I’ve always loved the players that has a true mastery of the assist. It’s possible that it is rooted in the John Stockton poster my father bought me that adorned my bedroom wall during the years that I played high school basketball.
The people that master the assist really gain a more powerful skill. They know when its best to shoot and when its best to pass. They even know when they should slow down for a moment to allow their teammates to regroup. It seems like simple things, but it is what the many of the greatest ever had to set them apart.
Michael Jordan can score 55 points in a game but know that the last bucket he should pass it to Wennington for the win. Steve Nash knows the difference between a game where he should score 40 points and a game where his 20 assists is going to make the difference.
This skill, the ability to know which option in best in a mere moment, is a skill that has helped to build contenders. I’ve already covered Michael Jordan, so let’s look at Jason Kidd. This is a guy who New Jersey does NOT want to see leave. They know that despite how dysfunctional the franchise truly is the fact that he is there and makes the team that much better throws people off the scent (it does not appear to be working anymore.)
Kobe Bryant is a player who has struggled with this, but seems to have grown a better understanding. This guy is becoming a good passer. He is willing to give it up to his teammates and so they are willing to let him elevate his game even more. He had a hard time getting there sometimes swinging too far on the extremes. A 40 point game doesn’t mean quite as much when the team loses. And if you spend a second half of a game 7 against the Sun and only make three field goals maybe you are passing just a little too much. But I respect the fact that Kobe has learned from his mistakes and let them help him as a player.
Portland is currently on an 11 game win streak. I believe that a large part of this is Brandon Roy really really learning the game and developing that ability to know. I think that by the end of the season he’ll develop it to the point where it becomes the player he is. The way that all of those I’ve listed before have made it a part of who they are.
To me Stephon Marbury (who I really like) is the antithesis of the assist leader. He can score and is a good player, but his ability to work with a team is notoriously bad. The year that Stephon Marbury left Phoenix (03-04) they finished with 29 wins. That team still had Barbosa, Stoudemire, and Marion. The next year (04-05) they picked up Steve Nash and improved by 33 wins to a 62-20 record.