Passing a basketball, along with dribbling one, is one of the first skills young hoopers learn when they start playing ball.
Being an adequate passer is one of the three areas in the triple threat position. Basketball players have to be able to pass, dribble, or shoot out of the triple threat position – they have to be a threat on offense in some form.
With the NBA boasting the highest quality of basketball in the world, the league has a host of elite passers. And with the position-less revolution taking over, some of those passers are as tall as what used to be a traditional center.
Moving the ball and setting up teammates is an important part of the game, so here is our list of who we believe are the best passers in the NBA.
1. Ben Simmons
One of the key traits of being a good passer is possessing great court vision. And for Ben Simmons, his court vision and court awareness are perhaps his best attributes.
At 6-foot-10, Simmons runs point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, and he routinely makes passes that show why he is one of the most skilled distributors in the game. He understands passing angles well, and he also utilizes a variety of different passes to get his teammates the ball.
Whether it’s a pass ahead on the fast-break to a streaking teammate, or a precise bounce pass in the half-court, Simmons can usually make any pass he wants. Good passers know how to put their teammates in the best positions to score, and Simmons’ ball placement is another one of his strengths.
With Simmons averaging 7.8 assists per game, good for fifth in the league in assists per game, he has shown that he will be among one of the top-rated facilitators in the league for years to come.
2. Nikola Jokic
At 7-foot Nikola Jokic is only a couple inches taller than Simmons, but with his good vision, he can make basically any pass he wants as well.
Simmons is particularly better at making good reads in transition, but Jokic’s ability to find teammates in half-court sets is outstanding. Jokic isn’t the Denver Nuggets’ point guard, but the team’s offense is based around him. With his sharp court awareness, he’s able to find open cutters or shooters.
He especially has a knack for finding open players when he’s working in the low or high post. Jokic’s success as a big man who can pass is a product of how the league has changed recently. It’s not completely surprising to see players of his size be good passers anymore, and he has the numbers to prove it. With 7.1 assists per game, Jokic is tied for seventh in the league for the category.
3. Trae Young
Trae Young is only in his rookie season, but he has already staked his claim as one of the best passers in the league.
Ranked fourth in the league for assists per game (7.9), Young has shown why he has the potential to be one of the best floor generals in the game. What Young does well is use a probing dribble, much like Hall of Famer Steve Nash did in his career.
Nash was great at keeping his dribble and probing the defense for a seam as he worked to set up his teammates.
Young is able to use his dribble well in the half-court, and he makes good reads on particularly the pick-and-roll. In the video below, Young did a good job of drawing the attention of New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle. As Randle came up, Young made a good lob off the glass for John Collins to dunk the ball.
4. LeBron James
LeBron James, who has long been the face of the league, won’t be playing in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
But despite James’ and the Los Angeles Lakers’ rocky season, James is still one of the best basketball minds in the league. With his basketball IQ, James makes passes that few others can. He knows where people are supposed to be on the floor, and that’s why he’s one of the best passers the game has ever seen.
He’s helped define the concept of “point forward” with his ability to set up teammates and impact the game in ways other than scoring, playing defense or rebounding. This season, he’s ranked third in the league for assists per game (8.1), and at age 34, he’s ranked No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time assists leaders.
5. James Harden
James Harden is having one of the best seasons in NBA history. He’s averaging 36.5 points per game and is the first player in league history to score 30 or more points against all 29 NBA teams.
Though Harden can score, he’s also one of the best playmakers in the league. His ability to pass is his next greatest strength after his scoring, as he’s averaged at least seven assists a game for the past four seasons. This season he is averaging 7.6 assists per game, and he’s tied for seventh in the category with Jokic.
What Harden does well is that he passes out of the pick and roll and on drives to the hoop. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, so he naturally draws attention when he comes through the lane.
When he drives into the lane, he uses his ability to pass to kick it to a shooter or cutter. Harden isn’t a pure floor general, but his combo guard abilities make him one of the toughest players to defend in the league.
Russell Westbrook led the league in assists per game last season, and he’s accomplishing the same feat this season. Westbrook is more of a floor general type; he does well putting his teammates in position to score. Steven Adams and Paul George have both benefited from Westbrook’s facilitating, as both players are averaging career-highs in points per game.
D’Angelo Russell was a first-time All-Star this season, and though he’s averaging a career-high 20.7 points per game, his passing skills are a big part of his game.
Russell has always had good vision, and with that he’s able to find open teammates easily. With Russell as the lead guard on the Brooklyn Nets, he runs the team’s offense well. This season he’s averaging a career-high 6.9 assists a game.