Tao Of The Passing Big Man

What I found most compelling about 80’s Celtics vs Lakers were the incredible passes on both ends of the court by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. I became more enamored with making flashy passes than I was with scoring the basketball (or just as much). I find more joy in setting someone up for a bucket than to get one on my own. It wasn’t until I started playing religiously that I realized how much players enjoyed playing with teammates who liked to share the ball. I could always find someone to pick me up for a run because they knew I’d give up the ball and didn’t care if I scored a single point. The following is a list of all my favorite passing big men to play the game, past and present. We’ll start out with the honorable mention and move on to my favorites.

HONORABLE MENTION

Brad Miller and Vlade Divac both benefitted from Rick Adelman’s offensive system in Sacramento. Vlade with his excellent post passing and Brad Miller 6’10 made him great passer out of the high post.

Julian Wright was one of the best passing big man I’ve ever seen in the college game. He could make the dazzling play, but turn around a make a simple play into a turnover. His highlights include Kansas-Florida in 2006 and any game where he faced Texas. It was a shame he couldn’t last in the NBA, because he was an entertaining player–incredible dunker and athletic, his passes had heat on them.

These two Knicks legends, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, were so known for their bruising defense that most fans overlooked that they were incredibly deft passers in a system that was not very sophisticated.

Arvydas Sabonis‘ NBA numbers don’t reflect how great of a passer he was. He came to the league late into his career and played before the age of social media and the explosion of the internet. You had to be there. Seeing him play changed how I imagined the game could be played. He had incredible touch on his entry passes and his large hands hid the ball as he whipped passes into the interior or behind his head.

Favorites

Chris Webber (C-Webb) 4.2 Assists Career avg. Career high 5.5 Assists (2004-2005)

Known more for his high flying dunks and scintillating post play, C-Webb’s passed with the flair of a flashy point guard; dishing out assists with pizazz. His great big paws made it easy for Webber to perform wizardry with the ball. Webber threw countless beautiful behind the back, no look passes. He was equally as great at finding the open man from along the perimeter, as he was passing from the high post and in the post. His best assist numbers came during his years as a Sacramento King, playing in Rick Adelman’s motion offense. Running the high-low with Vlade Divac, and a dearth of perimeter shooters on the floor at all times, the early 2000’s Kings were often considered the height of beautiful and fun basketball.

Bill Walton (Big Red) 3.4 assists Career avg. Career high 5.0 (1977-1978)

Many think Walton is one of the best passing big men of all time. Highlights of his peak years are grainy, but he had some gorgeous passes from the high post and perfected the touch pass as a way of catching defenders off guard.

Tim Duncan

(Big Fundamental, Timmy Time Machine, Old Man Riverwalk) Career avg. 3.0 assists Career high 3.9 (2002-2003)

There is a reason why Tim Duncan was called the Big Fundamental. There was not one aspect of the game that he did not excel at. His outlet passes were a thing of beauty–they always were the perfect spin or speed for the occasion. Blessed with superb court vision, Duncan threw passes to where a player was going to be–like a quarterback leading a wide receiver. In his early years, he perfected passing out of the high post to other big men including Hall of Famer David Robinson. Near the end of his career, he was throwing alley oops to future Clipper great Kawhi Leonard. There are even clips of Duncan running the fast break and embarrassing young players who doubted his handles (shout out to a young Lebron James).

Larry Bird (Larry Legend, Hick from French Lick) 6.3 career assists, Career high 7.6 (1986-1987)

Watching Larry Bird is where I learned to perfect the no look, over the head, post pass. Bird was also a master of the touch pass off a rebound carom. Larry’s game was pure spectacle and his passes were highlight worthy. You could get lost watching old footage just by typing the words, Larry Bird, passing clinic.

Joakim Noah (Jo) 2.8 assists Career avg. 5.4 career high (2013-2014)

It is hard to believe Noah played 13 seasons in the league. It felt like his career reached a grinding halt after playing for known hard ass Tom Thibodeau. At his zenith, he was the best passing big man in the league– in addition to being a defensive player of the year candidate, year in and out. In 2013 -2014 when he averaged his most assists for a season, it seemed like he was on Sportscenter every other night with a highlight worthy pass.

Nikola Jokic (the Joker) 6.0 Career assists, 8.3 Career high (2020-2021)

Two words: Basketball savant. Plays with the pizazz of a mixtape player on the playground. Not only can make a pass from anywhere on the court, but also great handles for any player–especially a big man. He reminds me of Arvydas Sabonis, but with handles. His doughy frames only adds to his likeability, as he reminds me of a guy you happen to pick up during a run and you realize he’s the most fun player you’ve ever played with; pointing to each other after every assist while you win game after game, after game.

Boris Diaw (French Magician, Bobo, The Big Croissant) 3.5 career assists, 6.2 career high (2005-2006)

Boris’ big frame, incredibly high basketball I.Q. and great court vision made him an excellent player. Diaw was one of the best skilled big men of his era and one of the best French players of all time. Playing at the 3 and the 4, Diaw had decent handles and made excellent entry passes. He could pass from the perimeter, the high post and the interior. His passing was the difference maker in the 2014 NBA Finals for the San Antonio Spurs providing another ball handler and shot creator that the opposing Miami Heat had to worry about. Legend has it that Magic Johnson was his favorite basketball player growing up, and that Diaw’s mother taught Boris that being a good passer would entice older players to let him join their pickup games.

  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found social distancing. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

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