In 9 years as the head coach at Rhode Island College we only had one player who averaged more than 15 points per game. We had a ton of success and were generally either the best or second best team in our league every year. We went to the NCAA Tournament in our last 8 seasons. We had a lot of good players who were unselfish and willing to buy in to playing as a team. Trust me when I tell you we had plenty of guys good enough to average 15+ points per game. The balance we had was not due to a lack of talent.
One interesting thing about the way we played wasn’t intentionally part of the plan. It wasn’t like we talked about getting everybody the right amount of shots or keeping everyone involved. We just coached them to make the right play. Our two main offenses were motion and a dribble drive offense, both designed to space the floor, move the ball, and attack off the dribble. We weren’t always the best shooting team – probably below average from 3 over the 9 years – but we did have skilled guards and athletes who could go by you. We always wanted the ball to have energy and that would dictate where our shots came from. We wanted our guys to be unselfish, but we never talked about spreading out the number of shots. I just figured with good players and good ball movement, we’d find the right shots.
I’ve heard the argument that if you don’t have that one go-to guy who can get you a bucket when you really need it, you are going to struggle offensively. A lot of coaches feel like that one plus-level talent who can create offense on his own makes you more dangerous on offense. I’m not so sure. I learned that our balance made us really hard to guard. Teams couldn’t load up on just one or two guys, and they couldn’t really came plan to take certain things away. We had enough talent to beat you in different ways, and when you took away one good option we usually had another good option to score. Late in games I was never concerned with who was going to get a shot, or how we would get the ball to the right guy. I made sure my playmakers were on the floor and I trusted them to make the right play. We won a ton of close games, and I’m not sure we ever had the best offensive player in the league. We only had one player of the year in the league over 9 years, and he averaged 12 points per game that season.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a guy who can go get 20. I used to joke with the guys, “It’s okay to get 20 if you want.” And I feel like I had a bunch of guys that could get 20, and that’s what made us dangerous. But no one had to get 20 to feel comfortable. We’d often look at the box score after a game and I ask my team who they thought took the most shots in that nights game. It usually took them 2-3 guesses to figure out who shot the ball the most, because our attack was so balanced. No one cared. We were hard to guard, we were really good offensively, and we won a ton of games.
I’ll take a balanced offensive attack over a team with clear go-to guy all day long. I don’t think it creates any problems down the stretch with your team wondering who’s going to take the big shot. In fact, it avoids the disaster late in a close game of everyone loading up on your best player, and him forcing a shot because he thinks he’s supposed to shoot it. A balanced offensive team is really hard to guard, and more often than not they are going to make the right play to get a good look. It just might come from a different guy each night.