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Are These Assists?

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What with all the nice fat triple-doubly Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball lines, you might be wondering what exactly makes an assist. I am. Not because I’m interested in whether home scorers are especially generous to their local stars—both players, it turns out, average more assists per 36 minutes when on the road—but because I sometimes don’t understand what the scorers are looking for at all.

An assist is a pass that leads directly to a basket. After receiving the pass, the teammate either shot the ball or immediately moved directly to the basket to shoot the ball. There is plenty of wiggle room in interpreting these guidelines. The video rulebook offers a little guidance, but only addresses the most obvious cases.


Here are three assists from last night’s games, selected not because they are the most egregious examples but because they seem to straddle the line of plausibility. What do we make of these cases where a great deal of work is done by the player—lots of dribbling, stepping, faking, fading—after the pass is made? If these are all assists, does the assist really track the quality of opportunity that the passer produced?

Is this Ben Simmons assist to Dario Saric an assist?

Is this Lonzo Ball assist to Brandon Ingram an assist?

Is this Frank Ntilikina assist to Michael Beasley an assist?

Genuinely wondering here.

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