What is an Assist in Basketball? The Basketball Rules on Assists

Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three

In basketball, the player who passes the ball to the scorer prior to a successful shot is rewarded with an assist. There are slight variations in the definition of an assist according to the college (NCAA) and professional (NBA) rules in terms of exactly what constitute basketball assists, but in all types of basketball, only one assist can be awarded per field goal.

NCAA Rules

  • A player receives an assist when a pass is made to the scoring player, hence directly contributing to the made field goal
  • It does not matter if the field goal is a two-point shot or three-point shot, the passer is only credited with one assist

In collegiate basketball, rulings on assists come from home statisticians, and they have room for interpretation on what is ruled an assist and what is not. For example, they can determine that the pass was too routine or too many dribbles were taken for a pass to count as an assist.

NBA Rules

  • An assist is defined as the "last pass to a teammate that leads directly to a field goal."

The NBA elaborates by saying that the player receiving the pass "must move immediately toward the basket in a scoring motion."

NBA Records

  • Most assists in a single game: 30, Scott Skiles, December 1990
  • Most assists in an NBA career: 15,806, John Stockton
  • Most assists in a single NBA season: 1,164, John Stockton, 1990-1991
  • Most assists in a playoff basketball game: 23, John Stockton, 1996; Magic Johnson, 1985

NCAA Assist Records

  • Most assists in a single game: 22, three different playersMar
  • Most assists in an NCAA career: 1,076, Bobby Hurley, 1990-1993
  • Most assists in a single NCAA season: 406, Mark Wade, 1987
  • Most assists in a single NCAA women's career: 1,307, Suzie McConnell, 1984-1988

Secondary Assists

In recent years, the NBA began to track secondary assists. According to NBA.com, a secondary assist is “the pass that leads directly to the pass that leads directly to the made basket.”

Many of the National Basketball Association’s all-time assist leaders are point guards, as they are typically responsible for playmaking and creating scoring opportunities for their teammates. It is important to note that basketball players do not get rewarded for assists on free throws, and in situations like fast break layups or dunks, it is usually up to scorekeepers to judge if a pass should be tallied as an assist.

Watch: Greatest Assists & Passes in NBA History

Most Career Assists in NBA History

1. John Stockton

  • Number of Assists: 15,806
Utah Jazz v Washington Bullets

2. Jason Kidd

  • Number of Assists: 12,091

3. Chris Paul

  • Number of Assists: 10,977

4. Steve Nash

  • Number of Assists: 10,335

5. Mark Jackson

  • Number of Assists: 10,334

6. Magic Johnson

  • Number of Assists: 10,141
Lakers Vs. Supersonics

7. LeBron James

  • Number of Assists: 10,045

8. Oscar Robertson

  • Number of Assists: 9,887

9. Isiah Thomas

  • Number of Assists: 9,061

10. Gary Payton

  • Number of Assists: 8,966

Most Assists Per Game (APG) through an NBA Career

1. Magic Johnson

  • Career APG: 11.19

2. John Stockton

  • Career APG: 10.51

3. Oscar Robertson

  • Career APG: 9.51

4. Chris Paul

  • Career APG: 9.50
Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets - Game Four

5. Isiah Thomas

  • Career APG: 9.26

6. Kevin Johnson

  • Career APG: 9.13

7. John Wall

  • Career APG: 9.07

8. Jason Kidd

  • Career APG: 8.69

9. Steve Nash

  • Career APG: 8.49
Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns

10. Russell Westbrook

  • Career APG: 8.43