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The Best Passers at their Best: The 34 NBA Player small 20+ Assists in a Game Club

Even I know that Point Guards are judged first by their passing, and their rebounding . . . like . . . 8th . . . .
Even I know that Point Guards are judged first by their passing, and their rebounding . . . like . . . 8th . . . .

You may or may not have checked out today's Downbeat (by the irreplaceable Moni). In the post it is revealed that, apparently, a Utah media member feels as though John Stockton was *not* all that; and furthermore, we must look beyond stats in order to see the truth of this. Needless to say, as the manager of a Utah Jazz blog who got 99% in Stats back in undergrad, I was scandalized. Yes, statistics do not tell the whole story; however, statistics are nothing but quantitative measurements of on court production. This is not a reductionalist point of view either, the goal of the game is to win. And winning and losing is determined by a fixed ratio scale of points, which has a frame of reference. The bigger number means you win. Basketball, at it's roots, is an athletic competition where winning and losing can be measured by statistics. And thus, we take a look at one of the seemingly simplest parts of the game: passing.

Hockey assists aside, when you pass the ball to a guy who directly scores you get an assist. This is something you need to do to play team ball, and it is also something that gets recorded in the box score. The best passers love to set up their team mates. And setting up your team mates is the number one duty of the point guard. It is no surprise then that the players who are in the NBA record books for most assists in a game are all (for the most part) point guards.

What does a list of the best passers look like, in a single game setting? At their best? It's a 34 player strong group, with 136 total different, individual, games. If you think it's a point guard's duty to be a triple double threat and get rebounds you may be upset with these results. (And really, how many boards was Stockton supposed to steal from Mark Eaton and Karl Malone? Check out their All-TIME NBA rankings in Defensive Rebounds. Look it up. I'll wait.)

The Best passers, at their best:

Here is the 20+ assists in one game club, in full. This includes regular season and playoff games combined. Guess who is tops of the list.

20+ Assists Club (Reg + Playoffs)
Player Games High Score Times Date(s)
1 John Stockton 38 28 1x . Jan 15, 1991
2 Magic Johnson 21 24 2x . Nov 17, 1989 Jan 9, 1990
3 Steve Nash 9 23 1x . Apr 29, 2007
4 Kevin Johnson 7 25 1x . Apr 6, 1994
5 Deron Williams 6 21 2x . Jan 24, 2007 Apr 5, 2011
6 Rajon Rondo 5 24 1x . Oct 29, 2010
7t Scott Skiles 4 30 1x . Dec 30, 1990
7t Gary Grant 4 21 2x . Nov 29, 1989 Jan 18, 1990
9t Nick Van Exel 3 23 1x . Jan 5, 1997
9t Chris Paul 3 21 1x . Nov 6, 2009
9t Rod Strickland 3 20 3x . Apr 5, 1994 Mar 30, 1996 Feb 10, 1998
12t Nate McMillan 2 25 1x . Feb 23, 1987
12t Jason Kidd 2 25 1x . Feb 8, 1996
12t Doc Rivers 2 22 1x . May 16, 1988
12t Andre Miller 2 22 1x . Dec 15, 2001
12t Tim Hardaway 2 22 1x . Dec 16, 1994
12t Sherman Douglas 2 22 1x . Apr 3, 1994
12t Brevin Knight 2 20 2x . Nov 22, 1997 Jan 11, 2005
12t Avery Johnson 2 20 2x . Dec 10, 1997 Dec 17, 1997
12t Baron Davis 2 20 2x . Feb 11, 2009 Mar 18, 2009
21t Ramon Sessions 1 24 1x . Apr 14, 2008
21t Jamaal Tinsley 1 23 1x . Nov 22, 2001
21t Lafayette "Fat" Lever 1 23 1x . Apr, 21, 1989
21t Mookie Blaylock 1 23 1x . Mar 6, 1993
21t George McCloud 1 22 1x . Mar 26, 2001
21t Mark Jackson 1 22 1x . Jan 20, 1997
21t Chris Duhon 1 22 1x . Nov 29, 2008
21t Robert Pack 1 22 1x . Nov 23, 1996
21t Jalen Rose 1 20 1x . Apr 18, 2001
21t Mark Price 1 20 1x . Apr 4, 1990
21t Norm Nixon 1 20 1x . Dec 8, 1988
21t Stephon Marbury 1 20 1x . Apr 25, 1999
21t Darren Collison 1 20 1x . Mar 8, 2010
21t Will Bynum 1 20 1x . Mar 12, 2010
21t Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 1 20 1x . Nov 15, 1995

Looks like Jason Kidd, a remarkable player, put his focus on other things besides being a dime machine. That's cool. He has less 20+ assist games than Scott Skiles, Gary Grant, and Nick Van Exel. At his best, doing the number one task of a PG, it looks like Kidd was numerically not as great as the peers the media shoehorns him with. But that doesn't mean he's a bad guy. Hitting his wife makes him a bad guy. What makes him a good hall of fame PG is that he has one more 20+ assist game than small forward George McCloud. Bra-effing-vo.


Statistics aren't the whole story, but overlooking them is straight up ignorance:

Stockton is the king here. There are only 136 games in NBA History where a player got 20 or more assists in it. John did that 38 different times. I'll save you the trouble of looking at the stats and doing the math -- that's 27.9% of ALL THE 20+ ASSIST GAMES. EVER. At his best, doing the number one thing PGs are supposed to do -- Stockton dominated.

How much so? The next three guys (Magic at 21, Nash at 9, and KJ at 7) add up to 37 times. Here's another statistic: 38 is greater than 37. John, at his best, and doing the number one duty of a PG, has more career 20+ assist games than THE NEXT THREE GUYS ON THE LIST.

Isiah isn't even on this list. He was another great player, but as pointed out here -- in head to head Stockton was the more efficient floor general. (John: 11.8 apg, 5.2 : 1 assist to turn over ratio, 1.47 PPS -- Isiah: 7.2 apg, 2.2 : 1 assist to turn over ratio, 1.39 PPS) Thank link also shows Stockton vs. Magic, vs. Mark Price, vs. Kevin Johnson, vs. Tim Hardaway, vs. Gary Payton, and yes, vs. Jason Kidd. All of those guys were All-Stars in the same year John Stockton was one, hence the comparison.

There's more to basketball than statistics. There's more to being a PG than assists. But in terms of primacy of duties on the court -- to seek support for an argument about point guards by moving beyond passing is to skip the main course in favor of the side salad.

Rebounds for a PG is a plus, but not what your GM has him on the team for. You go to a steak house for the steak, not the salad. When looking at PGs you look first at assists, not rebounds or domestic abuse. (Kidd goes hard on and off the court)


But it's just one game, it means nothing

Well, 38 games, but true. At his best at doing what point guards are supposed to do -- John Stockton numerically was overwhelming and cannot be ignored. But that's only for 20+ assist games. There are other things in passing alone that a 'stats guy' should be looking at. I agree.

  • John Stockton is #1 all time in career regular season assists. (15,806)
  • He is #2 all time in career playoff assists as well. (1,839)
  • He is #2 all time in career regular seasons assists per game. (10.51 apg)
  • He is #2 all time in career playoff assists per game. (10.10 apg)
  • He is #1 all time in career regular season assist % (50.24%)
  • He is #1 all time in career playoff assist % (47.79%)
  • He is #4 all time in career regular season Offensive Rating (120.55)
  • He is #31 all time in career playoff Offensive Rating (115.98)
  • He is #5 all time in career regular season Offensive Win Shares (142.77)
  • He is #15 all time in career playoff Offensive Win Shares (14.27)
  • For those worried about Stockton's small sample size, he's #3 all time in career regular season games (1,504), and #14 all time in career playoff games (182)

He also has a CAREER Assist to Turn over ratio of 3.72 assists to 1.00 turn overs. So, yeah. When it comes to this whole 'passing' thing, aka the #1 duty of point guards in the concept of team basketball, John Stockton has no equal -- and only one superior, Magic Johnson the best player of all time.

There's more to a PG than just passing though. Some people like to fixate upon rebounding. Well, let's talk about setting screens. John Stockton was among the best screen setters ever, esp for his body size and weight. Setting screens is a qualitative characteristic. So I'm not just a stats guy. Stockton set better screens than Payton or Kidd. Setting screens in the halfcourt help your offense run efficiently and helps your team win. It shows versatility and toughness. Stockton helped his offense and his team win when he didn't even have the ball on offense. Clearly this point of something that isn't in the boxscore will sway any naysayers . . .

No? Okay.

Stockton was the bomb. At doing what a PG is supposed to do he did it near perfectly for a very long time with a very good record of showing up to work every day. And out of all the best passers, at their best, he was numerically the most superior. That doesn't make him the best passer. But it is a lot of evidence you'd have to willingly ignore if you wanted to knock Stockton down a few pegs on the All-TIME PG Totem Pole.


But that's just Stats . . .

You have to look beyond stats (like looking towards walking triple doubles, oh crap, those are stats too!), after all, stats don't mean much -- they just determine wins and losses. And you play basketball to win the game. I guess the one with the most stats at the end is the winner. When the clock reads 0:00 the one with the most points wins. A point guard is supposed to set up his team mates. So for point guards, I guess, at the end of your career if you have the most assists you did your job. Stockton did. And I'm doing mine by writing this post.



Jason Kidd needs 3,964 more assists to pass John. The most he has ever dished out in a season is 808 assists. That means to pass John he needs to play 4.9059 (let's just say 5) more seasons. Oh, and play 5 more seasons AT HIS ALL TIME PEAK ABILITY. When he dimed 808 in a season he was 28 and played in all 82 games. He hasn't been close in recent years. He averaged 5.5 apg last year, at the age of 38. At that age John Stockton managed 8.7 apg, and he played in all 82 of 82 games. Kidd just played in 48 of 66 this last year.

Better hope those point guard rebounds count for 2 assists a piece. Or he could just 'lead' his bigmen to do their job on the glass so he doesn't have to pick up hollow stats. Rebounds for point guards are like assist to turn over ratio for centers. If they are the basis of your argument in ranking one dude over the other then you are grasping at straws. Or hate Yinka Dare. Or both.