One of the more amazing box scores I’ve seen in a game I’ve been a part of came when I was an assistant at Providence and we were playing at Villanova. John Linehan was our point guard, and he completely dominated the game and lead us to the win.
When I looked at the box after the game, I noticed that John had 6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals. And he made 6 free throws. He didn’t make a field goal in the game. And he was the best player on the floor, the most important reason we won the game.
Linehan was the best defensive player I’ve ever coached. He was a two-time national defensive player of the year, with special ability. So obviously he had the ability to affect the game without needing the ball.
But when I looked back at the championship teams I’ve coached, all of them had key players who could have a positive effect on the game without needing the basketball. It’s a key component to championship level teams.
Being a great defender is probably the most obvious way to help your team without the ball. Teaching your team a defined, defensive system and emphasizing the way they guard, by rewarding your best defenders with valuable minutes, will help you find some of these guys who can help you without the basketball.
A great rebounder is somebody who goes and gets the ball. Most teams will play their best rebounder a lot of minutes. Putting an emphasis on rebounding, especially on the offensive end, where great energy and effort is a big part of rebounding, can make a big difference. Everyone has the ability to go after the ball when a shot goes up.
A ball-mover is another guy who makes a big difference on great teams. Somebody who keeps the ball hot, never lets it stick, and finds open teammates puts a lot of pressure on the defense – even if he doesn’t shoot that much. Certain players give the ball a lot of energy, and that gives their team a lot of energy on the offensive end.
Another guy who makes a big difference is a great executor. The guy that knows the offense inside and out, can execute at every position, and lets everyone else know where they should be. He might be a great screener or a great cutter, and he’s usually a great leader – someone who’s not afraid to speak up. He makes the offensive team flow.
So much of what your team will do comes down to what you value and what you emphasize. Great teams always seem to have players who can really help without needing the basketball. As a coach, you have to value some of the simple things that make your team better, and reward them accordingly. When you do, you’ll get more out of your entire team.