How About a Little Love for the Assist?

02/10/2011 12:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Larry Strauss Veteran high school teacher and basketball coach; author, 'Students First and Other Lies'

Every season, thousands of high school basketball coaches preach teamwork--the basic principles of moving the ball and moving without the ball--while players, along with their friends and families and the college recruiting machine, keep track of how many points they score.

It's only natural in a world in which success so often has a numeric value attached. Drop a cool twenty-five or thirty points--get your props.

Assists and rebounds garner some love, especially when they add up to the double-double or--extremely elusive in a 32 minute high school game--the triple-double. But the assist itself--delivering the ball to the right spot, drawing and dishing, reading the defense, diagnosing that fleeting sliver of daylight and threading a needle through it--does not get all the attention it deserves.

I tell my players--as I'm sure do many other coaches--that when a pass leads directly to a basket, those points are the product of both players. That is neither a new nor in any way controversial idea, which is why it is time to rethink how we measure the leading scorers in the game of basketball. If a player makes a pass that leads to a basket, he or she too should be credited with those points. Give generous and talented passers the statistical love they have always deserved--encourage teamwork by rewarding it.

No reason to limit it to high school. College basketball and the NBA can be ambassadors of unselfish basketball.

Right now, the NBA's scoring leader, Kevin Durant, is averaging an impressive 29 points per game. LeBron James is the league's second leading scorer with 26.9. Rounding out the top ten are Amaré Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, and Kevin Martin. But let's say we credited the points of an assist--would those still be the league's ten leading scorers? (For the purposes of this comparison I will credit each assist with two points--though, of course, some assists lead to 3 point field goals).

Were we to include points from assists, Kevin Durant would fall from #1 (29 points per game) to #10 (34.6 total scoring)--and, no knock on KD--a new and truer hierarchy of offensive prowess would emerge.

#1 leading scorers: LeBron James and Derrick Rose (41 points, total scoring).

The rest of the total scoring top ten:

#3 Deron Williams (40.8)
#4 Russell Westbrook (39.7)
#5 Steve Nash (38.9)
#6 Chris Paul (36.3)
#7 Monta Ellis (36.2)
#8 Rajon Rondo (35.7)
#9 Kobe Bryant (35.4)

Emphasizing teamwork at that level will help high school coaches everywhere stress the importance of spreading the ball around and it might, ultimately, inspire us all (at least basketball fans) to be slightly more generous in our own lives.

Well, maybe not. But elevating unselfishness might at least be a cool little message for young people.