The NBA has become a point guard-dominated league over the past few years. With athleticism, speed and showmanship taking over, point guards shine in the spotlight just a little more as of late. Playmaking and passing has become more creative than ever, and a team’s success relies heavily on the point guard position.
The following piece is a prediction of which players will round out the top 10 assists leaders at the end of the 2013-14 regular season. It is not about who the best passer is in the league, but rather who will average the most dimes and why. And sorry, LeBron (who’s already averaging eight assists a game this year), we’re only talking point guards here. Who will take the top spot? Let’s find out.
*Assists averages provided by ESPN and Basketball-Reference
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10. RUSSELL WESTBROOK
2012-13 APG: 7.4, TOPG: 3.3, AS/TO: 2.22, AST%: 38.4
The Oklahoma City Thunder sure felt the absence of Russell Westbrook in the first week of the season. The offense solely flowed through Kevin Durant, who often had to resort to playing hero ball to try to stay afloat. Westbrook’s absence wasn’t felt because of his playmaking skills; it is because he is an offensive target defenses can’t let loose.
Westbrook is arguably the most ball-dominant point guard in the league today, and is often criticized for hogging the ball or missing passes. So, why does he consistently rack up assists? It is not uncommon for ball-dominant point guards to be among the top assists leader in the NBA (see: Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose or Tim Hardaway). Additionally, the Thunder employ one of the highest efficiency offenses in the NBA, led by Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin (last season). When you play alongside teammates who are consistent finishers, assists are waiting. This trend of pilling on assists despite not being a passing point guard will continue as long as OKC is offensively efficient.
9. DERRICK ROSE
2011-12 APG: 7.9, TOPG: 3.1, AS/TO: 2.58, AST%: 40.3
Derrick Rose is finally back! His return is not only great news for Chicago, but for the entire league as well. Eastern Conference matchups and rivalries are a little more interesting now with Rose in the mix. He is a ball-dominant point guard, but not as much as Westbrook. The Bulls remained a defensive juggernaut last season, but continually struggled on offense with Rose on the sidelines, which ultimately knocked them out of the postseason.
With Rose on the court, his playmaking, court vision, and passing ability will make the Bulls a team that threatens Miami from a three-peat. He is so crafty, especially around the rim, and his strength to find the open man is uncanny. While he will throw up points like crazy, he’s equally as capable at collecting assists while instantaneously scoping the court to find the best shot.
8. TONY PARKER
2012-13 APG: 7.6, TOPG: 2.6, AS/TO: 2.94, AST%: 40.4
Tony Parker continues to be a top-level point guard in the league, despite not being as flashy as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose. Just as his “Big Three” teammates, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker is the “old reliable” point in the West.
Parker thrives in pick-and-rolls sets, which accounts for nearly 46 percent of his offense, per Synergy Sports. With a consistent roll man such as Duncan, Parker can tally up his assists. Additionally, Gregg Popovich‘s offense depends on efficient ball movement. With solid perimeter scorers like Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Matt Bonner (when he gets hot), Parker’s passing truly shines in the Lone Star State.
7. JOHN WALL
2012-13 APG: 7.6, TOPG: 3.2, AS/TO: 2.38, AST%: 43.9
John Wall is expected to pick up where he left last season. After missing essentially the first half of the season, Wall returned and spurred a hapless Wizards team to perform at an elite level in the second half of the season. Washington is committed to making noise this season and landing in the playoffs in late April. The team is counting on their third-year point guard to get them there.
Wall is a top-talent point guard. He has athleticism, insane quickness and is a crafty passer. The Wizards recently handed Wall a new toy to play with in the trade of Marcin Gortat from Phoenix. With Gortat, the Wizards have their true center, and Wall has the opportunity to get many assists through pick-and-roll sets with the big man from Poland. Per Synergy Sports, Gortat ranked 26th among all players in points per possession on plays he finished (a shot, turnover or drawn foul) as the screener in a pick-and-roll, and successfully finished the play 59.3 percent of the time. In the second half of last season, the Wizards were solid at spacing the floor, allowing Wall to create and earn dimes. With the addition of Gortat and a healthy Bradley Beal, his assists average should increase, and his turnovers should fall a bit as well.
6. JRUE HOLIDAY
2012-13 APG: 8.0, TOPG: 3.7, AS/TO: 2.14, AST%: 36.5
Last season in Philadelphia, Jrue Holiday was expected to be a scoring point guard. The fact that he still averaged eight assists per contest should be telling. This season, he will have the opportunity to become a pass-first point guard while still putting up buckets in his next stage of his career with the improved New Orleans Pelicans.
With potential targets of Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson around him, his assist numbers have massive potential. However, transferring from a scoring to a pass-first point guard could cause him to turn the ball over even more than the 3.7 he averaged in Philly. Now, if Jrue could only do something about the Pelicans new terrifying mascot, Pierre the Pelican.
5. JOSE CALDERON
2012-13 APG: 7.1, TOPG: 1.7, AS/TO: 4.11, AST%: 43.7 (Toronto), 34.1 (Detroit)
Jose Calderon is not a household name. He is not an All-Star. He is not an elite point guard. However, when you break down the numbers, he is perhaps the most efficient ballhandler among point guards. In other words, he takes care of the ball. He is consistently among the top assists men each season, but does so very quietly. In fact, he has been ranked in the top 15 of assist leaders since the 2007-08 season.
Calderon is set to increase his assists per game as he begins a new journey with the Dallas Mavericks. With a more consistent offense and pure scoring machines like Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, Calderon will have several options to rack up dimes.
4. RAJON RONDO
2012-13 APG: 11.1, TOPG: 3.9, AS/TO: 2.84, AST%: 49.3
Rajon Rondo will be among the top assist leaders in the league this season, but he will drop from the top spot that he earned last season with 11.1 assists per game. While Rondo remains one of the best passers that the NBA has to offer, his return from ACL injury is a big question mark. On top of that, Rondo lost two huge passing targets from the last several years in Boston in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Those two targets will now be receiving dimes from Deron Williams in Brooklyn.
There is no question that Boston is in rebuilding mode, as they are projected to be a lottery team this year. However, when Rondo returns to the court, he assists average will most likely take a hit because of the concerns with the offense. Rondo’s quarterback and court vision skills will not be affected from his ACL injury, but he will have a harder time setting up his teammates and earning those dimes since he lost his primary targets this summer.
3. RICKY RUBIO
2012-13 APG: 7.3, TOPG: 3.0, AS/TO: 2.43, AST%: 38.8
Ricky Rubio is arguably the best passer in the game today. Stemming from the European style of basketball, he loves the pick-and-roll, which accounts for over 42 percent of his offensive plays, per Synergy Sports. Pick-an-roll sets are successful for the Timberwolves nearly 36 percent of the time when Rubio is the pick-and-roll handler, per Synergy Sports. The percentage of pick-and-roll plays will increase if and when the turnover percentage (22 per Synergy Sports) decreases in this play selection.
The Timberwolves have a unique opportunity this season, as their core players are all healthy. Therefore, Ricky Rubio has some big targets that are great finishers. Nikola Pekovic is very efficient at finishing pick-and-roll plays, scoring 63.3 percent of the time, per Synergy Sports. In addition, Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are fantastic scorers who can space the floor and knock down shots that Rubio creates… like with this amazing between-the-legs pass, even though Lou Amundson couldn’t finish.
2. DERON WILLIAMS
2012-13 APG: 7.7, TOPG: 2.8, AS/TO: 2.77, AST%: 37.5
The Brooklyn Nets are all in this season. Their team payroll of $101-plus million screams championship-or-bust. Deron Williams is on track to have a career year. His new coach, Jason Kidd, happens to be on of the best passers of all time, and Williams would be smart to soak in as much as he can from Kidd’s brilliant basketball IQ. Christmas came early for Williams when the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. As far as assists go, what Rajon Rondo lost, Williams gained.
Williams could potentially steal the top assists title from Chris Paul this season with his plethora of teammates waiting to be setup by the three-time All-Star. With targets of Pierce, Garnett, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, Williams will likely see his assists average bump up to double-digits.
1. CHRIS PAUL
2012-13 APG: 9.7, TOPG: 2.3, AS/TO: 4.26, AST%: 46.5
There is no better ballhandler in the league than Chris Paul. Since he stepped foot in Los Angeles, CP3 has had one of the most immediate impacts to a team in NBA history. While the Clippers have had recent success in acquiring exciting athletes (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan), Paul has been the engine that has made the Clippers relevant in the L.A. basketball scene, and legitimate contenders in the NBA.
Last season, he was second in the league for assists per game and led the league with assist/turnover ratio. He is one of the most efficient passers and prolific playmakers in the game today, and it should only get better for the Clips franchise player this season. Why? CP3 has more weapons at his disposal with the addition of sharpshooter J.J. Redick and three-point specialist Jared Dudley. The athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan hasn’t slowed down one bit, and they will continue to finish a CP3 lob like no one else can. With the implementation of Doc Rivers‘ offensive system, “Lob City” is expected to shine brighter in Hollywood this year, and it all starts with CP3’s playmaking and passing.
Who do you think will finish as the assists leader?
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