It's hard to understate the importance of a good passer in basketball.
Someone who has the ability to distribute and manage the game from the first quarter to the fourth quarter and the ones who are never in a corner or never stop because their eyes are always moving, always looking for that open set of hands. Those are the good ones.
But the great ones do more.
The great ones make passes we could only dream about and make plays we couldn't even believe, even though we just saw them. The great ones make everyone around them great too.
Here, then, are 15 of the best and most creative passers in the game today.
Devin Harris might be one of the better players that doesn't get a lot of press.
He's a slasher type who, when he drives, opens up his teammates and allows for a lot of options to create or drive. His career assist averages are a little low, but that could be due to a system in Dallas in which he played off the ball many times and the offense ran through Dirk Nowitzki.
Assist numbers in Dallas: 2.2, 3.2, 3.7, 5.3
Assist numbers in New Jersey: 6.5, 6.9, 6.6, 6.6
He's a nice player when he's healthy. Unfortunately, that's been a problem for him lately.
Kobe's been around the league so long it's hard to think about anything else but the scoring. And with good reason. There have been so many slams, unbelievable shots and buzzer-beating game-winners that you lose count.
But lost in all of that is that, when he's been able to get his teammates involved in the game, he's a good passer. He's averaged close to five assists a game for his career, including averaging six assists a game in 2004-05.
It's no surprise that his assist numbers have gone up as his career's gone on and as he's matured. He's still the guy and he's still the one who'll take the last shot of the game, but he's done better to make sure his teammates stay involved as well.
Jameer Nelson is part of the rising trend in the NBA—point guards who can score and distribute.
Nelson is more of a distributor than a scorer, though he has shown he can score when he has to. But his true value to the Magic is as a passer who can get the stars like Dwight Howard and Vince Carter involved in a game. The Magic just seem to run smoother and better as a team when he's on the floor and he's healthy, which has been a problem.
But it's no secret that the more he's played, the better the Magic are. His assists have been trending upward ever since he entered the league, and this season, he's averaging a career-best 7.1 assists per game so far.
Parker's game is more of an attacking style than a pure distribution style. Many times he'll look to penetrate and drive towards the basket before looking for a forward in the paint. He's more apt to look to finish a play sometimes, than pass it off if he can.
But he's been able to make some fantastic plays passing the ball, usually with Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan at the other end. Like Nelson, he's having a career year assist-wise, although he has had better assist years than Nelson. If it holds, it would be the third time in his career he averaged more than six assists a game.
Like Parker, he has tendencies to be more of a scorer than a passer some nights. But since he came into the league, Westbrook has been able to find that right balance of scoring and passing. He averaged eight assists last year and he's averaging 8.6 assists this year, along with averaging close to 25 points a night.
He's a perfect fit for the young Thunder, as many times you'll find him throwing alley-oops to Kevin Durant or leading fast breaks heading the other way. His quickness and athleticism, plus the amount of mustard he can put on his passes, is remarkable.
He can be reckless with the ball, however, as only Rajon Rondo and LeBron James average more turnovers than Westbrook.
What can be said about a kid averaging nine assists a game in his rookie year?
Wall's speed makes it very easy to find the open man. He's only played 11 games but it looks like he's more than caught up to the speed of the NBA. With him, the Wizards have become a little more of a running team and it's easy to see why. He's already become good at lobbing the alley-oop passes for his big men.
Wall will have tough nights as he continues to learn during his rookie year. But some of the plays he's making with his vision and his speed are already the skills of a veteran.
Calderon is another guard who uses his vision well to set up his teammates, as well as having a good sense of timing to know where his teammates are and where they will be. The pass he makes here to Sonny Weems is not only right on the money, but also looks almost easy without effort.
Another thing to like about Calderon is that he protects the basketball. He's averaged close to seven assists a game for his career while averaging fewer than two turnovers a game. In fact, since he's been in the league, he's averaged more than two turnovers a game only once.
Here is another guard blessed with speed and quickness who can beat most players, leaving his teammates open for opportunities. Like some on this list, he's more known as a scorer since he has more scoring prowess.
But his vision on plays like this is fantastic. As soon as he touched the ball, he looked up and fired a strike down-court to Casspi for the easy bucket.
His numbers are down this year, because he's been banged up and is currently injured. But he's still hovering around six assists a game (5.7 to be exact) and doing so with not a lot of help around him either. He has to pick up the scoring slack, but he's shown he can distribute as well.
LeBron James has always been a unique physical specimen in that he has the body of a forward, yet many times takes the responsibilities of a point guard or a distributor. With all the star power in Miami and no true PG, he's had to, once again, take on the responsibility of running the offense through him.
His ability to drive and dish, especially with his size and the amount of focus he receives from defenses, makes his passing ability and the passes he can make even more amazing. He's in the top-10 in assists yet again and he's only had one season when he's averaged fewer than six assists a game.
Maybe the most exciting player in the league, Derrick Rose can do it all. He can break ankles with crossovers. He can get elevation and throw down dunks. He can hit open shots.
And he can pass.
He's aggressive and he likes to push the floor and anticipate where his teammates will be. He passes best on the open floor, where he can run and be creative and look for open men. Rose is ninth in the league in assists this season and he is averaging at least six a game in all three of his pro seasons.
There are some guys who just make it look so easy.
Watching Deron Williams play is such an experience, because there's just so much talent that he makes things look easy. This was from a 16-assist game in Toronto last year and it doesn't look like he's breaking a sweat.
He moves at a different speed than everyone else when he's on the floor, and the degree of difficulty on some of his passes is enormous. Yet he just does them like it's commonplace. He has three straight seasons of 10-plus assists a night, four seasons of at least nine assists a game. And when he's not passing up a storm, he can knock down a shot.
Rondo's game might not be pretty at times. Controlled chaos might be the best way to describe his game.
But it doesn't mean it's not effective.
He outworks guys every minute he's on the floor and his speed creates opportunities for his teammates off the ball. He can distribute to anyone and everyone, and he's very good at making sure he finds the right person most of the time.
His turnovers are still high, but a 24-assist night is hard to ignore.
Just think, three years ago he was the weak link on the Celtics.
The king of the behind-the-back pass.
Very few can do it better than Kidd, who's still going strong in Dallas. Kidd made a career of making the most acrobatic passes you will ever see and maybe no more so than in New Jersey. Kidd walked into a franchise that was a laughingstock and not only made it relevant, he made it back-to-back Eastern Conference champions.
He's still extremely dangerous when he penetrates and he's still one of the best in the open floor when he can run and hit cutting teammates for alley-oops and quick dunks.
Simply, he's one of the best.
That video just sums up Chris Paul.
Every aspect of his game comes through in that video. The killer crossover, the speed to get around three Heat defenders and the ability to finish it off with the spectacular pass for the dunk.
He has five straight seasons of seven-or-more assists per game and three straight seasons of 10-plus assists per game. He does it and does it well, combining all the tools needed to be a great passer while still averaging close to 20 points.
Teams will be fighting each other off to sign him very soon.
How does he do it?
The punishment he takes, the minutes he plays, his age, yet the pride of British Columbia still makes plays like that.
He's currently fourth in the league in assists and he is having another strong year despite an ever-changing roster in Phoenix. Nash was somewhat hidden in Dallas, as Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki received more of the press. But Nash became a star when he moved to Arizona.
He's averaged double-digits in assists every year but one with the Suns, and he's been able to do it as teams tried to make the Suns a half-court team.
And he's supposed to be slowing down.