Point guards still make the majority of decisions, creating the most assist opportunities, but excellent distributors are emerging from unlikely sources.
During the opening round of the playoffs, Clippers forward Blake Griffin dished out 55 assists, just three fewer than All-Star teammate Chris Paul, the regular season leader in assists for the fourth time in his career.
As a whole the 30 NBA teams combined to make 92,487 shots during the regular season, with 54,202 of those shots being setup by an assist.
Teams are emphasizing swinging the ball from side to side on the floor, in an attempt to wear out the defense and create the optimum amount of open shot opportunities.
The increased number of passes resulted in 58.6 percent of all converted shots came off an assist.
Two players managed to average 10 or more assists per game last season, the first time multiple players accomplished the feat in three years.
With assists in demand across the league, pinpointing a few likely sources of excellent passing will became an early round priority for fantasy owners.
1. Chris Paul– Los Angeles Clippers
The ball always seems to find its way into the hands of Paul. A year ago, the Clippers entrusted him to possess the ball 7,687 times, over 100 more than any other player in the league. With the elevated amount of opportunities, Paul took advantage as he created 23.8 points per game for Los Angeles while winning his fourth assist title as he managed to play in all 82 regular season games for the first time in his 10-year career.
2. John Wall– Washington Wizards
For over eight minutes a game, the Wizards enabled Wall to facilitate the offense and he responded by becoming an elite distributor. The result generated 792 assists, 71 more than the 25-year-old totaled in three additional games during the 2013-14 season. Wall accounted for more than 40 percent of the total assists Washington recorded last year, and without a single teammate to even tally 200 assists on the roster, his production could become even greater.
3. Russell Westbrook– Oklahoma City Thunder
Not many players are capable of leading the league in field goal attempts while also totaling the fifth highest number of assists. As Oklahoma City desperately tried to crawl into the post season, the team became increasingly reliant on Westbrook as numerous players missed time due to injury. The return of Kevin Durant to the lineup not only will take away some of the pressure to score the ball from Westbrook, but also give him the most reliable offensive weapon to target with his passing.
4. Rajon Rondo– Sacramento Kings
Only four teams managed to dish out fewer assists than Sacramento last season. The addition of Rondo, a player utterly obsessed with passing the ball, will provide a significant boost to the assist total. During his 22 games with the Celtics, Rondo passed the ball more than 76 times per game, easily the highest amount in the league, while creating 25 points a night for Boston. Rondo is averaging 8.3 assists per game during his career, the fourth highest among all active players and the 11th best in NBA history.
5. Stephen Curry– Golden State Warriors
Opponents are simply running out of ways to defend Curry. The most potent 3-point shooter in NBA history also boasts one of the widest passing arsenals in the league. For a team predicated on making the extra pass to find the best possible shot, when Curry wasn’t launching a dagger at the rim, he was busy completing a precise pass to an open teammate. As one of just four players to dish out more than 600 assists last season, Curry’s passing ability was a vital piece to his MVP resume.
6. LeBron James– Cleveland Cavaliers
For the first time since departing the Cavaliers during the summer of 2010, James finished the regular season with more assists than rebounds last season. When he initially returned to Cleveland, James emphasized he wouldn’t reprise the role of point forward that he played with the Heat. Only his ability to pass the ball took over. James totaled 511 assists, 122 more than his teammate, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers are hoping that familiarity with his teammates will yield even more assists this season.
7. James Harden– Houston Rockets
By generating so much attention from defenders, Harden naturally creates open looks for his teammates. His combination of handle, speed and pump fakes not only baffles the opposition, but allows his teammates to hover in prime real estate to score the ball. This is clearly evident as Harden was able to lead the league in assists on corner 3-point field goals last season. Even with a new point guard, much of the offense will be reliant on Harden creating scoring chances for his teammates next season.
8. Jeff Teague– Atlanta Hawks
Very quietly, Teague has been one of the most consistent assist producers in the league. The 6-foot-1 guard has dished out at least 500 assists in each of the past three seasons and his average of 7.0 assists per game tied him for the eighth most in the league. While Teague managed 10 more more assists 11 times last season, his consistency is remarkable, as he managed at least five assists in 80.8 percent of his appearances.
9. Kyle Lowry– Toronto Raptors
Toronto is in desperate need for a single player to take command of the offense. While the Raptors have an All-Star shooting guard in DeMar DeRozan, a promising center in Jonas Valanciunas, the play of Lowry will be critical for the team to continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings. Two years ago, the 6-foot point guard managed to dish out 7.4 assists per game, a return to that production level is a necessity next year, otherwise Toronto may begin a comprehensive rebuilding effort.
10. Ty Lawson– Houston Rockets
Plenty of intrigue surrounds the production level of Lawson during his first season in Houston. Instead of dominating the time of possession each trip down the floor, as he did with the Nuggets, Lawson will be forced to play off the ball when James Harden has it in his hands. Last season, the passing of Lawson generated 19.3 assist opportunities per game, the most of anyone that made more than 25 appearances. Lawson is clearly an effective passer, but there is some uncertainty to exactly how productive he will be playing off the ball at times.