What is an Assist in Basketball? Basketball 101

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If you are reading this, we can safely say that you would like to know what is an assist in basketball. In today’s stat driven game of basketball, many players would like to know how to get assists in basketball so that they can improve their stats.  

Assist percentages in basketball are critical indicators of the offensive performance given by players and teams alike. Many basketball analysts look at the assist numbers after games so that they can analyze the team’s offense. I am sure that many players would like to know what assists are and how to get them so that they can be more efficient offensively, at least on paper.  

In this article, we will be comprehensively covering assists, or should I say dimes, the basketball assist slang. After reading this piece, should understand the meaning of the word assist in basketball and how it differs from the NCAA and the NBA.  

What is the Definition of Assist in Basketball What Qualifies as an Assist in BasketballWhat is the Definition of Assist in Basketball? What Qualifies as an Assist in Basketball?  

The definition of assist in basketball will be different based on the league that you are talking about. The general idea behind an assist is that the player who makes a pass that is then converted into a bucket would be credited with an assist. That’s the simple explanation. 

The definition of assist for the NBA is noted as when: “An assist is credited to the player tossing the last pass leading directly to a made field goal, but only if the player scoring the goal demonstrates an immediate reaction toward the basket after receiving the pass. Note also that an inbound pass can be credited as an assist if it leads directly to a field goal.” 

For the NCAA, the definition varies a lot. They view it like this, “A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the first pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points). 

Such a pass should be either (a) a pass that finds a player free after he or she has maneuvered without the ball for positional advantage, or (b) a pass that gives the receiving player a positional advantage he or she otherwise would not have had.
Let’s agree that the NCAA makes it a lot harder to get those dimes.

Why are Assists Important in BasketballWhy are Assists Important in Basketball?  

It is typically the team with the most assists at the end of the night that gets the W. Somewhere James Harden is saying “hold my beer.” The assist stat for teams is sometimes a reflection of how willing a team is to move the ball in offensive sets.  

Teams that pass the ball more are likely able to move the defense and then break them down for better shot attempts. Better shots usually lead to more field goals. Scoring runs that comprise of assists from multiple players going to different players are tough to guard. Golden State, anyone? 

Why are Assists Important in Basketball  

Teams with multiple players that pass willingly usually have great chemistry. The assist is so crucial for these teams because players know that they are playing with guys that don’t necessarily think score first, but instead, get the best shot for the team.  
The individual assist stat will also reflect the willingness of the players to move the ball and facilitate for others within the offense. Players with good assist stats can be considered as floor generals, and they are generally good leaders as they pride themselves on leading others to score and not necessarily put themselves first.  

Are There Differences Between Assist in College Basketball vs. the NBAAre There Differences Between an Assist in College Basketball vs. the NBA? 

Due to the concept of the assist (passing for another person to score), it is quite strange that two entities, the NBA and the NCAA, would have the definition so different. While there are differences on how each body acknowledge an assist, they both have the fundamental of the stat in there somewhere.  

It is generally easier for a player to be rewarded an assist in the NBA, partly because the NBA’s rule behind the stat is more straightforward and simpler to apply. The NBA awards assists to any player that is the last person to pass the ball to a teammate who then scores a field goal by immediately acting to score after receiving the pass.  

Quite understandable, right? You get an assist if you pass to your buddy and he immediately tries to score and does so. The number of dribbles taken after the pass is made does not matter in the NBA. Now, let’s look at the NCAA version of this stat. 

The NCAA will only deem the pass to be an assist if it viewed by the statistician as the main pass that leads to a field goal or points being awarded. Yes, it does sound confusing and tricky, because it is. We are going to try our best to simplify it for you.  

First thing, because the definition is so open, the home statistician at each game will be in charge of discerning what is to be credited as an assist. This is different from the NBA’s clear cut guideline. 

Secondly, the pass does not have to be the last. Yes, I mean that a pass before the final pass can be credited as an assist and not the same for the final pass. For example, if the statistician thinks that the second to last pass in a play is the integral pass that leads to the execution of the play, the statistician will award that pass the assist.  

The NCAA will also reward an assist if a play leads to points, even if the ball did score. This can occur if an integral pass is made, and then a goaltend happens. If a player receives a pass and the has to make a move that gets them space for the shot, an assist will not be credited. 

Are There Differences Between an Assist in College Basketball vs. the NBA

The basic idea behind the NCAA’s assist rule is that the passer must be the one that created the shot for the scorer, even if they need an assist to get the assist. The NCAA also does not limit the number of dribbles allowed before an assist can be credited.

How Do You Record an AssistHow Do You Record an Assist?  

In the NCAA, an assist can be recorded by making the pass that creates a scoring opportunity or points being awarded. It does not have to be the last pass, and the scorer is allowed to dribble any number of times. 

For the NBA, An assist can be recorded by making the last pass, inbounds included, before the scorer intentionally tries at and succeeds in making a field goal.  

Do Inbound Passes Count as AssistDo Inbound Passes Count As Assist? 

In the NBA, If an inbound is the last pass before the receiver makes a field goal, then yes, it is credited as an assist. It would fall under the general rule. In the NCAA, the general rule applies as well. 

If the Inbound turns out to be seen as the most integral aspect of a play by the statistician, then it will be credited as an assist. If an inbound is made and the player needs to perform a maneuver to get free after receiving the ball and before shooting, the inbound pass is not going to be seen as an assist. 

How Many Dribbles are Allowed for an Assist to be AwardedHow Many Dribbles are Allowed for An Assist to be Awarded? 

Technically there are no dribble limitations on assists in both the NBA and NCAA. Even though there are no dribble restrictions, there are aspects of the assist rules for both of these leagues that will not allow for many dribbles. 

The NBA assist rule states that the player that receives the pass should immediately act in a manner that shows immediate intent to score. With this in mind, a player taking excessive dribbles without taking a shot would then no longer be acting with the intent to score immediately. Hence, the assist would not apply.

The NCAA assist rules state that the pass must be the most integral part of the play that leads to the basket. If the receiver of the pass has to dribble excessively to get free, then the pass is no longer seen as integral. In such a case, the assist would not be rewarded. 

Who Gets the Most Assist in a Basketball GameWho Gets the Most Assist in a Basketball Game?

That question is not as straightforward as it may seem. The simple answer is “the facilitator.” We now need to identify who is a facilitator. There are a few teams that will have similar assist numbers across the roster for the players that play the most minutes. The reason for this is that these players are all unselfish and pride themselves on finding the best shot for the team. 

Who Gets the Most Assist in a Basketball Game

The facilitator on a team usually has the most assists because they have the ball the most, and their main job is to set the table for their teammates to eat. On most teams, the facilitator is their PG. There are instances, however, where the team’s offense goes through another position. That player is tasked with creating for both himself and the rest of the team. 

The most NBA assists record is held by John Stockton at 15,806.

Videos of the Greatest Assists of All TimeVideos of the Greatest Assists of All Time 

This video shows some assists that can be regarded as the best of all-time in the NBA.

This next video covers 60 of the best assists that you may have witnessed over the last decade.

Wrapping Things Up: What is an Assist in Basketball?

The NBA is not as complicated with its rules regarding assists when compared to the NCAA.

The NCAA may be trying to get players to actively create opportunities for their teammates by sharing the ball, but regardless of the league, an assist carries the same level of impact on a game. Teams and players that can create for each other are usually more productive.

Until next time ballers, keep dropping them dimes. 

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like our other basketball FAQ articles here.

More basketball 101 here:

> What is a Steal in Basketball?

> What is Rebounding in Basketball?

> What is Dribbling in Basketball?

> What is a Field Goal in Basketball?

> What Does Bonus Mean in Basketball?

> How to Do a Layup Correctly?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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