Promote Great TEAMWORK and Unselfish Play With This Basketball Passing Statistic (It's NOT an Assist)

Coaches are always looking to improve teamwork and for ways to get their players to make the "extra pass." Well, we have a great statistic that will encourage this and as we all know, players love statistics.

A basketball stat that most coaches track is an assist, because it's meant to promote unselfishness. In basketball, an assist is the last pass that leads directly to a basket. An assist is a great statistic to track, but it can still lead to teamwork and turnover problems.

Here are a couple of examples, and I'm sure you could think of a few more:

  1. A player may hog the ball until he gets a shot for himself or finds an open teammate. That way, he gets an assist or basket to pad his stats. As a result, the ball stops moving and teamwork is destroyed even if an assist is generated.

  2. A player tries to make the "great" pass to get an assist. This will often result in more bad passes than good passes. The player is trying so hard to get that assist and ends up throwing a pass that is nearly impossible execute.
If any of you are familiar with hockey, an assist in hockey is either a "direct pass that leads to a goal" or "the pass that leads to a pass that leads to a goal." Now, don't you think it'd be great to track that same stat in basketball!

This would reward those players who..
  • Throws a great outlet pass that sets up somebody else for an assist.

  • Uses a proper ball fake to get a player out of position in the post before throwing it to another player on the perimeter who has a better passing angle to get the assist.

Recently, while talking to Don Kelbick, he informed me that a coach by the name of Mike Neer from the University of Rochester created this stat and calls it a "Gretzky" referencing hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky.

Mike Neer is one of the most successful college coaches in the nation. He has led his team to a National Championship, 4 Final Fours, and 8 Sweet Sixteens at the Division 3 National Tournament. Rochester also has ridiculously high academic standards.

Don Kelbick put it in perspective for us by saying, "It would be like Harvard winning the national championship."

Criteria for a Gretzky:
  • There is no intent to shoot in a Gretzky. A Gretzky involves recognition that A>C>B is safer and more effective than A>B.

    There is a dribble Gretzky when a player fakes a pass to B and then dribbles (once or twice) to improve his passing angle to B. A dribble Gretzky can also result in an assist.

  • Ultimately, it is a pass fake and pass to a 3rd player that makes a Gretzky. This is different than penetrate and pitch and any subsequent passes which involve a threat to shoot.

Here are a few specific situations that a Gretzky would be counted.

  • A player has the ball at the top of the key and recognizes that the offensive player had an advantage in the post. Instead of trying to force the ball into the post which results in many turnovers, the player fakes a pass into the post and passes to the player on the wing who has a better passing angle. The player on the wing dumps the ball into the post for a basket.

    The player at the top of the key would be credited with the "Gretzky" and player on the wing would be credited with an "Assist."
  • A post player gets the defensive rebound. The rebounder recognizes a player streaking down the court, but realizes it would be safer to outlet the ball to another guard. Then, the guard throws the ball to the streaking player for a lay up.

    The post player would be credited with the "Gretzky" and the player who received the outlet pass would be credited with the "Assist."

As stated before, Gretzky's are great for:
  1. Improving team unselfishness.

  2. Improving teamwork.

  3. Encouraging players to make the easy pass.

So, introduce and start tracking "Gretzkys" and watch how it will improve your team's teamwork and unselfish play!

You can also read more on this subject at this link:

This is an email conversation between Coach Mike Neer and myself.

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

Breatkhrough Stats App - Track Stats on Your iPad
Basketball Statistics - Using Stats
Tracking Your Defensive Statistics And Performance

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...


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LOL says:
12/9/2015 at 10:17:10 PM



Coach R says:
2/11/2015 at 3:43:25 PM

I coach youth basketball in the middle of hockey's heartland of Alberta, Canada. I also happen to live in Edmonton and as a child had the pleasure of watching the "Great One" rack up assist after assist. Hockey is about keeping your head up or you will get clobbered. (Fear is the motivator) Keeping your head up allows you to see the ice or in our case the court before the play develops. Gretz always knew where he was going to pass even before he received to puck. Try stopping to play on a fast break drill and ask a player without the ball where he would pass to "right now". It is a great perspective on what and where you are without the ball.

PS. Please change spelling. Wayne Gretzky is the correct spelling. (Blasphemy I tell ya!)


Harold says:
1/11/2013 at 6:38:32 PM

Like this statistic. To encourage post passes, would encourage three assists: 1) "traditional" assist, 2) the Gretzkey and the 3) "Wayne" for the pass that leads to the score (basket or 1 or made free throws) but does not result in a "traditional" assist (i.e. too many dribbles, steps...).

So if in the diagram, so if 1 passes to 2 who passes to 3 who takes 3 dribbles and 4 steps and scores a basket or makes at least one free throw then #1 gets the Gretzkey, #2 gets the Wayne and #3 gets the points.

In order break some bad habits on one team, used what I called "PA"s or "Potential Assists" - if Player 2 delivers a pass to Player 3 in a good position to score and player 3 takes a shot, then it is a "PA". Often that is all Player 2 can be expeted to do. Encouraged very good passes while mildly discouraging very high risk passes.


Tom says:
12/17/2012 at 6:32:43 PM

Great idea! It reminds me of the scene in the movie "Coach Carter" when the coach asks his players stats from the previous nights game. One player responds 13 points, 7 rebounds and the coach corrects him with, "No sir, 6 turnovers and 4 missed free throws. Stats should be tools to help your TEAM play better, instead of being something for little Johny to brag about.


Ken says:
10/18/2012 at 9:04:02 AM

Coach M -

You should consider yourself fortunate that you have a kid who is thinking more about the team than himself and his PPG. Is he your captain? He sure sounds like the leader of your team. Making him the captain or one of the captains would be one way of getting him some recognition.

If this was one of my players I would compliment him on the way he is setting up other kids for shots and then encourage/remind him not to pass up an opportunity to score IF he has a great look.

By the way, I would love to have a kid like this on my team. What age group is this? It sounds like he will be a great point guard when he gets to high school.


Coach M says:
10/18/2012 at 3:43:26 AM

Love the idea! You just need somebody to track it consistently during practice and games.
I have a player on my team who is the best basketball player on the squad in terms of his all-around understanding of the game. However, he is unselfish to a fault and never scores more than 8-12 points. The kid may come out of a game scoreless and still make you feel he was the best player on the floor. He never puts up spectacular numbers on offense, and he does things right, i.e. passing the ball when and especially where he should pass it. The Gretzky might be a way to give him some well-deserved recognition. I would expect him to average somewhere between 6-8 GPG (Gretzkys per game ;-)).


Coach Ben says:
11/11/2011 at 12:46:50 AM

I've been using "creative pass" in a similar way for a while. An extension of this is to compare a player's ratio of creative passes or "Gretskys" to turnovers. Set target ratios for your ball carriers so they can find an appropriate level of aggression with the ball. You don't mind a guy having 3 or 4 turnovers if he's also had 10 creative passes.


shawne rountree says:
2/20/2011 at 12:46:38 AM

I think this is a good drill for the youths in their learning stages it not only teaches them passing skills but also teach them to look up and down the court it keeps them focus.


Ian L'Hommedieu says:
3/11/2010 at 8:19:56 PM

I love this concept this will instantly be apart of my coaching methods, thankyou.


Jane Smith says:
5/12/2009 at 11:18:53 AM

This is a great idea especially for youth players who tend to think the only glory is in the points scored. Of course, youth parents reinforce this idea that scoring epitomizes a good game by cheering most loudly when points are scored and talking only about points scored or baskets missed.


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