Early in the third quarter of the Denver Nuggets' 103-101 Monday night victory over the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets starting point guard - Ty Lawson - dished out his 2,182nd assist, putting him ahead of Michael Adams and behind only (in ascending order) Andre Miller, Fat Lever and Alex English on the franchise's all-time assists leaders list. Whenever you're on the same list as English and Lever - two of the greatest players in Nuggets franchise history - you're in pretty good company. And Miller was no slouch, either.
And while the Nuggets don't exactly have a rich history at the point guard position in terms of longevity per player, Lawson's assist totals stand on their own compared to the other point guards selected in his 2009 NBA Draft class ... a draft loaded with solid point guards. Among the eight or so solid point guards chosen in the summer of 2009, Lawson has dished out the third most assists to date, trailing only Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings but ahead of Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Jeff Teague, Tyreke Evans and Ricky Rubio. Not bad company.
Of course, Lawson's Nuggets all-time assists company is much more interesting to me, and brings back fond memories of some Nuggets greats when it comes to sharing the ball.
Here's a quick rundown on the top 10 ...
NUGGETS ALL-TIME ASSISTS LEADERS
1) ALEX ENGLISH (3,679)
Even longtime Nuggets fans are probably surprised to see English, the 18th all-time leading scorer in NBA history, show up atop the Nuggets assists leaders list. But English's passing, just like every other aspect of his game, was always underrated. In addition to averaging high-20s in points for much of his Nuggets career, the eight-time All-Star also routinely averaged over four assists and five-plus rebounds per game. English was a true superstar who to this day doesn't get the credit he rightly deserves.
2) FAT LEVER (3,566)
Lafayette "Fat" Lever, who never dished out less than 500 assists in his six seasons as a Nugget, would undoubtedly be number one on this list had he played just one more season in a Denver uniform. But despite averaging 18.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 9.3 rpg and 2.1 spg as a 29 year old in 1989-90, the Nuggets traded Lever to Dallas in the summer of 1990 for a first round pick as part of a massive rebuilding process to kick off the early 1990s. Had Lever been given just a few more seasons as a Nugget, his #12 would be retired in the Pepsi Center rafters today and he'd be the Nuggets all-time assists leader instead of English.
3) ANDRE MILLER (2,978)
In two separate stints with the Nuggets, Miller - who spent the majority of his second tenure as a backup - managed to dish out the third most assists in Nuggets franchise history. Although this shouldn't be surprising to anyone who follows the NBA as Miller currently ranks ninth all-time among ALL NBA players in history. Now almost 39 years old, Miller won't move up to eighth on the list but he will go down in NBA history as one of the best point guards to never make an All-Star Game.
4) TY LAWSON (2,187)
With 12 assists against the Jazz on Monday night, Lawson leapfrogged over Adams for fourth on the Nuggets all-time assists leaders list. And presently, Lawson is second among all NBA point guards in assists-per-game with 10 per outing. In order to pass Miller, Lawson will need to duplicate his assist totals from the past two seasons for two additional seasons, which is totally do-able.
5) MICHAEL ADAMS (2,181)
Like English, most Nuggets fans think of the diminutive Adams as a scorer rather than as a sharer (think: the rich man's Nate Robinson). But in addition to his high-octane scoring output (especially on Paul Westhead's 1990-91 Nuggets, a team that averaged 119.9 ppg), Adams never dished out less than six apg and in that infamous 1990-91 campaign put up 10.5 apg while scoring 26.5 ppg.
6) NICK VAN EXEL (2,047)
In addition to leading a player boycott in 2001, Van Exel led the Nuggets in assists for three-plus seasons from 1998 through 2002. A feisty player, Van Exel knew how to get his teammates involved and the misfortune of playing for the Nuggets during one of their rockier periods in franchise history.
7) DAN ISSEL (2,005)
If ever you needed proof of the Nuggets' skinny bench when it comes to all-time assists leaders look no further than Issel, a 6'9" power forward/center who averaged over three assists per game just twice in his 10-season Nuggets career. But like Lever, Adams and Van Exel, several of the Nuggets best ball deliverers - like Chauncey Billups, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Allen Iverson and Robert Pack - simply didn't play as long as the likes of Issel which is why "The Horse" lands seventh here.
8) RALPH SIMPSON (1,950)
Simpson only appeared in 32 games as an NBA Denver Nugget, but as an ABA Denver Nugget / Rocket for six seasons, Simpson often passed as well as he could score. During the Nuggets memorable final ABA season - 1975-76 - Simpson led the team in assists as they went on to the ABA Finals where they lost to Julius Erving's New York Nets in six heartbreaking games.
9) BILL HANZLIK (1,764)
Amazingly, Hanzlik - one of the scrappiest reserves in Nuggets franchise history - cracks the franchise's top-10 assists list. But in eight seasons off the Nuggets bench from 1982-1990, Hanzlik dished out enough assists to beat out Abdul-Rauf, Billups and others to finish ninth all-time in assists. Not surprisingly, Hanzlik is also sixth all-time in personal fouls.
10) MAHMOUD ABDUL-RAUF (1,756)
Like Lever, Billups, Iverson, Adams, Van Exel and other notable Nuggets point guard / shooting guard hybrids, Abdul-Rauf's career in Denver was simply too short. Young Nuggets fans may not appreciate Abdul-Rauf, but in his short-lived heyday he was the Stephen Curry of his generation: small, smooth, quick and deadly. Even though Abdul-Rauf's Denver career ended in somewhat controversial fashion, he'll forever be one of the most fun players to watch on the Denver hardwood.