Which Passing Statistic (Not An Assist) Leads To Teamwork & Unselfishness?

By Joe Haefner

We posted a really interesting new article about Gretzky’s.  This little known statistic can help you improve basketball teamwork and passing. 

To read more about this great pass statistic, you can visit this page: Gretzky’s

We learned about this interesting stat from Don Kelbick and Mike Neer.  It was Mike Neer that actually coined the term “Gretzky”. So we thought you might be interested in an email from Mike Neer that supplements the article above.   

Coach Neer coaches at Rochester University. Mike has won over 500 games and has led his team to 8 Sweet Sixteens on the way to 4 Final Fours and a National Championship at the Division 3 National Tournament.

Here’s Coach Mike Neer’s email response to us:

I came up with the Gretzky in the mid-80s during the Bird-Magic era of the NBA. They made passing cool, but many of our players were forcing passes in attempts to get the assist. For example, when a point guard was looking to feed the low post with the post-defender playing on the high side, attempts by the PG to curl the pass around the post-defender were either assists or turnovers. I wanted much more than a 1:1 assist-turnover ratio, so I encouraged the PG to fake a pass to the post (to draw the post-defender up the lane) before passing to the wing (opposite the post-defender) who would then feed the post on the baseline-side while the post pivoted to seal his defender from the pass. The two passes led to countless baskets with far fewer turnovers, but our PG sulked because he did not get an assist. Even though he set up the assist with a pass-fake and pass to the wing, he thought he didn’t get due credit: he became the straight-man who set-up the punch-line but who didn’t get the laugh. I felt we had to recognize and credit the PG for his set-up.

It was then that I said to our team that we need to learn something from ice hockey. The players were confused as they knew that I liked ice hockey as much as root canals. I informed them that ice hockey was way ahead of basketball in one statistic; ice hockey can award two assists to a goal. If ice hockey can recognize sharing the set-up of a goal, why couldn’t we? When Abdul-Jabbar outlets to Magic near half-court who immediately throws ahead to Worthy for a lay-up, why shouldn’t Jabbar get as equal credit as Magic for initiating a quick score? So we began to chart the hockey pass, so we could recognize those who initiated plays by pass-faking and swinging the ball to a teammate with a better passing angle. Within days the term hockey pass became the Gretzky, as it was the only hockey player’s name I knew. The players immediately caught on and began using Gretzky as a verb (“Gretzky to the wing!”) and a noun (“I’m open for the Gretzky from the top of the key on ball reversals.”)

The concept of passing away from the defense has been basic to effective team play for many sports for many years. We simply put a name on it. Thanks for asking.

Joe (Myself):

I’ve seen this scenario happen countless times with Kobe Bryant.  He drives the lane and draws 2 or 3 defenders.  He kicks the ball out to the corner. The defense rotates quick enough to prevent the player in the corner from shooting.  The player in the corner quickly recognizes this and passes it to another open player on the wing that nails the shot. I’m assuming you would count this as a “Gretzky” to Kobe?

Coach Mike Neer:

Regarding your Kobe scenario…while I would credit Kobe for breaking down the defense, I would not give him a Gretzky.

  • When a player dribbles to the basket, there is some intent to shoot. It is that intent that draws the help-defense off his man which may set into place defensive reaction (possibly rotation) to another player with intent to shoot.
  • 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.

Thanks for your interest.
Mike