketball?


Yes, every player who makes an assist in basketball is counted on the board. An assist is counted in the Assists Per Game (APG) statistic.


The higher the stat is, the more likely a player is to try and move the ball around the court and get teammates involved.


And when you have a Guard in your team who is a proper ball-handler, a team can elevate their attacking to a whole new level.


Assists are counted in basketball, and they are rated extremely highly by a coach.


If you are a player who is capable of taking the ball up the court and laying in teammates, you are going to become a huge asset to a team.


Greedy shooters are a dime-a-dozen at the top level of basketball.


Assist experts, though, are by their more creative nature a whole lot more likely to be a rare commodity.


So, if you are a young player who wants to stand out you should look to work on your passing as much as you can.


When we say that passing is among the most crucial skills in the world of basketball, we do mean it.


You will find it hard to become an elite level shooter; but a passer?


There is more of an open field here. Passing is becoming a bigger part of NBA-level basketball in particular, and it makes up a crucial part of seeing teams grow, develop, and improve on their own.


Assists matter!


Who makes the most assists in a basketball team?


Now that you can understand what is an assist in basketball, it might be useful to look at who is going to be making the A on the scorecard rise higher.


The placing of a team and the layout of a team on the court will often determine who is going to become the main assist maker in a team.


However, you will find that most of the players in your team will be expected to get teammates open looks and opportunities.


Unlike say soccer, where teams tend to have semi-rigid player functions such as a distinct playmaker, basketball looks to share the challenge out across the court for players.


The most common assister in any team though is going to be the Point Guard.


Your PG is your primary playmaker, one of your best shooters and dribblers, but also your best passer in most teams.


They are the person who handles the ball the most, who runs pick and roll events, and who dictates the pace of the game.


Unless you play with a very shoot-happy PG, you should find that your PG is going to be the main person playmaking.


By contrast, don’t expect your Center to be laying teams up on a regular basis.


You do get the odd Center who can do this, such as Nikola Jokic.


However, there are many players in the NBA who play the C role and basically never get a regular assist.


The main reason is that the C is often the finisher on a move or will be there to cause havoc to open space up for a spot shooter to open fire.


You will therefore find that some Centers are able to run as a tall playmaker, while others focus on the more physical aspect of the game.


The players who play on the central points of the court, such as your Point and Shooting Guard, will be expected to handle most of your playmaking.


This means getting it out to your Small Forward and Power Forward and letting them take open shots from the wide areas.


We recommend that you get used to seeing a fair balance of assists across a team, though if your two Guards are not your leading assisters then it does show that you might need to make some kind of change to your system.


The European impact on assists


One of the most interesting dynamics in the NBA has come with the growth of European talent appearing in the league.


Since the 1990s, basketball has become increasingly more globally watched and played.


This has meant that players often appear from various backgrounds that are not American.


Players from Eastern Europe, Asia, and major European nations like Germany and Spain are becoming increasingly common.


Today, it is clear that the European passing-centric game has rubbed off on the NBA.


In the past, coaches would look for a player who simply took the game by the scruff of the neck and would focus on being their own one-man-riot-squad. Today?


coach wants players who can combine together, fit as a team, and play as a unit.


That is why the European influx of players has had such a huge impact on the NBA in the last few decades.


As players who come from Europe are brought up and raised as team players, passing and assisting is more natural.


Even today, we see the example in the likes of Goran Dragic, who is a sublime passer of the ball.


This does not mean that European players do not shoot, though; they still are excellent shooters, as Luka Doncic has shown.


The European impact on the passing game, though, has become clearer in the recent years.


As they arrive without the personally driven thinking of many other teams, European players have helped to expand the focus on assists.


Are assists the same in every league?


Unfortunately no. Just as the major European basketball leagues, such as the EuroLeague, tend to have differing rules to the NBA, the same goes for assists.


Assisting has become a major part of the game, but basketball assists are viewed differently depending on the tournament you are in or the league that you are part of.


An assist can be a confusing thing to try and break down, but this should give you a rough idea of what you need to know.


Let us say that a player plays a pass to a teammate. The teammate then dribbles with the ball before completing a shot.


This would be marked as an assist for the person who played the pass prior to the dribble. However, by the ‘true’ definition of a basketball assist, this should not count.


Most leagues, though, would count this.


Different leagues have their own rules and regulations, and you should try to remember that.


What one basketball league calls an assist, another might have a more strict/loose definition and therefore change the rating.


So, don’t assume that every player who passes to a successful shooter has gained an assist there!


What counts as an assist in the NBA, then?


Most people are going to be focused on the NBA primarily when watching basketball. In the NBA, assists are quite different to what you get if you are watching the European version of the game.


A player in the NBA will given an assist if they pass the ball to a teammate and they then score directly from the pass.


This means that they need to essentially take a catch-and-shoot approach for it to 100% be an assist.


There is a lack of definition about how many dribbles a player can take, how many fakes they can dummy, or how far they move with the ball before it stops being an assist.


Typically, then, the discussion breaks down into a few different forms of a basketball assist, including:


Potential Assists


The most confusing form of assist is known as a potential assist. This happens when a player assists a teammate with a pass who then scores a basket.


This gives you an idea of how many times a player passes the ball to a teammate, and how often their teammates are scoring.


If they do not score the basket, this is still a ‘potential assist’ because, as the name suggests, it had the potential to succeed.


It helps a team to work out where shots are being scored from and where shots are being missed from after being set-up.


Secondary Assists


A secondary assist is known when a player is given the ball and then scores within two seconds of taking the pass.


This could mean they have two seconds to dribble and then shoot the ball. That might not sound like much, but it also the most common form of assist that you will see in the NBA.


A secondary assist is popular because it helps to give a team a more efficient way of working out who is contributing in the offensive end.


It helps you to see if someone is passing the ball enough, and if they are helping their teammates to get as many points on the board as they should be.


Free Throw Assists


Another form of assist comes from the free throw assist region. This is counted as an assist if the player gets the pass off to a teammate, and that teammate is then fouled in the act of shooting.


Should the fouled player then make one of their free throw shots, this would go down as an assist.


However, if the player is unable to make the shot on all of their baskets, then it might not go down as a free throw assist at all.


This is a useful metric, though, as it lets a team understand the number of passes their team is playing that then leads to a positive outcome.


Free throw assists, though, are only given out to a player should the receiver of the ball get fouled within four seconds and/or two dribbles of the pass being taken in their hands.


College level (NCAA) assists


The next level of basketball that you are most likely to watch is going to be the college level of basketball.


Compared to the NBA, though, the level of discussion around NCAA assists is much easier to follow. These are going to be judged by the ‘home surveyor’ who is assessing the match.


A player is given an assist in an NCAA game if they pass the ball to a teammate who then scores a field goal.


You will be given an assist so long as your teammate can take your pass and then finish off the move.


Naturally, this means that assists per game can seem really high in college, giving the idea of a playmaking center or a shooting guard who can also rack up the assists.


However, a surveyor can also choose to take off an assist if they feel like too much play had to take place prior to the shot being taken.


If a player is taking a shot after having to dribble by multiple players, then it is less likely that they will be given the assist or the pass.


They might even find that a little generic one-yard pass before the shot will not be deemed enough to count as an assist.


It can become very confusing for players, as two very similar passes might be deemed to have different assist outcomes.


When compared to the NBA approach to assists, though, you should find the whole process a lot easier to understand.


The simplest way to think about it then is that at NCAA level you need to be either extremely limited with a pass or you need to see your teammate do a lot of work post-pass to see your assist wiped off from your game record.




As you can see, then, there is quite a lot of things to factor in when it comes to thinking about the sport as a whole.


Basketball can be deemed to be quite confusing, but working out what is an assist in basketball should now be a little easier for you.


Basically, you need to get used to the fact that not every pass is going to become an assist – even at NCAA level.


This stops players from stat-padding and building up massive assist records without having to really do anything to get the record they were looking for.

  1. Interesting break down of assists. I didn’t know there were so many different definitions of assists.

    Being from Los Angeles I have a particularly strong reaction to two of the Laker greats- Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson.

    This might be blasphemy to say but while I appreciate what both legends meant to the Lakers and LA as a whole, I am partial to Magic because he emphasized getting teammates involved and really made the triple double en vogue.

    That said I think keeping stats like assists doesn’t really add to playing pick up games or organized basketball, but the spirit of sharing the ball and being a good teammate (even hustle plays that don’t show up in the stats) builds team synergy and makes playing the game more fun.

    Thanks for bringing me back to my playing days with this post 

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