The Whiteboard: Power ranking the best assist combos in the NBA

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I was raised on the beautiful two-man synergies of John Stockton and Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. There’s something magical about that connection between a creator and a finisher, working in harmony to manipulate space and open a scoring opportunity in the middle of the defense.

There might not be any legendary, hall-of-fame connections working in the NBA right now but here are the best and most prolific assist combinations of the 2021-22 season so far.

5. Darius Garland to Jarrett Allen — 81 assists

Garland to Allen is a burgeoning combination, with both players enjoying career seasons and pushing their way towards All-Star consideration. Eighty-four percent of Garland’s assists to Allen this season have been on shots at the rim and Allen is shooting 60.7 percent on all shots after a pass from Garland. The increasing chemistry between the two is also one of the reasons Garland is averaging a career-high in assists per game and assist percentage this season.

4. LaMelo Ball to Miles Bridges — 81 assists

This is by far the most exciting assist combination on this list, and possibly in the whole league. Ball is one of the most creative passers in the league, Bridges is one of the most electric dunkers. Of their 81 connections this season, 86 percent have gone for 3-pointers or shots at the rim. Just last week they connected for a between-the-legs alley-oop and you can find plenty of other highlights among scrolling through their assist combinations.

3. Chris Paul to Deandre Ayton — 87 assists 

Technically, Chris Paul could hold two spots on this list — he’s also assisted Devin Booker 86 times this season. But watching him bring out the best in Ayton is simply far more aesthetically pleasing. Ayton has become a monstrous space-eater in the paint and Paul’s ability to feed him from a variety of angles, over and through the defense, is what makes it work. A whopping 97 percent of these assists have come on shots within 10 feet of the basket and Ayton is shooting 59.6 percent on shots after a pass from Chris Paul.

2. James Harden to Kevin Durant — 97 assists

The Harden to Durant connection is prolific although (to my mind), relatively unimpressive as compared to the rest of this group. This is not to sell either player short but Harden spends so much time with the ball in his hands and Durant is such an absurd shot-maker that I, personally, find this combination less interesting than some of the others. More than half their connections this season (58) have gone for long or short-mid-range jumpers for Durant. Their relationship seems to be based less on mutual creativity and more on circumstance.

1. Trae Young to John Collins — 107 assists

Young and Collins are in their fourth season as teammates and they’ve already established a remarkable chemistry. In 3,268 minutes together, Young has assisted Collins 525 times, an average of once every six minutes of game time. A whopping 75 percent of those assists have come on shots at the rim for Collins and these assists represent 24 percent of Young’s career total. Their synergy works both because of Young’s vision and creativity and Collins’ leaping ability and touch around the basket. Collins has been featured heavily in trade rumors and there is certainly an argument that Young’s shot creation is the most important variable here, one that should translate easily to other players who could fill Collins’ role. Still, it would be a shame to see this budding partnership divided.

Other NBA stories:

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ surge into the NBA playoff picture has surprised many, but the data suggests this young Cavs team is right where it belongs.

If the Utah Jazz really are considering trading Joe Ingles, he could be a game-changer for the ascendant Toronto Raptors.

The idea of the Lakers trading Russell Westbrook back to the Houston Rockets for John Wall has to be the most ludicrous idea possible. But there are rumors that it could actually happen.

Jared Dubin shines a light on some underrated and undercovered players, lineups and teams in his mid-season awards at 538.

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