Basketball is a beautiful game when the ball is whipped around the court. When all five players are in sync and playing off of each other, there’s nothing like It.
On a team with multiple scoring threats, the leading scorer isn’t going to be the same player over and over again. The team’s offensive success is predicated off of trust.
Malcolm Bray, sophomore, is a prime example of a player that has trust in the team, even at the sacrifice of his own numbers. Against Lawrence University, he caught the ball in the painted area, turned over his shoulder and converted his layup through contact for an and-one. The exhilaration on his face as Bray’s flex after the basket was a culmination of how far he and the offense have come from the beginning of the season.
The change in offensive philosophy was hard for the team earlier in the season, but the offense has been hitting its stride over the past couple of games.
Bray played a huge role over the Prairie Fire’s offense last season as the point guard. He started 21 of the 24 games, averaged 6.8 points per game and played 22.7 minutes per game. Bray transitioned to the position after primarily playing the post in high school. The sophomore from Inglewood, California showed flashes, but ultimately never seemed comfortable in that role.
With the return of Ethan Meeker – who’s leading the Prairie Fire in scoring at 15.1 points per game – and a new dribble-drive offense, Bray has found himself off the ball more and like much of the team, he’s had to adjust and find his niche in this incarnation of Knox basketball.
“If that’s what I have to be now, more like a Montrezl Harrell role where I get in, where I fit in, make my place, I’m perfectly fine with that. But, I did kind of break stride and get back into my rhythm of being a little bit more aggressive, being aggressive on the court defensively and offensively,” Bray said.
The Prairie Fire’s offense wasn’t as cohesive as It’s grown to be since the new year started. Since the start of the new year, Knox is scoring 74.75 points per game, which would rank eighth in the Midwest Conference and is more than their current average of 73.1.
“I think that was our biggest struggle early on, head coach Ben Davis said.”
“There were a lot of thinking guys trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be, rather than just playing basketball. They’re trying not to mess up the offense basically,”
Quick shots played a massive role in the low efficiency of the Prairie Fire. Knox ranks second to last in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Those percentages reflect more on poor shot selection rather than the scoring ability of a team that has a ton of gifted shot-makers.
“I think we’re probably the lowest because, at one point like first when we first started conference play, we weren’t shooting the ball well. We were chucking threes and not getting to that basket,” Bray said.
At the beginning of the season, Knox was prone to a lot of one and done possessions. Now, as a team, they’re not settling for low percentage shots that they can get at any point during the game. The goal of the dribble-drive offense is to keep the defense on Its heels and attack. The more the ball moves, the more prone defenders are to making a mistake. That constant motion has helped free up driving lanes and free up open shots.
“I think people don’t understand what the dribble drive is. It is a motion offense, and it’s not just a one on one attack. It’s moving the ball and you’re doing that by drawing help on the defense and kicking it out,” Davis said.
With a team full of drivers, the personnel matches the system.
“It’s an attack first offense. So you need to look like, or at least make the defense think I’m going to go score right now, even if it’s the first drive,” Zach Lowe, senior, said.
The team has bought into the system, and the result has been the back-to-back 90 point scoring games against Grinnell and Lawrence. Better shot selection has played a considerable role in the increased offensive numbers.
“Part of it is realizing some of those shots that we were taking early in the season; we can get them at any time. So it’s being passing up an okay shot in, in, you know, trusting that we’re going to get a great shot if we keep, moving the ball,” coach Davis said.
Though the offense has gotten better, there’s always room for improvement.
“Before, it was more of one person drives, it just kicked in probably a shot. We’re starting to build on it a lot more now. Starting to find people in rhythm and find people getting into shots and getting the spots. So the chemistry is getting there,” Bray said
Knox’s offense is still leaps and bounds better than last year’s that averaged 61.9 points per game. The scoring average would rank last in the Midwest Conference this year. There wasn’t any movement last year, and that led to a lot of one-on-one play on the court.
That style of play made it harder for a player like Jordan Rayner, sophomore, to do what he does best, score. Rayner is averaging 13.6 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 43.6 percent shooting from three. Those numbers are all higher than last year.
“Last year it was like not a lot of movement, only a couple of people are taking shots. I would say this year we have a lot more threats offensively, and I feel like our offense is always flowing if we’re executing and getting into it,” Rayner said.
Rayner is getting put into better positions to score. The dribble-drive offense helps the 6’2 guard get going downhill quicker, which allows him to get to his spots in the mid-range, elevate and score.
With this motion offense, you can’t key in one player. It works the same way for Knox as one player isn’t dribbling the air out of the ball. The offense is built on the foundation of trust. The players are showing great selflessness, and that has attributed to the leap offensively, according to Lowe.
“I think it’s just we’ve started to that extra past, that extra ball movement. Like if you give it up, you’re going to get it back type mentality. So I think now that we have that fluidity, and as you said, the chemistry, like Ethan drives, and he passes it to me, he knows in his head, and Jordan knows we’re going to get it back to him,” Lowe said.
With players knowing that if they pass the ball, then It will come back their way, it eases the pressure of always having to make a play on every touch. The more games they play together, the more comfortable the players feel, and the better offense produces.