History of the Assist: From Pistol Pete to CP3, the greatest passers in hoops

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paul may be the league's best assist man right now, but he's holding up a legacy of great passers that's stretched for decades.

Basketball changes all the time, but good assisting remains one of the game's most fundamental tenets. If you're not moving the ball and finding the open man, expect to get whooped unless you can coax similar issues out of your opponent.

Assists equal baskets, baskets equal points, and points equal wins. It's really not that complicated, and it's why some of the greatest players in hoops history have mastered the art of the assist. From "Pistol Pete" Maravich to contemporary luminaries like Chris Paul and Steve Nash, we find legends who not only scored points, but expertly set up others.

Great dunks might get us out of our seats, but often LeBron James -- dunker extraordinaire -- makes us squeal the loudest for a sweet assist, that perfect combination of court vision, timing, execution and artistic flair. In honor of great passers like him and the power of the assist, here's a run down of some of hoops history's greatest assist men in action:

"Pistol Pete" Maravich

Yeah, Maravich could score -- that's how you get the "Pistol" moniker -- but boy, oh boy, could this man pass the rock.

There are a number of sweet scores in this video, but it also shows the kind of incredible passing ability "Pistol Pete" had. You see a lot of these moves from NBA guys today, but back in his heyday, pretty much nobody played like Maravich.

Magic Johnson

The ultimate point guard, Johnson could find pretty much any angle in the defense with his long 6'8 frame. His career average of 11.2 assists per game stands head and shoulders above everyone else, and his incredible accolades -- five titles, three MVPs, first-team All-NBA nine times -- are a testament to how he transformed the Lakers' offense.

You just couldn't really stop Magic.

John Stockton

Magic was so good at everything, you always thought of the assists as part of this greater, magnificent package, but with Stockton, assists were the name of the game. Partnered with Karl Malone, Stockton turned into one of basketball's greatest set-up men, leading the league in APG for nine straight seasons.

Thanks to an incredible 10-year span that saw Stockton average 12.8 assists per game, he's the all-time NBA assists leader, and it's not particularly close. Nearly 4,000 assists separate Stockton from the No. 2 guy, Jason Kidd, and there's not a single active player in spitting distance. It's Stockton's record, and will be for a long time.

Jason Kidd

Basketball got a tad ugly in the early 2000s, but Jason Kidd's passing touch was one of the bright spots in an otherwise underwhelming era. Twice leading the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals despite playing with middling teammates, his late-career evolution allowed him to finally grab a ring with the Mavericks before bowing out.

Now the coach of the Nets, a reflection of how others in the league view his basketball mind and leadership skills, Kidd is No. 2 all-time in career assists behind Stockton and remains a gold standard at the point guard position. Taking guys like Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson to the NBA Finals, that deserves you a prize.

Steve Nash

One of the key figures in steering the league towards its current, fast-flowing nature, Nash's work with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s was something to behold. The multiple MVP awards reflect the kind of recognition he got, but it's difficult to argue that he didn't deserve it.

Arguably the greatest jump shooter in NBA history, Nash used that weapon to put pressure on defenses and open up angles for passes to guys like Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. It was a devastating offense that Nash and Mike D'Antoni concocted, and we'll surely never forget Seven Seconds or Less.

Chris Paul

The premier assister in the NBA right now, Paul's arrival in Los Angeles quickly transformed the Clippers into a marquee franchise. He's one of the game's best players and most popular personalities, a dominant two-way player who can win games single-handedly. We've seen him do it before.

Only two players have ever averaged double-digit assists per game over an entire career (Magic and Stockton), but at 9.9 assists per contest, CP3 is in striking distance. Currently averaging a league-high 11.2 assists per game in 2013-14, he's on pace to get there by the end of the season.


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