September 10, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
Passing's a whole lot of fun, and while the assist statistic isn't perfect, it's very nearly there. That's not enough, though. Assist ratio will be referenced quite a bit in this post, and put quite simply, assist ratio is the amount of possessions a player uses up that end in an assist for the player. It's certainly a lot better than the duplicitous assist-to-turnover ratio, a statistic that would supposedly make Dale Ellis or Reggie Miller a better passer than Steve Nash(notes) or Jason Kidd(notes) based on ranking alone.
Nah, none of that here. With some bonus points for feints and flairs thrown in, as well. Herewith, the finest passers of the last decade.
It might surprise you to see Tinsley on this list. He hasn't played a meaningful game since the 2007-08 season. He hasn't played well since the year before that, and he hasn't played exceedingly well for any sustained period of time since the 2004-05 term. In the meantime, he's been rightfully accused of being selfish, working while out of shape, refusing to add to his game, and hardly giving a lick and a promise to defense.
But he could pass. He could always pass. 39 percent of the possessions he's used up over his career have ended in assists, and that's on a Pacers team hardly known for its sterling offense, or furious finishers. The mark actually leaves him at ninth on the all time list, just a nudge below Steve Nash, and ahead of such luminaries as Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, and Isiah Thomas. Now, if only he wasn't such a punk about it ...
By now, Marbury is the deserved poster child for selfish and deluded athletes, and I'm not going to try and tell you that a huge chunk of his assists over the years were self-serving dishes only given up after 22 seconds of offensive play had created a two-man game wherein Marbury had no choice but to dish off.
The guy could dish, though. 37 percent of his possessions ended with him tossing an assist, usually off a high screen and roll, a mark higher than Andre Miller(notes) or Chauncey Billups(notes). Sure, he defined the "selfish assist," but this isn't a ranking of the least-selfish players in the NBA, is it?
Cassell gets the nod over the two listed above, or types like Baron Davis(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) or LeBron James(notes), because he's had to juggle so many egos for so long, and he's one of the best entry passers I've ever seen. Even if he didn't always have the shooting percentages to draw defenders out on his up-fakes, he got those suckers in the air, and nailed his big with a bounce pass. Didn't always lead to an assist, but it won games.
It speaks to Knight's acumen as a pure passer that I'm not even sure I'd want him to start, even in his prime, on my favorite team. I'm sure you're with me on this one. But any list of the great home run hitters of the 1970s would have to include Dave Kingman, that's all he did, and any list of the finest passers of the last decade needs to include Knight, who owns the sixth highest assist ratio of any player in NBA history. Sixth!
6. John Stockton
Make an overall list, check it twice, and he's at the top. No questions asked. But he only played until 2003. Doesn't matter. He was that good, even in the end. In fact, Stockton led the NBA in assist ratio three times over the course (1999-00, until last season) of the criteria of our list. No other player has led the league in that category more than twice.
5. Andre Miller
Solid, steady, spectacular, not all that entertaining. Well, unless he's throwing a lob.
Miller's the best at it, by far. He just as uncanny knack at putting the right rotation on the ball, deadening the arc just enough to keep the ball on pace to be placed in the right face.
Williams has only played four seasons, one of which saw him as pretty out of shape, and another (2008-09) that saw him playing through a bum left ankle that never seemed to heal. And yet, over 40 percent of the possessions he uses up have resulted in an assist over his four years. That's ... that's on par with Magic Johnson.
Chalk some of that up all you want to rogue scorekeepers, but I know what I see.
A strong, but not prohibitive, percentage of Paul's assists in his four seasons could be chalked up to overeager scorekeeping. But certainly not enough to stop him from leading the league in assists, as he's done twice, or lead the NBA in assist ratio, as he's done twice. Chalk him up for two extra assists a game. Fine. Understand that you're also watching an all-timer, who isn't anywhere near his prime. Apologies for the rhyme.
2. Steve Nash
I hope this doesn't sound like I'm making excuses for Nash, but it should be pointed out that a good chunk of his career was spent on a team in Dallas that went for matchups and mismatches over orthodox offense a good portion of the time, and that he truly wasn't allowed to dominate the ball until he re-joined the Phoenix Suns at age 30. Kind of explains why he averaged under eight assists a game as a healthy starter with the Mavericks from 2000-2004, despite fast pace and high minutes, and 11 a game with the Suns.
Nash's 39 percent assist ratio is good for eighth all time.
1. Jason Kidd
Simply the most consistent, pin-point, top-dog passer of the decade.
Kidd's averaged an assist on 40 percent of the possessions he's used up over his career, he average over nine assists a game over the last decade, while working quite a bit on teams that didn't average nearly as many possessions per game as Steve Nash's outfits in Dallas and Phoenix did.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.