What is an Assist in Basketball: Everything You Need to Know

Basketball is a team sport, so it is only essential that players learn how to share the ball for higher percentage shots.

An excellent and unselfish basketball team usually passes the ball around until they find a better scoring opportunity. The person who passes the ball to the player who scores will receive an assist stat.

But what exactly is an assist, and how does it contribute to a team’s chances of winning?

An assist is attributed to the last player to pass the ball to a teammate leading directly to a field goal. The field goal scored can either be two or three points. Point guards are usually attributed with more assists in a team because they are the primary playmakers, and passers.

With this general information regarding assists in basketball, let us dig a little deeper into its details.

What is an Assist in Basketball?

An assist happens when a player passes the ball to a teammate, which leads to a successful field goal.

Regardless of how many points were scored, only one assist will be added to the passing player’s assist column.

It is also important to note that even if multiple passes are made by the team leading to a successful shot, the assist will only be given to the player who passed the ball last to the scorer.  

Assists can come in all forms, such as a pass to the paint for a dunk, a long pass for an open three-point shot, or a pass for an open layup.

An assist is one of the five main statistical categories in basketball, with points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. The player who averages the most assists per game during the regular season wins the NBA Assist Title in the NBA.

Another common term used for a basketball assist is “dropping a dime” or simply “dime.”

Other Definitions of an Assist in Basketball

Only the last pass leading to a successful shot is counted as an assist in NBA rules. Passes that lead to free throws are never counted as assists.

However, in FIBA or International Basketball Federation, a player who passes the ball that leads to a shooting foul will be awarded an assist if the player makes at least one of his free throws.

If all free throws are unsuccessful, no assist will be added to the passing player.

How to Determine if a Pass is an Assist? NBA vs. FIBA Rules

NBA Rules for an assist

The definition of an assist in basketball may seem simple, but there can be a lot of subjectivity if applied during a play in the NBA. 

The NBA rulebook does not necessarily define how much time difference between a pass and a basket before it will be considered an assist.

It also does not mention the impact of fakes, pivots, and other moves taken by the scorer after receiving the pass. 

In the NBA, assists for both teams are determined and recorded by the home team’s statisticians, so it is typical for the home team to be favored more for an assist. The visiting teams, however, are awarded fewer assists. 

Since there is natural subjectivity in determining if a pass led to a basket, the number of assists per game may not be as accurate as declared by the stat sheet.

FIBA Assist Rules

However, in the FIBA, an assist has simpler yet straightforward definitions. Here are some examples:

  • A pass to a player inside the painted area and scores is always an assist.
  • A pass to a player outside the paint without dribbling is an assist.
  • A pass is not an assist if the shooter needs to beat the defender on his way to the basket.
  • Other rule considerations for an assist depend on how the pass leads a player to score with the least possible dribbles and moves.

If you notice, the FIBA rules for an assist are less subjective than the NBA. Also, since a FIBA basketball game is only played for 40 minutes compared to the NBA’s 48 minutes, players would generally have less playing time to record more assists.

Why are Assists Essential in Basketball?

Assists are essential in every basketball game because it allows a team to find the open man for the best shot.

It also shows how well-coached a team is and the players’ unselfishness for sharing the ball.

Though the number of assists per game by a team doesn’t necessarily determine the likelihood of winning, still, it gives a higher chance than forcing points by a single player.

Assists can also improve another player’s confidence, especially if they can score more easy points. 

What Basketball Position Performs the Most Assist?

Naturally, the point guards record the most assists in a game because they are the primary ball-handler and passers. 

Point guards are also called the floor general because they typically command the court for plays and the extension of a coach inside the court.

They usually demonstrate their best court vision to see which players are open for an easy pass leading to a field goal.

On the other hand, the post players, such as the centers and power forwards, get the least number of assists simply because they usually benefit from the pass and score closer to the basket.

However, a big man with good court vision and passing ability can also dominate the assist column, like the two-time NBA MVP Center, Nikola Jokic.

In the last 40 years, the NBA assist leaders are all guards, except for the 2019-20 season when LeBron James, a forward, won the award.

What is an Assist-to-Turnover Ratio in Basketball?

A good indicator of an efficient assistor in basketball is the assist-to-turnover ratio.

This statistic shows how much a player can effectively make an assist while also limiting his turnovers.

According to NBA, a turnover in basketball happens when a player loses possession of the ball to the opposing team before a shot is attempted.

Since the point guard’s primary role is to make passes leading to a score, they are also more likely to turn the ball over during those attempts to pass.

The goal for ball handlers, particularly the point guards, is to have more assists and fewer turnovers. So, a higher assist-to-turnover ratio is more desired.

3 Tips to EASILY Get More Assists

Tip #1: Find the open man

Ball-handlers must know their teammate’s position and find the open man to score and, in turn, get more assists for the passer.

Many scoring opportunities for other teammates are missed when the ball-handler doesn’t have a good court vision.

Tip #2: Choose the right pass at the right time.

Not all passes are created equal. For every situation, there are different types of passes to use.

Choosing the right pass can also improve the chances of the ball reaching the receiver without opportunities for opposing players to steal the ball.

Here are some types of passes every player should learn:

  • Chest Pass – is best used when passing to an open man as quickly as possible.
  • Bounce Pass – is preferred when opposing players are between the passer and the receiver.
  • Lob pass – is best utilized when the defender is smaller than the receiver. This is best used to execute alley-oop layups or dunks.
  • No-look pass – is used to fool a defender by looking one way but passing the other way. 
  • Behind-the-back pass – is best used by elite point guards to find a passing angle and mislead defenders.

Tip #3: Take your time

Timing is crucial if you want to successfully pass the ball to a teammate. By passing the ball when the receiver is ready, the chance of scoring will be higher. It is also essential to be in synch with the scorers.

Flashiest NBA Passers in NBA History

Though scoring the basketball may look cool, a pass-first player with flashy passing can also give the same excitement as a good dunk.

Here are some of the flashiest passers in NBA history. 

Magic Johnson

With his flashy passes, no-looks, and alley-oops, Magic Johnson led the ’80s Los Angeles Lakers’ fast-paced “Showtime” Era. With his 6’9″ frame, he is not your typical point guard, but he uses it to his advantage as he finds the open man for a pass.

However, a passer can only be as good as the receiver of his passes. But if you have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Jamaal Wilkes on your team, there are just too many options. He is a 4x NBA Assist Leader.

Steve Nash

Nash is a two-time MVP and one of the most efficient players in NBA History. He is more well-known for his flashy passes than for scoring, leading to five NBA Assist Leaders. He loves to no-look and behind-the-back passes.

Steve Nash led the Phoenix Suns to multiple playoff appearances with the help of his primary assist receiver, Amar’e Stoudemire.

Rajon Rondo

Rondo is a three-time NBA assist leader. Finding someone to pass is relatively easy with three all-stars in the Boston Big 3, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Rondo’s best assist highlights come from behind-the-back passes.  

Jason Williams

Though Jason “White Chocolate” Williams never led the NBA in assists or ever been selected as an all-star, his slick passing and street-style basketball has been in several highlight reels in the NBA.

He is well-known for his super-fast passes. He even uses his elbow to change the ball’s direction as he finds an open man and gets an assist.

John Stockton

Stockton is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and won the NBA Assist Leader 9x, so it is only natural to obtain multiple highlights. Also, with superstar Karl Malone on his side, scoring is almost a guarantee.

NBA All-Time Career Leaders in Assists

PlayerTotal Assists
1. John Stockton15,806
2. Jason Kidd12,091
3. Chris Paul10,977
4. Steve Nash10,335
5. Mark Jackson10,334
6. Magic Johnson10,141
7. LeBron James10,045
8. Oscar Robertson9,887
9. Isiah Thomas9,061
10. Gary Payton8,966

NBA Top 10 Highest Assists per Game 

PlayerAssists Per Game
1. John Stockton14.54
2. John Stockton14.20
3. Isiah Thomas13.86
4. John Stockton13.76
5. John Stockton13.73
6. John Stockton13.63
7. Kevin Porter13.40
8. Magic Johnson13.06
9. Magic Johnson12.60
10. John Stockton12.57

Players Who Won NBA Assist Leaders Multiple Times

1. John Stockton91988-1996
2. Bob Cousy81953–1960
3. Oscar Robertson61961, 1962, 1964-66, 1969
4. Jason Kidd51999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004
4. Chris Paul52008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2022
4. Steve Nash52005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011
7. Magic Johnson41983, 1984, 1986, 1987
7. Kevin Porter41975, 1978, 1979, 1981
9. Rajon Rondo32012, 2013, 2016
9. Russell Westbrook32018, 2019, 2021

NBA Top 10 Highest Assists in a Single Game

PlayerTotal AssistsTeam
1. Scott Skiles30Orlando Magic
2. Kevin Porter29New Jersey Nets
3. Bob Cousy28Boston Celtics
4. Guy Rodgers28San Francisco Warriors (now Golden State Warriors)
5. John Stockton28Utah Jazz
6. Geoff Huston27Cleveland Cavaliers
7. John Stockton27Utah Jazz
8. John Stockton26Utah Jazz
9. Ernie DiGregorio25Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers)
10. Kevin Porter25Detroit Pistons

Other NBA Assist Trivias You Should Know

  • Scott Skyles holds the NBA record for most assists in a single game with 30 on December 30, 1990.
  • John Stockton won the NBA Season Assist Leader nine times in his career. Followed by Bob Cousy with eight, and Oscar Robertson with six times.
  • Stockton also holds the record for the most assists-per-game average over a single season, with 14.5 in 1990. 
  • Stockton is also the NBA All-time Career Leader in Assists, with 15,806 in his 19 seasons in Utah Jazz.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks hold the NBA record for most team assists in a single game with 53 on December 26, 1978.


Assists are one of the most important metrics that can measure how great a player has played in a game. Since they lead directly to field goals, a lot of players even specialize in them.

We hope that you’ve learned a lot from this ultimate guide.

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