Power Ranking the NBA's Best Passing Big Men
Typically, NBA players cross their fingers and hope for the best when their teammates manning the paint attempt to make tough passes. Not with these 10 big men, though.
All of these bigs are quite adept with the ball in their hands and thrive when it comes to setting up their teammates and passing out of double-teams. Though each stands far too tall to line up as a guard, all 10 of them display guard-like tendencies when distributing the rock.
There's no need for holding your breath when these guys are passing the ball.
10. Kevin Love
Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Assists Per Game: 2.0
Assist Percentage: 10.0
Assist Per Bad Pass: 2.7
Passing Rating: 1.8
Kevin Love isn't a sensational passer out of the blocks or in the half-court set. He's serviceable, but he isn't in the same tier as the remaining nine players.
However, Love beat out players like Marcus Camby (consider him an honorable mention because of his declining role in the NBA) because of his outlet passing, which happens to be one of the most underrated skills in basketball.
Love is terrific at starting fast breaks with his pinpoint accuracy on heaves downcourt. Given how often he pulls down defensive rebounds, this happens quite a bit.
9. Greg Monroe
Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Detroit Pistons
Assists Per Game: 2.3
Assist Percentage: 14.0
Assist Per Bad Pass: 2.7
Passing Rating: 3.3
Greg Monroe is still developing his all-around basketball game—specifically his defensive play—but his passing skills are already in the league's upper echelon. The former Georgetown Hoya is the latest in a long line of great passing big men to play his collegiate ball in the nation's capital.
Monroe stands out in particular when passing out of double-teams. When an extra defender swarms him, Monroe is fully capable of finding the open man no matter his positioning on the court.
Though he is sometimes a bit too aggressive with his passing, Monroe is only going to get better as the young Pistons team improves as a unit.
8. Al Horford
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Assists Per Game: 2.2
Assist Percentage: 11.7
Assist Per Bad Pass: 3.1
Passing Rating: 3.6
Al Horford can do it all when he's healthy. Unfortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, the former Florida Gator tore his pectoral muscle early on last season and didn't return until the playoffs.
Included in "it all" are Horford's passing skills.
Horford can be a power player or a finesse guy, and his ball skills stand out. The natural power forward can break through a full-court press and dish the ball out to his teammates with relative ease.
No matter where he is on the court, his passing is always a threat.
7. Joakim Noah
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Team: Chicago Bulls
Assists Per Game: 2.5
Assist Percentage: 12.7
Assist Per Bad Pass: 4.0
Passing Rating: 4.4
Joakim Noah doesn't generate too many assists per game for the Chicago Bulls, but he does rack up the hockey assists and passes effectively out of the post. A defensive ace with limited scoring chops, Noah has to thrive in this area to make up for his shooting deficiencies.
He's one of the truly elite centers when it comes to passing, and it's now beginning to become more and more clear why his Florida Gators were so dominant. He and Al Horford were a sensational passing duo, and that type of play often goes overlooked.
Noah will have to take an even bigger role in the Chicago offense with Derrick Rose out for the foreseeable future.
6. Marc Gasol
Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Assists Per Game: 3.1
Assist Percentage: 14.1
Assist Per Bad Pass: 4.2
Passing Rating: 4.8
Marc Gasol is the first Gasol in these rankings, but rest assured that he won't be the last.
The seven-footer has a terrific handle on the ball, and his court vision is sensational for a player who towers above all the other big men on the court. That said, this is about as high as Marc will ever rise in these rankings.
Gasol has been a bit too unselfish for the Memphis Grizzlies. He knows that he can pass, and he utilizes that skill too often. Sometimes, it's in the team's best interest if he decides to take over on offense.
With a fully healthy Zach Randolph—who was one of the first players left off these rankings—beside him, Gasol is prepared to form a sensational one-two punch of passing down low.
5. Kevin Garnett
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Team: Boston Celtics
Assists Per Game: 2.9
Assist Percentage: 17.9
Assist Per Bad Pass: 3.4
Passing Rating: 4.9
If these rankings were based on the entirety of these 10 players' careers, Kevin Garnett would be in the No. 1 spot, and it wouldn't even be close. KG stands out as one of the best passing big men not just in the modern era, but of all time.
In his heyday with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the power forward managed to average six assists per game for an entire season, and it's not like he was playing point-forward.
Garnett is playing further away from the basket more than he used to, where he is not as capable of capitalizing on mismatches, but his passing skills remain at a very high level.
4. Josh Smith
Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Assists Per Game: 3.9
Assist Percentage: 20.6
Assist Per Bad Pass: 2.6
Passing Rating: 4.7
Josh Smith is one of the most versatile players in all of basketball, recognized as a premier "stat sheet stuffer" thanks to his ability to contribute in every single category.
The element of Smoove's game that gets criticized the most is his tendency to shoot from the perimeter instead of utilizing his mind-blowing athleticism to get to the hoop.
In a lot of ways, he seems to think of himself as a shooting guard. And when it comes to Smith's passing, he certainly posseses SG-esque skills.
Fear not, Smoove, this is one area you will not be snubbed in.
3. Boris Diaw
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Team: San Antonio Spurs
Assists Per Game: 3.6
Assist Percentage: 23.8
Assist Per Bad Pass: 3.4 with Charlotte Bobcats, 4.3 with San Antonio Spurs
Passing Rating: 7.9 with Charlotte Bobcats, 5.4 with San Antonio Spurs
That 7.9 passing rating that Boris Diaw earned during his time with the Charlotte Bobcats is easily the highest mark you'll find in these ratings. It's particularly impressive that he earned that mark while playing with the worst team in the league.
Diaw is one of the best point-forwards in the NBA, although he isn't on the same level of LeBron James, who wasn't considered enough of a big man to qualify for these rankings. If the 30-year-old Frenchman can stay in shape, his guard-like ball skills make him a pesky defender for bigs that are careless with the ball.
Besides his defensive play, passing is the primary calling card for Diaw. If Gregg Popovich is using him in the rotation, you know he's doing it well.
2. Spencer Hawes
Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
Assists Per Game: 2.6
Assist Percentage: 17.6
Assist Per Bad Pass: 4.5
Passing Rating: 6.3
I did not expect to place Spencer Hawes in the No. 2 spot. In fact, he was a fringe contender for a spot in the rankings when I started the research process. Now, I'm convinced.
ESPN's John Hollinger feels the same way: "...his development as a playmaker was real and notable. Hawes ranked fourth among centers in assist ratio and second in pure point rating."
In 37 games for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2012-13 campaign, Hawes only made 22 passes that resulted in turnovers, according to 82games.com. Given how often he had the ball in his hands on the perimeter, this should be considered extremely impressive.
1. Pau Gasol
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Assists Per Game: 3.7
Assist Percentage: 17.3
Assist Per Bad Pass: 4.1
Passing Rating: 5.0
Mommy and Daddy Gasol sure did a good job teaching their sons how to share. As good as Marc Gasol might be at distributing the rock, Pau Gasol is significantly better.
Pau has deservedly earned his reputation as one of the NBA's best passers, even though he's a seven-footer and lines up at power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers. It's not uncommon to see the Spaniard plant himself outside the paint and let his teammates cut around him while he makes a play.
The Lakers are planning on showcasing the Princeton offense during the 2012-13 campaign, and that style of play requires a great-passing big man. They wouldn't even be attempting to use that offense if Gasol weren't on the roster.