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.