During their last championship run in 2014, the San Antonio Spurs lived by the motto of “Good to great” — a concept that you give up a good shot in order to get a great shot for a teammate — and even had the words engraved in their championship rings. It is a philosophy of unselfishness and teamwork that could be seen on the court every night with a beautiful display of passing, cutting, more passing and eventually an open layup, dunk or jump shot.
That season the Spurs led the league in assists at 24.9 per game, and also led the league in passes made (330.7 per game) and secondary assists (4.2 per game) — a stat that debuted thanks to the launch of player tracking data across the NBA that same season.
- The assist is the pass that leads directly to the basket
- The secondary assist is the pass that leads directly to the pass that leads directly to the basket
In the video below, watch as the ball never stops moving as it is passed from player to player like a game of hot potato until finally a Spurs player ends up with a wide-open shot. The player that made the final pass to the shooter gets the assist, but the player that made the previous pass to the assister gets the secondary assist.
While Steve Kerr was not a player on that 2014 Spurs championship team, he was part of their title teams in 1999 and 2003. After spending five seasons and winning three championships with the Chicago Bulls under Phil Jackson (1996-98), Kerr spent four seasons under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio as he gleaned knowledge from two of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
Kerr took the Golden State Warriors’ coaching job prior to the 2014-15 season. Some of the same ball-and player-movement concepts San Antonio had run to perfection with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in 2013-14 could be seen in Oakland with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
En route to their first championship in 40 years, the Warriors led the league in assists per game (27.4) and finished sixth in secondary assists (3.4) as the Spurs held on to their spot atop that leaderboard in 2014-15. The Warriors would go on to lead the league in assists every season since with only one exception (2019-20, when the team was ravaged by injuries and finished 15-50). They have led the league in secondary assists five times during that run and never finished lower than fourth since 2014-15.
|SEASON||AST PER GAME (RANK)||SECONDARY AST (RANK)|
|2014-15||27.4 (1st)||3.4 (6th)|
|2015-16||28.9 (1st)||4.1 (1st)|
|2016-17||30.4 (1st)||4.6 (1st)|
|2017-18||29.3 (1st)||4.7 (1st)|
|2018-19||29.4 (1st)||3.9 (2nd)|
|2019-20||25.6 (9th)||3.5 (4th)|
|2020-21||27.7 (1st)||4.5 (1st)|
|2021-22||27.7 (1st)||4.8 (1st)|
Through games played on Tuesday, Jan. 18, Stephen Curry ranks 23rd in assists per game (6.0) but leads the league in secondary assists with 53 on the season. It is Draymond Green that leads the Warriors in traditional assists — he ranks 10th in the NBA at 7.4 per game. How do you lead the league in assists as a team when your top playmaker ranks 10th in the league individually? Everybody passes. The Warriors have a league-high 10 players that average more than 1.5 assists per game while appearing in at least 20 games. Golden State’s league-high 69.4% assist percentage is nearly four percentage points higher than second-ranked Denver.
Below is one of Curry’s 53 secondary assists. He’s double-teamed on the baseline, whips a pass over his head to Andre Iguodala in the lane, who could go up for a layup, but as a defender rotates toward him, Iguodala hits an around-the-back pass to an open Otto Porter in the lane for the layup. Basket: Porter. Assist: Iguodala. Secondary Assist: Curry.
The ball movement by the Warriors…😍pic.twitter.com/9UWJxz5bAA
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) December 21, 2021
What makes the Warriors special is that everybody is in on the scheme. Here’s a clip with Curry watching from the sidelines as the ball whips around the court before Damion Lee knocks down the open 3-pointer while Curry celebrates.
Steph's reaction to the Warriors' ball movement 😂🔥 pic.twitter.com/aU84fuWEyg
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 15, 2021
Closer look a secondary assists across NBA
The Dallas Mavericks rank seventh in secondary assists at 3.5 per game. Take a look at this play as the camera tries to keep up with the ball. Jalen Brunson initiates the action with a dribble hand off to Reggie Bullock on the right wing. Five passes later, Brunson gets the ball back from Bullock in the corner for the open right corner 3-pointer.
The @dallasmavs ball movement to set up Jalen Brunson's corner triple is the AT&T Teamwork Play of the week! pic.twitter.com/nDn1RerRKA
— NBA (@NBA) January 19, 2022
The Chicago Bulls (4.0) and Denver Nuggets (3.9) rank third and fourth, respectively, in secondary assists and each have two players ranked among the top 15 individually.
For Chicago, it is interesting to see how similar the numbers are across the board for DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine as the two have complemented each so well in their first season at teammates with the East-leading Bulls. DeRozan leads the Bulls in scoring at 25.6 ppg while adding 5.0 rpg and 4.8 apg with 35 secondary assists, while shooting 48.6% on 30.0% usage. LaVine is second on the team in scoring (24.9 ppg) while posting 4.8 rpg, 4.2 apg with 36 secondary assists on 49.1% shooting on 29.4% usage.
For Denver, there is a closer resemblance to Golden State with their big man, reigning Kia MVP Nikola Jokic, as the team’s top playmaker (7.4 apg, 11th in NBA), while Monte Morris leads the team in secondary assists (40, 6th in NBA) while ranking fourth on his own team in assists per game (4.0).
Then there is the trio of Chris Paul, Trae Young and Darius Garland — who rank in the top seven in both traditional assists and secondary assists. Damian Lillard is the only other player to even rank in the top 15 in both categories.
Paul ranks second in the league in traditional assists (his 10.0 apg is on pace for his highest average since the 2015-16 season in LA) and fifth in secondary assists (42). Paul has the highest combined total of traditional assists and secondary assists (461), followed by James Harden (415), Young (403), Russell Westbrook (373), Dejounte Murray (367) and Darius Garland (356).
During Game 2 of last year’s Finals, Paul and the Suns had an incredible 10-pass sequence against a rotating Bucks defense that resulted in an and-one layup for Deandre Atyon. Basket: Ayton. Assist: Mikal Bridges. Secondary Assist: Jae Crowder.
The @Suns added to their best ball movement of the season with a beautiful 10-pass sequence in the Game 2 W! #ThatsGame
PHX will look to build on their 2-0 lead in #NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV Game 3 Sunday night at 8pm/et on ABC. pic.twitter.com/XxlmAegy7W
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2021
After the game, Paul echoed the same philosophy that those 2014 Spurs etched into their championship rings: Good to great.
"We pass up good shots to get great shots."
Chris Paul on the @Suns incredible ball movement late in the 2Q, leading to a Deandre Ayton And-1.#NBAFinals presented by YouTube TV pic.twitter.com/4Y66GNkozv
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2021