Balanced offense moves the needle for Kentucky: "They all can play."

On3 imageby:Jack Pilgrim11/21/23
John Calipari on Reed Sheppard, Justin Edwards

Kentucky put up 96 points against Saint Joseph’s with five players scoring in double figures and three going for 20-plus — the most since John WallDeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson did it in 2009. The Wildcats assisted on 24 of 33 total made baskets with five players contributing at least three dimes and two with six apiece, just nine turnovers. And it all came on 51.6% shooting overall and 48.0% from three.

It may not have been a perfect offensive effort, but it’s hard to get much better than that across the board.

DJ Wagner and Tre Mitchell went for 22 each, followed by Antonio Reeves with 20. Rob Dillingham added 13 while Justin Edwards contributed 12. Maybe the most impressive part of it all? Only two players shot more than 10 shots. It was a balanced and unselfish scoring attack with no real counter from the Hawks. Their only response was to hit shots right back.

And most teams aren’t going to hit 15 threes in a game against this group.

“They all can play. How about, we had all guys in double figures and Adou had seven?” Calipari said following the win. “And even though he didn’t get in double figures, (the) plus/minus (leader) was Reed (+16). But the thing I’ve told them, even the last game, we had seven guys have between 8 and 10 shots. So you can’t say, ‘Well, I don’t get my shots.’ No, you got them. What are you doing with them? You are one for eight. Don’t come talking to me.”

Kentucky is playing a style that creates open looks and maximizes each attempt. The volume may not come, but the opportunities for good shots are always there. That’s something not many teams in college basketball have.

And if they try it with the wrong dudes, those coaches might be looking for jobs.

“When you play this way, there’s more weight on a shot because you are not taking 25 shots. You are just not. And the way we play, it is a balance,” Calipari said. “When you have a team like this — you have got different teams you are watching. We don’t all play the same. ‘Well, you should play like him.’ Well, if I had his guys I would play like him. How about I don’t.

“The way we play now, there are many teams in the country that can’t play this way, and shouldn’t. Or they will win five games. ‘Well, I’m just going to play the right way, though.’ Yeah, okay, now you are looking for work.”

Is Kentucky going to launch 12 threes a game and score 90 points per contest when its trio of 7-footers make their season debuts? Maybe, maybe not. But Calipari is confident the style of play will remain the same.

And that’s all that matters.

“How do I play with this team? We have got to get one of these bigs back, hopefully two. It changes who we are. You say, ‘Well, how are you going to play?’ They can play basketball. They can bounce it. You can still play five out. You could put Tre at the four or him at the five and those guys on a perimeter because of how they play and how they shoot. But I know what you will have is someone near the rim that is 7-foot-2 that you are not just getting lay-ups.”

You’ve got four capable ball-handlers in Wagner, Dillingham, Reeves and Reed Sheppard, then versatile wings and bigs in Edwards and Mitchell. And they all work well together on the floor, truly positionless ‘basketball players.’

That’s how you get a 24-9 assist-to-turnover ratio on scorching-hot efficiency in a 96-point output. And the system is in place for that to continue.

“It doesn’t matter if you are on or off the ball when you play basketball the way we are playing. Literally, Reed’s a point guard, D.J.’s a point guard, Robert’s a point guard. You know, we put Antonio in pick-and-rolls,” Calipari said. “We are playing with three of them at times on the court. And then you say, ‘You have got a lot of guys with a lot of assists.’ Yeah, they are point guards. They are basketball players.”

Kentucky is certainly doing a whole lot of dribbling, passing and shooting to open the season. It’s paving the path for historic offensive success through five games.

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