LeBron James set an NBA record on Tuesday night by registering more career assists than any frontcourt player in league history. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ star passed Scottie Pippen on the all-time list, exemplifying just how good of a passer he’s been, throughout his career.
James went into the history books with a pass that ended in a Kevin Love three-pointer, in Cleveland’s 102-93 win over the Detroit Pistons. He finished the night with 11 assists, giving him a total of 6,143 assists in his nearly 12 seasons as a pro.
An unselfish superstar with exceptional dribbling skills, James handles the ball more than most forwards, but his assist record is particularly impressive. Pippen, who dished out a large number of assists to Michael Jordan, needed 1,178 career games to set the initial record, while James has played just 890 games. James is now 27th all-time in assists, and he’s likely to pass No.26 Jerry West, before the regular season is done. It's quite an achievement for one of the best scorers in the league.
"It means way more than what I did passing Allen Iverson on Sunday," James said. "I've always took a lot of pride and I get more of a rush seeing my teammates succeed more than myself. And that's what an assist is all about. I was taught the game the right way and seeing my teammates succeed has always been something that I've cared about more than anything and that's what it's all about."
Though he’s been regarded as the best basketball player in the world, James’ passing ability might even be underrated. He has demonstrated excellent court vision and threads the needle with great precision. Since he’s entered the league, James has never finished a season ranking lower than 15th in assists per game. In his first 11 seasons, the four-time MVP ranked in the top 10 on five separate occasions. After setting the record, James is averaging 7.3 assists per game, tying him for eighth in the NBA and putting him 14 spots ahead of Cavs starting point guard Kyrie Irving.
Since he was drafted in 2003, no frontcourt player has come remotely close to matching James’ passing numbers. None have ranked in the top 15 in assists for a season, and only four frontcourt players have ranked in the top 20, each doing it just once. Blake Griffin ranks 24th in assists this season, putting him ahead of any forward or center, other than James, in the last seven seasons.
As the best player of his generation, James is often compared to Jordan and Kobe Bryant. While some will continue to argue that Jordan and Bryant are the better players, James has proven to be the more gifted passer. Playing in far fewer games than both all-time greats, James has more total assists, averaging 6.9 per game in his career. Jordan retired with 5.3 assists per game, and Bryant is averaging 4.8 assists in 1,280 games with the Los Angeles Lakers.
After averaging 5.9 assists per game as a rookie, James has been at 6.0 or higher every season. He set a career-high in the 2009-2010 season, dishing out 8.6 assists per game. Jordan averaged 8.0 assists in the 1988-1989 season, when the Bulls coaching staff made efforts to use him in more of a point guard role. Bryant has never averaged more than 6.3 assists per game, something James has done nine times.
James’ stats this year are not as impressive as they were with the Miami Heat. He’s shooting under 50 percent from the field, and his scoring average is his lowest since he was a rookie. His passing numbers are up, though, and he continues to prove that he’s one of the best distributors the NBA has ever seen.