A nice dish may be the most underrated play in basketball. Obsessing over a dunk or a crossover is common, but how often do you really see a one-of-a-kind assist? Very rarely. They’re always overblown and overhyped. A no-look pass is almost never that. We almost never get a truly breathtaking pass because lets face it, no one practices passing. Kids go to the gym and work on ballhandling for hours – crossovers, behind-the-backs and through-the-legs. Then some Plyometrics or squats because we all want to dunk and we all want to walk into a gym and get instant cred. No one respects a pass; Everyone respects a dunk.
Even on YouTube, rarely will you find a single assist sitting with its own video, and yet you can go on and find even the plainest facials getting the all-star solo treatment (which is ironic because there are millions of different passes. How many different dunks have you seen?). That made this list so hard… going through countless top 10 mixes instead of single clips. So I knew going in this would be infinitely more difficult than the Top 10 Alley-Oops list. But I think I did this enough justice.
Chicagorilla gave me the idea to make this list in a recent Smack, and I decided to run with it. We have the time. The lockout isn’t going anywhere. There were a few other top 10 lists that were on my plate, but I held off on them to try to tame this beast. And just like the top 10 alley-oop list, I had to come up with a few rules:
1) The pass had to end in a bucket
2) It had to be done in a regular season NBA game (sorry J-Will, your elbow pass would’ve been top five)
3) And it had to be from one teammate to another (no self-passes off the backboard)
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Jason Williams and Jason Kidd were some of the first names I came up with while starting this idea. While they’re all mentioned, I decided immediately this wasn’t going to be a “Greatest passes by the best players ever” list. If Matt Maloney made a pass that left me wide-eyed, he was making the cut. It wasn’t going to matter whether it was him or John Stockton. Names would count for nothing.
So with that, here are the 10 greatest assists of all-time (and Honorable Mentions):
The Best Of The Rest:
LeBron James‘ Behind-The-Back (at 3:20 mark)
LeBron James‘ Over-The-Head (at 2:54 mark)
Jason Williams‘ No-Look Drop Off (1:50 mark)
Jason Williams‘ Behind-The-Back (1:03 mark)
Jason Kidd‘s Wild Behind-The-Back (at 3:00 mark)
Jason Kidd‘s Unique Scoop
Larry Bird‘s Over-The-Head (at 4:00 mark)
10. Steve Nash’s Wraparound (at 1:54 mark)
Number one on this video is pretty crazy too. But Nash’s wraparound to Amar’e Stoudemire in the playoffs is just too good. He has his entire body facing out of bounds with nowhere to go and Tim Duncan directly behind him. So Nash does the only sensible thing, and that’s to cuff the ball with his arms completely outstretched and whip it backwards behind TD without looking, in the hope that Amar’e will still be sitting there 10-15 feet away wide open.
9. Joe Dumars’ Out-Of-Bounds Save (at 3:51 mark)
…At least I think that’s Dumars. Why isn’t this higher? Because I’m convinced Joe D wasn’t actually trying to make that pass, but rather just saving the ball inbounds and trying to get it to some general area. It just happened to set up Dennis Rodman for an easy dunk and became one of the best passes ever.
8. Pete Maravich’s Bowling Ball (at 1:42 mark)
Pistol Pete invented a lot of different moves. He had one in particular where he’d come down on the fast break, extend his arms as if to throw a bounce pass, and with nothing more than the power of his wrists, he’d flick the ball to the other side. His arms would be straight to one side, yet the ball would bounce to the other. Incredible. But this bowling ball pass is one-in-a-million (Pistol actually completed it a few times throughout his career). We’ve seen an imitation of this, but never in this scenario: full-court and over the defense. RIP Pistol.
7. Rajon Rondo’s Over-The-Shoulder
Ray Allen might’ve been wide open, but Rajon Rondo was in a crowd and up in the air. You want improvisation? How about jumping at the rim, getting bumped, running out of options and then just whipping the ball over your shoulder, across court and hitting a teammate in a perfect shooting position. You know what else I bet you didn’t even notice? He threw that with his left hand…
6. Dwyane Wade’s 94-Foot Alley-Oop (at 3:10 mark)
Remember when Michael Vick was at Virginia Tech? He was all-world on the gridiron and looked like the single greatest weapon the game of football had ever seen. There was a story within an old ESPN the Magazine about Vick at VT (remember the cover?) revolving around Vick, a football and a basketball hoop. Supposedly, he could throw a football the length of a basketball court and make a basket. And could do it consistently. D-Wade nearly did that here with a basketball.
5. Charles Barkley’s Behind-The-Back (at 3:37 mark)
Chuck was never known as a guy who wanted to give the rock up all that often. Normally when he’d grab a rebound and start his one-man fastbreak, he was going all the way. Forget what or who was in front of him. Get out of the way. But in this instance, he gave his patented move a little twist: a behind-the-back pass from nearly half-court, through traffic, all the while with his head down. I can count on my finger how many times I’ve ever seen this duplicated in a game that I was either watching live or playing in: 0.
4. Magic Johnson’s Around-The-Back (at 4:00 mark)
If you want flashy passes, Magic is on a completely different plateau than everybody else. Watch his greatest highlights. All of them are just a little bit better, with a little extra sauce on them.
Putting the ball around your back like this and then finishing is hard to do in traffic. Now adding in a left-handed pass at the end takes the difficulty on this one up and off the scale. This is something you’d see in an old And1 tape rather than in the NBA.
3. Isiah Thomas’ Bounce Pass Alley-Oop
Special? This was more than that. I picked it at No. 7 in the Real Top 10 Alley-Oops In NBA History list, and it was good enough to make this list as well. Try going out to a gym and making this pass without moving, with no defense and with no one there to catch it. It’s still hard to get it next to the rim. Now add defenders, and start moving at full speed. Now throw a teammate on the other wing and make sure the two of you can time it. Now pretend you’re in the NBA. Now tell me this isn’t one of the craziest passes you’ve ever seen.
2. Larry Bird’s Slap Pass (at 2:10 mark)
This pass is unique in the sense that I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone even try this outside of Bird, Pistol Pete and maybe Jason Kidd. The most overlooked part of this dime is the ball control. Try slapping a ball 15 feet while moving off the dribble in a half-court set and see where that gets you. Probably on the bench after an ugly-looking turnover.
1. Magic Johnson’s REAL No-Look (at 2:03 mark)
Is this the single greatest pass of all-time? I think so. Let me give you my reasoning:
…it’s a three-on-one fastbreak and the players are running full-speed…Magic looks away and completes the entire passing motion without ever looking…there’s a defender in between Magic and Billy Thompson and yet he still throws it, and it’s right on the money…
Did I mention this might be the only true no-look pass I’ve ever seen? Since he’s so good, Magic makes it look routine. But watch that again. He never looks and hits his man right on the money while going full-speed, even with a defender back in position. Crazy. Johnson has so many unreal passes, but this one stands out above the rest. The single greatest pass ever.
What do you think? Did I miss any?
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