A Proposal for Fractional Assists

I would like to propose to the commissioner and his committee a small rule change to the game we all know and love.

I am proposing that half-assists should be awarded when free throws are made after a shooting foul, to the player who set the play up.  Half of an assist would be rewarded for each free throw that ends up being made. This would solve the problem of passers not getting enough credit sometimes for putting their teammates in the right positions to score the basketball.  If a point guard makes a perfect alley-oop or pick-and-roll pass to a cutting teammate, and that teammate is fouled and makes his two free throws, it was the point guard who directly led to those points.  In the current rule system, no credit is given.

In this case, the assister on the play has done his job. He has put another player in a position to score points, and points were scored.  The passer’s pass is no less valuable in this case – it might be even more valuable, because it draws a foul on the opposing team – so why not give credit where it is due?  Such a rule change could even improve the quality of our game.  One of the reasons that some people prefer college basketball to that of the pros is that they feel NBA players are too selfish and only out for their own points.  Players get frustrated if they actually do make a good pass, and aren’t credited for it, possibly leading to a “well, I’ll just shoot it myself” mindset.  I believe that making assists easier to come by could cause the ball to move around like a jumping bean, leading to a more crowd-pleasing, team-oriented game.

Of course, there are reasons that this hasn’t been implemented already.  There are potential objections to my proposal, one of which being free-throw shooting is a solitary action; that it is a pause in the game and stands aside from the rest of the action. A player stands alone and executes an action of focus: possibly not “assisted” upon by a teammate. I would address this by saying that the way that this player made it to the free throw line in the first place is the setup by the teammate who executed the pass.  Either way, if the player who receives the pass is unable to put the ball in the basket, no assist is awarded.  The ideas are parallel.

Another possible objection is the idea of a foul on a three-point shot.  If this were to happen, and all three free throws were then made, would the passer get 1.5 assists?  More than one assist on one play?  In this case, I would solve the problem by making an edit to my rule.  In the case of a three-point (or four-point) play converted through free throws, only one assist will be rewarded.  After all, why should three free throws be worth more to a passer than a normal three-pointer? The aforementioned tweak would make it so that all assists can remain equal as they’re meant to be. Some people may dislike fractional assists, but do they have any problem with fractional field goal or free throw percentages? If this is such a big deal, then perhaps an assist can be awarded only if all of the attempted free throws are made, though this would still hold back credit to the passer.

The final possible problem with the half-assist idea is the difficulty it will provide in statistical comparisons.  This rule has never been around, so people question whether this rule change would be fair to former players.  Comparisons would be all jumbled up, and many assist records would probably be broken.  The contention is that that isn’t in the spirit of the game, and that we should just keep it how point guards have had it for decades.  My response to this statement is that rules have been changed in the NBA many times, and many of these rules have affected statistics.  Because they improved the quality of the game, however, as this one does, they were implemented anyway.  Until 1944, there was no rule against standing near the basket for three seconds, so it was easier prior to get rebounds.  Until 1954, there was no 24-second clock timing each team’s possession of the ball, so teams could hold the ball for however long they pleased, skewing final scoring outputs.  And, most notably, in 1979, the three-point shot was added for the first time, lowering field-goal percentages and increasing point totals.  All records for points were easier to break after the rule, but it increased the quality of the game.  And, comparably to these rule changes, adding half-assists wouldn’t actually change the gameplay at all – it is only a matter of recording statistics – making it much easier to implement and making it a painless transition for players and teams.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) already has this rule in place.  It would cost nothing monetarily, and can improve the quality of the game of basketball by providing fairness to passers of the ball, making it easier for those who study and analyze the game to decide on better passers, and perhaps even leading to a more team-oriented game!  All it requires is implementation.

by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University

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