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What is an Assist in Basketball? (Full Explanation)

Understandably, basketball players who can score are always valued highly by coaches.

However, players who can create scoring chances for their teammates are arguably every bit as important as the ones making the baskets.

Jason Kidd.

Steve Nash.

John Stockton.

All of them made the players around them better because they were able to distribute the ball to their teammates in prime scoring opportunities.

Their ability to register assists meant that their teams were able to rack up lots of points and wins over the years.

This article will take a look at the question what is an assist in basketball, why they’re so important for your team to be successful, and how you can help your team get more of them.

What Is an Assist in Basketball?

An assist is a pass from a player to a teammate that leads directly to a field goal.

It is called an assist because a player is “assisting” the other player in scoring a basket.

Basketball player looks to assist to a teammate during a game

What Constitutes an Assist?

An assist is difficult to track because there are certain requirements and judgments involved with this statistic.

1. Dribbles

An assist can occur if a player receives a pass and dribbles for a “short distance” before scoring.

While there is no definitive rule on how many dribbles are allowed for an assist to count, it appears that the consensus is if the pass leads to a score in 2 or less dribbles, it counts as an assist.

2. Only 1 pass

Only the pass that leads directly to the basket counts as an assist.

In some sports, like ice hockey, it is possible to have more than one player register an assist on a given play if more than one pass leads to a score.

However, in basketball, only the final pass that leads to the field goal actually gets registered as an assist for a player.

3. Free throws

Assists generally only count when a pass leads to a field goal.

So if a pass is made to a player and that player gets fouled while shooting but doesn’t make the shot, no assist can occur even if the player winds up hitting both free throws.

The exception is in FIBA where an assist can be counted on a foul without a made field goal as long as the player makes at least one free throw.

Why are Assists Important?

Assists are important in basketball because it means a team is sharing the basketball.

The more players that are creating and scoring for your team, the more difficult your team’s offense is to stop.

There isn’t necessarily a set percentage of field goals your team should look to assist on, as a lot of it depends on the offense that you run.

However, if your team is assisting on over 60% of your made field goals, chances are you have a pretty good offensive team.

Player looks to pass and make an assist during a basketball game

Ideas to Increase Assists on Your Team:

Like most offensive skills, assists aren’t just going to naturally increase for your team unless you do something to promote them during practice.

Here are a few ideas to increase the number of assists you see each game:

1. Praise Great Passing

The #1 thing coaches can do to help their teams realize the importance of passing to open teammates is by praise the pass every bit as much as the make.

From an early age, players put more importance on scoring than anything else that happens on the court.

You can have a big effect in changing that mentality if you make sure to congratulate players who make good passes to their teammates for good shots, even if the shot doesn’t go in.

2. Ball-Handling Drills

It might sound overly simplistic, but a player has to be able to see the floor in order to pass to a cutting teammate for a basket.

That isn’t going to happen if they’re staring at the ball as they’re dribbling.

Players have to be able to handle the ball adequately with either hand so that they can see scoring opportunities as they occur and not too late.

The way players become comfortable handling the ball with either hand is by lots and lots of ball-handling drills.

Using a variety of 1 or 2 ball dribbling drills both stationary and moving against air or defense are the ways to make your players handle the ball while keeping their heads up and eyes on their teammates for chances to score.

3. Variety of Passing Drills

An assist requires a pass that leads to a score, so obviously the passing part of it is essential.

First, help your players understand the importance of being able to pass on time and on target.

Shooters like having the ball thrown to them in their shooting pockets as they’re squaring up, so being ready to throw passes exactly when and where they need to be thrown is imperative.

They also need to be able to do this while being pressured, so including a defender to make these passing drills more game-like is a necessary challenge to include whenever possible.

3. Finishing Drills

There is nothing more frustrating as a passer than making the perfect pass to a teammate only to watch them miss a point-blank layup.

Those are the kinds of results that can make players stop passing altogether, or at least to certain teammates.

So make sure you have all of your players work on finishing against defenders and contact around the rim, especially simulating actions within your offense.

This way they will be more likely to finish plays after receiving a pass from a teammate, which will keep your team looking to pass.


Assists are a tough statistic to pull off because it requires two different players to make a play:

A passer needs to find a teammate with a scoring opportunity and that player then has to finish the play with a made basket.

But the assist is also one of the most important statistics in basketball because it means your team is finding the open player and creating good scoring chances for each other.

That’s why your players must work on their ball-handling, passing, and finishing so they are able to rack up lots of assists every game.

Because typically the more assists your team is able to accumulate on their made baskets, the more powerful an offensive team they will be.

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