The Most Career Assists By Position: John Stockton Leads With Over 15K Assists, No One Will Ever Surpass Him
Holding record-breaking scoring stats over a player’s career is an extraordinary achievement. Only the best players of all time can achieve records that have truly stood the test of time. We have compiled a list of the best playmakers in NBA history, where players with a natural ability to set their teammates up for easy buckets have stood the test of time in the all-time assist rankings. However, only the two leading players per position are considered getting an indication of the best players with spectacular playmaking talents.
By gathering stats of the greatest playmakers in NBA history, we have collected the best players ever based on their total assists in the regular season while also taking into account that they will be distinguished by their positions. It will be amazing to see some non-point guards occupy the top spots in the rankings because the majority of them were indeed point guards who had the ball in their hands for the majority of the time. Without further ado, here are the greatest playmakers in NBA history in terms of total assists in the regular season for players in each of the five positions.
Point Guard – John Stockton
Credit: Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Leader: John Stockton – 15,806 Assists (1,504 Games Played)
2nd Place: Jason Kidd – 12,091 Assists (1,391 Games Played)
No player will likely ever pass John Stockton in all-time assist rankings. There were a couple of reasons why Stockton managed to accumulate over 15,000 assists over 19 seasons. The major reason was that Stockton played alongside The Mailman, Karl Malone. Arguably the second-greatest power forward ever, Malone was an automatic bucket-getter when he received passes from Stockton. Often in the pick-n-roll, Malone and Stockton created the most potent play in the modern era. Whether it was a bounce bass or a chest pass, Malone was quick to score upon receiving the ball.
Secondly, Stockton played an incredible 19 seasons and occupied the point guard position with elite efficiency. The point guard did not rely on explosiveness over his career, as his smarts allowed him to lead an all-time great Utah Jazz offense. The Jazz legend could control the pace of the game and also attack on the break, often finding Malone and otherwise Jeff Hornacek for outside shots. Lastly, Stockton knew his limitations and made the most out of his career by being one of the most dominant point guards of all time.
Jason Kidd is one of the very few point guards with legitimate triple-double ability. An incredible leader in terms of playmaking, Kidd was able to lead the offense with multiple teams over his career as a 6’4” guard with a powerful frame. Weighing 205 lbs with a powerful build and elite quickness, Kidd was able to power to the rim and also grab assists at a high level. He finished his career with an average of 8.7 APG, with his best seasons coming in 1999 (10.8 APG) and 2000 (10.1 APG) as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
Kidd also averaged 10.1 APG in 2008 as a member of the New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks. The point guard clearly had a knack for leading his team on the floor, as he had 16 seasons of averaging at least 8 APG. That gave him the number of assists to rank 2nd all-time in assists by a point guard, even ahead of other point guards. Kidd ranks 2nd all-time in assists all-time behind John Stockton, regardless of position.
Shooting Guard – James Harden
Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Leader: James Harden – 6,397 Assists (942 Games Played)
2nd Place: Kobe Bryant – 6,306 Assists (1,346 Games Played)
James Harden is a point guard by nature right now, but he has occupied the shooting guard spot for the majority of his career. Even when playing alongside other all-time great point guards in Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden was often tasked with creating shots for other players and being the primary ball-handler. No doubt, The Beard has to rank among the 10 best-ever ball-handlers because his ability to break defenses with dribble maneuvers essentially created unlimited looks for his teammates when he was not looking to score.
Even as Harden looks out of his prime right now, he can still lead an offense because his basketball IQ is off the charts. The Beard has been a score-first player for most of his career, but he did start his career as arguably the best playmaker for the Oklahoma City Thunder as a 6th man. Harden did blossom into a superstar for the Houston Rockets, but his playmaking ability only improved. So far, Harden is averaging 6.8 APG in his career and even led the NBA in assists during the 2017 season as a member of the Houston Rockets (11.2 APG).
It might seem shocking that Kobe Bryant is second among shooting guards for the most assists in the regular season by a shooting guard. Sure, Bryant is regarded as the most iconic gunner in NBA history because he never saw a shot he did not like. The superstar shooting guard averaged a decent 4.7 APG over his career, a number which is far more impressive considering Kobe was the man taking the most shots on his team for the majority of his career.
Bryant was never the primary point guard for his team, but he had the basketball IQ to make the right plays whenever his shots were not there. His best season, in terms of playmaking, came in 2005 with the Los Angeles Lakers at age 26 (and also 2013) when he averaged 6.0 APG. Kobe had 9 seasons out of his 20 played when he averaged under 5 APG and averaged under 4 APG only 4 times in his career. It is important to note that Reggie Theus played some shooting guard over his career, and finished above Kobe Bryant. But he will be considered a point guard in the rankings as he started his career at that position.
Small Forward – LeBron James
Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Leader: LeBron James – 10,045 Assists (1,366 Games Played)
2nd Place: Scottie Pippen – 6,135 Assists (1,178 Games Played)
One of the game’s best players and a star who is easily a top-10 player of all time, LeBron James has been a sensational player over his career. A versatile all-around player with an innate ability to attack the rim, James has proven to be unstoppable when he gets ahead of steam, especially during his prime. Of course, he is considered the greatest passer in terms of being a “large” player since Magic Johnson was running the show in Los Angeles. The King can make any pass at any time, and reads the defense better than anybody else since Magic Johnson retired.
Over his career, which has spanned over 1,300 games, James is averaging 7.4 PPG, which eventually led him to accumulate over 10,000 assists in his career. At 6’9” and 250 lbs, James obviously has the size to draw attention when he attacks the rim, which opens up the floor for his teammates. LeBron had the most success in his career when he was surrounded by shooters because The King would always find them for open looks. On the fast break, James is even better because he can obviously go coast-to-coast to finish himself or hit his shooters for easy looks. At the small forward position, we have never seen a passer as gifted as LeBron James and he is ahead of Scottie Pippen in all-time assists.
Even if he is known to be an all-time great defender, Scottie Pippen has to go down in history as one of the greatest playmaking talents of all time at his position. Armed with some of the greatest intangibles and length, Scottie could lead the offense with ease because he was unselfish and had a very high basketball IQ. But he was also a great passer, ranking 2nd all-time among small forwards in racking up assists. Over his 17-year career, Pippen averaged a very impressive 5.2 APG.
Sure, playing alongside Michael Jordan for the majority of his career certainly helped his assist totals. Pippen was considered the primary playmaker for the Chicago Bulls dynasty because he could set up the players and allow Michael the space to operate in his sweet spots. Standing 6’8” and weighing 210 lbs, Pippen also had the size and length to attack the paint and feed his teammates for easy looks. But amazingly, as great as Pippen was as a playmaker, he is almost 4,000 assists behind the first place, LeBron James, which is a testament to The King’s longevity.
Power Forward – Kevin Garnett
Credit: Joe Robbins-USA TODAY Sports
Leader: Kevin Garnett – 5,445 Assists (1,462 Games Played)
2nd Place: Karl Malone – 5,248 Assists (1,476 Games Played)
Amazingly, Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett headlines the list of all the great playmakers in NBA history as a power forward. The superstar power forward was one of the most unstoppable players ever when taking into account his skill set and basketball IQ. In 1,462 total games played, The Big Ticket accumulated over 5,000 assists which are ahead of a ton of all-time great players from his position, including Karl Malone and Tim Duncan. Garnett also ranks 52nd all-time in total assists and finished with a solid career average of 3.7 APG. His best season came in 2003 when he posted 6.0 APG for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garnett was extremely dominant at the power forward spot for the Minnesota Timberwolves in his prime, dominating multiple areas of the floor, including playmaking, scoring, rebounding, and playing defense. The Big Ticket had the athleticism at 6’11” and despite being of a slender frame, he had the ability to hang with opposing bigs and also attract double-teams. Whenever Garnett was doubled, he had the skill and awareness to feed his teammates to generate assists.
Meanwhile, Karl Malone is one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history, using his size and elite basketball IQ to average at least 20 PPG year after year heading into his late 30s. Amazingly, The Mailman still managed to accumulate assists at a very high level, considering he was a score-first player. Over his 19-year career, Malone averaged at least 4 APG 7 times over his career. The Utah Jazz legend had his best season in 2003 when he posted 4.7 APG for the Jazz competing in the Western Conference.
Even as Malone aged, he was able to accumulate assists for his side. He had a powerful lower body, which allowed him to bang down low and attract defensive attention. Year after year, Malone was a threat to score at least 20 PPG and he made it look so effortless. That opened the game for his teammates, including John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek. Even when Malone was getting fed by Stockton, he was also creating offense for others. The Mailman has to go down in history as one of the best all-around bigs even if he ranks 3rd all-time in total points scored.
Center – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Credit: MPS-USA TODAY Sports
Leader: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 5,660 Assists (1,560 Games Played)
2nd Place: Wilt Chamberlain – 4,643 Assists (1,045 Games Played)
In first place is 6-time NBA champion, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The all-time leading scorer of all time was a fantastic offensive player who dominated the game thanks to the unstoppable sky hook shot. But Kareem was also a very smart player, dominating the game with his passing ability as well. Standing 7’2”, the superstar center had the size to read the floor as one of the largest players on the court night after night. Of course, he was almost always double-teamed.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers legend finished his career with an average of 3.6 APG and averaged at least 4 APG in a single season 9 times in his career. Playing in 20 seasons, Kareem had his career-high in 1979 when he posted 5.4 APG for the Lakers, and also averaged 5.0 APG on two other occasions. In terms of success in the NBA and individual statistics, it is truly hard to argue against Kareem being the best center of all time unless one brings up Bill Russell’s rings or Wilt Chamberlain’s record-breaking seasons to start his career. Speaking of Wilt, he finished second all-time in assists by a center behind Kareem.
Wilt is the most dominant physical specimen of all time, once scoring 100 points in a single game and also grabbing 55 rebounds in a single game. While these are alarming achievements that will never happen again, Chamberlain reportedly made it look somewhat natural to post ridiculous assists numbers for a center as well. After all, Wilt averaged under 4 APG in a single season only 5 times. The dominant center averaged a career-high in 1968 when he posted an unbelievable 8.6 APG as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors. The year prior, Wilt averaged 7.8 APG as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors as well. He did it while playing for an extraordinary number of minutes.
Chamberlain clearly benefited by being the biggest and most athletic player of his time, because he would attract double and triple teams to deter him from scoring easily at the basket. He could leap and use his length to have a ridiculous advantage, and whatever little footage we have will show this to be reality. Ranking 2nd all-time in points scored by a center, Wilt also ranks 2nd all-time in assists by a center. Obviously, these are numbers that will place Chamberlain among the top-ten players that ever played the game.