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The NBA’s 5 Best Outlet Passers

The art of an outlet pass is one of the most beautiful sights in the game of basketball. For those that are in the dark regarding outlet passing, it is a pass – typically long – from a defender following the opposing team’s made basket, defensive rebound, or steal to start a fast break. It is typically made by a big man, and usually in the form of an overhead pass. It is not as flashy as an alley-oop, but when executed correctly, the result is equally as thrilling.

Outlet passes are a throwback move, a very rare skill for a player to possess. Additionally, outlet passes are hard to keep track of since there is not stat to look up and analyze.

Throwing an outlet pass requires excellent court vision, basketball I.Q., strength, and precision. It essentially allows the passer to channel his inner quarterback abilities to throw a deep pass for a touchdown.

While a select number of pro basketball players have fine-tuned this skill and most refer to past generations of NBA players that perfected the art of outlet passing, Minnesota’s Kevin Love has reinvigorated this part of the game, pleasing pure basketball fans.

It would be unfair to start the list of the best outlet passers in the game today without paying homage to the legendary outlet passers in the league that came before them. Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wes Unseld, who is widely considered the best outlet passer in NBA history, were the best of the best with this skill. As you can tell by this list and the list that follows, perfecting outlet passing is almost impossible.

As Unseld once recalled, “It’s not a trick. It’s a learned skill of just anticipating and having a little imagination when and where you throw it. You also have to develop some skill to get the ball to where you want it to be.”

With that said, let’s break down the five best outlet passers in the NBA today.

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5. MARC GASOL
Great rebounder? Check. Solid big man passer? Check. High basketball I.Q.? Check. Power? Check. Marc Gasol has quickly grown into one of the best big men players in the league, and similar to his big bro Pau, his versatility on the court is nothing but envious.

Having the quick and offensive-evolving Mike Conley as a player to direct his outlet passes to benefits Gasol’s game. Per NBA Stats, 11 games into the 2013-14 season (not including last night’s overtime win over Golden State, Gasol is averaging 4.5 assists per game, resulting in 13 points created off of his dimes. The Spaniard is also credited for 1.9 secondary assists per game.

Check out this GIF of Gasol’s full-court, sidearm outlet dish in this past summer’s 2013 FIBA EuroBasket that wowed the crowd.

4. LeBRON JAMES
It is insanely difficult to find something this guy can’t do. ‘Bron is the unique pass-first style of player that has tremendous court vision. He is simply dominant in the open court, and knows what play to make in order to get points on the board. James is a solid rebounder as well, averaging 7.2 RPG in his career. LBJ has been a dependable defender throughout his career, averaging 1.7 steals during his time in the NBA.

His outlet passing skills have sharpened since he took his talents to South Beach because Miami is such a strong transition team. ‘Bron dishes out the ball and runs the court like a point guard, but has the strength and power of a center. Put it this way: LeBron is either the passer – the quarterback – or the recipient – the wide receiver – of an outlet pass these days in South Florida.

3. KEVIN GARNETT
KG is in the final stage of his career, as his likely last stop is in Brooklyn with the Nets. Garnett has become one of those players that the new kids on the block will try to become compared to – as any comparison to the veteran is nothing but complimentary. His style of play has been a rarity in the league for the last 18 years in the pros, so it only makes sense that he has the rare outlet pass skill in his tool belt.

Garnett has been known for his defensive capabilities, so grabbing that board – whether it occurs via boxing out or using his crazy arm length to simply outreach his opponent – or having the awareness to intercept a pass, allows KG to utilize the outlet pass on countless occasions. Garnett also possesses guard-like passing skills (his famous double-team no-look dish is beautiful), allowing him to make a pinpoint outlet pass on the break.

2. TIM DUNCAN
Outlet passing is one of the pioneer fundamentals in the game of basketball. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Big Fundamental is one of the league’s greatest outlet passers in recent memory. His specialty for outlet passing is a testament to the fact that he is one of the most efficient players on both ends of the floor of all time.

When Gregg Poppvich wanted to speed up the offense in an effort to hold onto their competitive advantage among an evolving league that was shifting to a more athletic, faster emphasis, he asked Timmy to push the ball up the floor faster. With Duncan’s high basketball I.Q., strength, court vision, and already solid passing skills, he had success with showing off his outlet passing abilities. Having the quick Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as his targets did not hurt his efforts, either.

The following video of Timmy’s outlet passes from 48minutesofhell with Keith Sweat‘s “Twisted” as the background music might be the best thing ever.

1. KEVIN LOVE
Kevin Love is not only the best outlet passer in the NBA today, but he is in his own category. His outlet passes are a definite throwback and resemble those of Wes Unseld. In fact, Love’s middle name was chosen after the 1988 Hall of Fame inductee. If you watched Love during his days at UCLA, then you saw what was coming once he came to the majors. As a Bruin, his outlet passes to perhaps the most athletic player in the game today, Russell Westbrook, were spectacular to watch. In fact, do yourself a favor and YouTube them.

Corey Brewer seems to be Love’s new favorite target of his perfectly executed outlet passes. Brewer even recently stated, “Sometimes I feel like I’m Jerry Rice and Joe Montana‘s throwing it deep.” With Love’s early childhood dream of being a quarterback and Brewer’s high school experience of playing the wide receiver position, this could wind up as the closest basketball comparison of the Montana-Rice duo on hardwood.

Love had to practice patience, learn the intricacies of the game, and get those partners – Ricky Rubio and Brewer – to finish these beautiful passing works of art.

How underrated is the outlet pass as a skill?

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