Assist - A Pass That Sets Up a Basket

The unselfish move is one of the most important in basketball.

Basketball teams playing on the court
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An assist is a pass that sets up a basket. It's an unselfish move -- one of the most important in basketball -- that can lead to a basket and even help win a game. For example, a point guard might pass to a small forward who is cutting to the basket. That forward takes one step and hits a layup, and the guard is credited with an assist.

Getting Around the Defense

A selfish player will always try to take the shot himself. But, doing so is the very opposite of being a team player. If a player has the ball, one or more defenders are likely to be in his face -- leaving at least one teammate open. That's where the assist comes into play.

For example, NBA player Darren Collison used to play for the UCLA Bruins. In a 2008 game against Stanford, Collison drew the attention of several Stanford defenders. He quickly passed the ball to his teammate Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who dunked and scored. Collison was credited with an assist on the play.

Collison, who earned All-Pac-10 conference honors three times, according to Wikipedia, went on to a long NBA career, playing for a number of teams. "His unselfish play and positive attitude have the (Sacramento) Kings playing at a high level for the first time in nearly a decade," Cowbell Kingdom, a member of the ESPN TrueHoop Network, noted shortly after Collison was signed by the Kings.

The Human Element

The problem with assists is that, like errors in baseball, there's a human element in assigning credit. The last pass before a basket isn't automatically an assist. A player who passes to a guard standing on the three-point line, who fakes seven times before shooting, might not be credited with an assist by one scorer, but he might by another.

Whoever is credited, the assist remains an ever-important part of basketball strategy. "Passing is becoming more important than ever in the NBA due to modern defenses," notes SB Nation in an article titled: "How important are assists in the NBA?" The sports website adds that "to counteract the flood-heavy defensive style that is the norm, you have to spread the floor and have players who can hit the open man with quick, decisive strikes" -- or assists.

Assist Fun Facts

  • The record for assists in a single Division I game is 22, held by Sherman Douglas of Syracuse, Avery Johnson of Southern and Tony Fairley of Charleston Southern.
  • Duke University's Bobby Hurley holds the career assist record with 1,076.
  • Only one assist can be credited for each made basket. (In hockey, by contrast, there can be two assists on a goal.)
  • Assists can only be credited on made baskets
  • There are a wide variety of slang terms for assist, including dime, dish, helper,​ and feed