Power Ranking the NBA's 8 Flashiest Open-Court Passers

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2012

Power Ranking the NBA's 8 Flashiest Open-Court Passers

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    The NBA is at its most exciting when the premier players are running the fast break and dishing out flashy open court passes.

    Only in the NBA will you see such beauty.

    Slam dunks have long been the staple of excitement in the NBA. Yet, the pass is arguably the greatest aspect of the game.

    There are only so many dunks people can pull off before it becomes impossible to innovate. Passing has no limits. Every Boston Celtics game features Rajon Rondo stringing some sort of crazy pass you've never seen before to a wide-open teammate.

    When players are pushing the pace and passing gems in the open court, the excitement of the NBA reaches a whole new level.

    The NBA is currently enjoying a golden age. The crop of premier players are the best in the last 20 years. Not since the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird days have there been this many spectacular open-court passers. 

    Here are some of the best.

8. Deron Williams

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    Doesn't the big story of the 2012-13 NBA season seem more like the return of Deron Williams than the return of the Nets franchise? If Williams signed with the Dallas Mavericks, the Brooklyn Nets' storyline would be minuscule. 

    Williams has largely been absent from public attention since getting shipped to New Jersey in 2011. He is still one of the NBA's premier point guards.

    Assuming the Nets are a decent team, Williams will once again be in the spotlight.

    When you play for a team that nobody cares about, it's easy to get lost in the fold. Unless you are a die-hard Nets fan or a serious basketball junkie, there's a good chance you haven't watched Williams play on a regular basis in over a year-and-a-half.

    The Nets were rarely on television last season. When they were in the news, the focus was usually on their courtship of Williams and Dwight Howard, not on game action.  

    That's going to change this season. Instead of being a doormat, like the Nets have been the past few seasons, they're poised for playoff contention.

    Their roster is actually pretty deep. Williams is an elite-level point guard, and he's now surrounded by playmakers for the first time since his days in Utah.  

    Watch the highlight above one more time if you haven't already done so. Williams makes passes like this one on a nightly basis.

    He may not be the first player that comes to mind when you think "flashy passer", but he is great at it. Williams is a true floor general, and his no-look passes are some of the best you'll ever see. 

    2012-13 is going to be a huge coming out party for Williams. There was a time when he was arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Getting traded to New Jersey took him out of the discussion.

    Now that the Nets are revamped and in Brooklyn, get used to a significant amount of Williams highlights. 

7. Ricky Rubio

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    The case against Ricky Rubio for not being higher on the list is his small sample size of NBA action.

    We know Rubio's a great passer, but will he be able to continue his passing success after he returns from his ACL injury? He likely will, but until he does, he can't be any higher. 

    Still, No. 7 for a rookie who played in only 41 games last season is incredible. The easy comparison for Rubio’s game is a poor man's "Pistol" Pete Maravich. Maravich's passes used to look like they were on a string.

    Rubio has displayed some of the same passing ability, but the rest of his offensive game is still light years from Maravich's.

    A better player comparison would be a young Jason Williams.

    Rubio actually has the same coach as Williams did, Rick Adelman. Adelman is one of the best things Rubio has going for him. He's always been one of the NBA's best coaches, and now he has the chance to help mold Rubio's game. 

    If Kevin Love and Rubio are both able to return to full strength, you will have to consider the Minnesota Timberwolves one of the most dangerous teams in the Western Conference.

    The Wolves picked up some players in the offseason who will mix nicely with Rubio's flashy passing. It's only a matter of time until we're due for an insane Rubio-Chase Budinger full-court alley-oop. 

6. Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook isn't known for his passing, but that doesn't mean he's not great at it. 

    It's true that sometimes Westbrook gets into these zones where it's either his way or the highway. However, the amount of remarkable passes Westbrook makes in the open court is considerably understated.

    Westbrook is like a miniature LeBron James in the open court. He can score at will, but he's also great at pushing the ball down and acting like he's going to go for it, only to throw a cross-court bounce pass or half-court lob at the last second.

    You can't guard it if you are the opposing team. This is why committing turnovers against the Oklahoma City Thunder is practically a death sentence. 

    Westbrook won't receive praise for the dynamic passes he delivers to his Thunder teammates in the open court. Anything good that happens with the Thunder tends to get credited towards Durant.

    Just take notice of Westbrook's fast-break dimes the next time you find yourself watching a Thunder game. They're up there with some of the best passes in the NBA. 

5. Dwyane Wade

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    The Miami Heat's second fiddle, Dwyane Wade, is quietly one of the best open-court passers in the NBA.

    Yes, playing alongside LeBron James helps, but Wade's fast-break peripherals are incredible. 

    Chemistry is such an important aspect of successful fast-break basketball. If a player doesn't know his teammates' tendencies, he can throw the flashiest passes and they won't do squat.

    Instead, those passes will likely lead to turnovers. 

    Wade's and James' chemistry is unbelievable for two players of their stature. Each one sacrifices making their own highlights in order to make his teammate look good.

    The highlight above is an example of this. Is there any doubt Wade could have taken Mike Bibby off the dribble during the fast break? No question Wade could have, but instead he went the flashy route in order to let James get his.  

    Beautiful passing is an art form that the Heat have almost mastered. Another year of playing together will only make the Wade and James combination more deadly.

    The full-court football passes and the half-court lobs Wade throws to James are going nowhere. You may not like the Heat, but you have to admit they do dish out some extremely exciting open-court passes. 

4. Steve Nash

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    It doesn't matter how old Steve Nash is. He's still going to pass the rock like it's circa 2005.

    The guy is like an Acura car. It doesn't matter how old he is, he's always going to get the job done. 

    Like most of the guys on this list, Nash's court awareness is what separates him from the average flashy passers in the NBA.

    Back when the Phoenix Suns were coached by Mike D'Antoni, Nash was the best passing point guard in the NBA. The Suns' declining roster in the past two seasons cut into the amount of open-court gems Nash threw, but now that he's a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, the number of pass highlights could go through the roof.

    You think Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are impressive with their acrobatic lobs? Wait until the first Nash-to-Dwight Howard alley-oop in the regular season.

    Nash has never played with a big man as talented as Howard. Amar'e Stoudemire in his prime was excellent, but he wasn't nearly as physical or as much of a presence as Howard.  

    As long as Kobe Bryant doesn't sink the Nash ship, the amount of colorful passes you will see Nash throw in a Lakers' uniform will be high.

    The Lakers won't run like Nash's old Suns used to, but they will still move better than they have in recent seasons. 

3. LeBron James

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    LeBron James can do it all.

    He defends at an All-NBA level, rebounds like an animal and can score inside and out. One aspect of James' game that is under-appreciated is his passing skills. 

    This list of flashy passers is largely made up of guards. The reason is obvious—point guards and shooting guards have the ball in their hands on nearly all fast breaks.

    When it comes to flashy open-court passes, it's usually the point guard who's doing the passing, because he's the one leading the break.

    James is the exception. Over the past year, James has adopted a new position that really only he and Kevin Durant can play. He's a forward, yet at the same time, he has the duties of a point guard.

    You can try to compare it to the style Magic Johnson played, but he was a point guard. Johnson was supposed to keep his teammates involved. 

    When James is moving the ball and getting his teammates involved, it makes the game easier for him. All of a sudden his options are limitless.

    When James finally gets a chance to make a play in the open court, it's usually game over for the other team. James' open-court awareness is legendary, and he regularly dishes jaw-dropping passes a man his size should not be able to throw. 

    Playing alongside Dwyane Wade helps, but in terms of the total package, James is the best open-court player in the NBA. He's a full-steam locomotive that can score and pass at will.

    And unlike most stars, James genuinely seems to enjoy throwing beautiful passes to teammates. 

    A person as large and strong as James should not be able to throw a full-court bounce pass with perfect accuracy. James makes passes like the one in this highlight every game.

    It's no wonder he's going to be one of the best players in our lifetime. 

2. Chris Paul

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    Chris Paul may be second on this list, but you could make the case that he deserves the No. 1 spot.

    Paul is the definition of a floor general. He has his teammates trained to always look for the pass when you would least expect it. 

    Since getting traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, the amount of highlights featuring Paul and Blake Griffin is unfathomable. Every Clippers' game, it seems, there's an alley-oop that will make Sportcenter's Top 10.

    For a player like Paul, someone who cares more about his teammates than himself, the Clippers are a great fit. He plays with young guns who bust their butt on a nightly basis and older veterans who have been in every situation imaginable.

    If only the Clippers had a new coach and a new owner.

    In 2012-13 season it will be interesting to see how Paul handles the normal regular season. Last season, Paul tended to play in cruise control until the fourth quarter of games. You can't blame him. The condensed schedule was hell for Paul's knees.

    He could have played all-out every minute of the game, but the wear and tear would have eventually caught up with him. Realizing his importance to the team, Paul chose to get his teammates involved early, then took over when it mattered.

    The normal schedule will allow Paul to return to his New Orleans Hornets style of play.

    There's a good chance Paul will enjoy his best season in 2012-13. Another year playing alongside Griffin and company will do wonders for their on-court chemistry. 

1. Rajon Rondo

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    Rajon Rondo is a basketball magician.

    Other than LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, there's arguably no player in the NBA who does things that make you lean back and say "wow" as often as Rondo. 

    Rondo is literally a one-man fast break. As he says, he's at his best when he's in transition.

    It's almost as if Rondo has spider-man reflexes. When Rondo is pushing the ball down the court at full speed, it's impossible to decipher what he's going to do next. The circus passes he throws with ease are second nature to him.

    Rondo is the only point guard in the NBA capable of throwing the spectacular passes he does. His wingspan is the length of a person who should be 6' 9".

    To go along with his ridiculous wingspan, Rondo also has abnormally-sized hands. As stated on ESPN's Sports Science, Rondo's hands are actually bigger than James' hands.

    Chris Webber was another player like Rondo who had abnormally large hands. Webber's huge hands allowed him to palm the ball with ease.

    Being able to grip around the basketball lets you physically throw passes most players can't. You have more control over the type of bounces you can throw, including curve passes and one-handed bounce passes. 

    Webber was big man, so his hands were not as much of an anomaly as Rondo's. Rondo may not be a great shooter, but he's physically the ideal point guard.

    In the open-court, there's truly no player in the league who can throw crisp dimes on the money like Rondo. He has lightning speed, long arms and hands big enough to throw a curve ball with a basketball. What more could you ask for