The Passing Interest
Thunderous dunks and implausible three point assassins keep NBA Twitter abuzz but passing is my favorite part of basketball. The first basketball team that I really and truly loved was the 1999-2000 Sacramento Kings because it was comprised of brilliant passers up and down the roster. Precocious and mercurial lead guard Jason Williams inspired an all-out assault on the preconceptions of what passing could look like in the modern NBA.
This Kings team was basketball at its most unstuck; iso-ball was never in the playbook and passing became infectious. The current Golden State Warriors dynasty is fueled by elite perimeter shooting and puts on a fine show but those early aughts Kings teams lit up every arena with unselfish aplomb.
Chris Paul may be the Point God of the past 15 years and top every efficiency metric but he rarely inspires unabashed joy; nay, watching CP3 dissect a defense is more akin to anesthesia. He probes and shifts, manipulating the opposition to be out of position, a professor schooling a rapt auditorium of mouth agape freshmen.
Thankfully, we have a new crop of deft dime droppers to enjoy in 2019. Nikola Jokic, Luka Dončić and Trae Young are the next generation of assist happy highlight makers-and only one is a true point guard.
Jokic dealt a 15 assist triple-double this season and is joined in the Top-10 for assists per game by the Young Atlanta Hawk. Jokic is a point-center conducting a symphony of cuts and backscreens from the free-throw line. When a passing lane isn’t open, he goes to work with bully ball jump hooks and can step out to three-point range.
Trae Young and Luka Dončić will forever be linked by the draft day trade in which they swapped jerseys, but both are having outstanding rookie campaigns passing the rock. Both players have become the unquestioned lead distributors for their respective squads.
Dončić appears to be unanimous rookie of the year favorite and may even be voted an All-Star starter. His nightly displays of elite level passing and shot-making have kept the Mavericks competitive and excited about the future. Watching Dončić drain step-back threes and eviscerate a defense as a 19 year old is like witnessing the apotheosis of a demi-god; Halleluka, indeed. He is averaging 5 assists per game while playing 82% of the time as a power forward, according to basketball-reference.com. 19 year-old power forwards just don’t hand orchestrate the offense and hand out 5 assists per game; Luka is transcendent.
Trae Young is earning Eastern Conference rookie of the month honors on a dreadful Hawks team. They are losing enough to earn a high lottery pick but giving Young the freedom to grow as a professional. His defense is atrocious, his shooting has yet to come around but the passing is elite. Dimes between defenders legs are happening routinely, imagine if he actually had a professional basketball team assembled around him.
This group of doesn’t seem to be hunting highlights, they are just playing a beautiful brand of basketball. None of Young, Dončić or Jokic are elite athletes but the next level passing and otherworldly basketball IQ make them extremely successful early in their careers. Any basketball fan with an eye for aesthetics or who is an aficionado of assists should be thrilled at watching these wunderkinds wow the world for the next decade.