There are 3 types of offensive players:
- Advantage Makers
- Advantage Growers
- Advantage Killers.
Before I define each type of player, let’s quickly talk about advantages.
Offense is all about creating and leveraging advantages. Advantages are the entire reason teams set screens and run plays. You set a down screen to create an advantage for your shooter. You run a dribble weave to create an advantage for the ball handler. You set a block to block screen to create an advantage for your big man. It’s all to gain an advantage.
What you do with that advantage often determines how good an offense is. Do you turn that advantage into an even greater advantage or do you minimize it. If a shooter comes off a down screen with a trailing defender, does he curl to the basket and force the defense to help, thereby creating a bigger advantage? Or does he pop straight out to the 3 point line and allow his defender to get back in front, thereby eliminating the advantage created by the screen?
Ok, now that we understand the importance of advantages, let’s define the types of offensive players.
Advantage Makers are analogous to superstars. They’re the guys who you just can’t guard 1 on 1 or in a simple pick and roll: Kobe, Chris Paul, James Harden, Lebron, Kyrie, Steph etc. These are the guys who can turn a stagnant offensive possession into a good shot. In an offensive set where nothing is happening, you can give these guys the ball (and maybe a screen) and they can consistently create a significant advantage for themselves or their teammates.
Advantage Growers are the guys who catch the ball with a small advantage and can turn it into a bigger advantage. They can’t consistently create big advantages on their own, but they leverage existing advantages very well.
For example, the offense is moving and forcing the defense to rotate. A teammate passes you the ball and your defender is forced into a long closeout. That long closeout is a small advantage. Advantage Growers will attack the long closeout and create an even better situation. That situation can either be an open shot for a teammate or for himself or even just contorting the defense into an even more difficult rotation.
The ability to create bigger advantages is what characterizes Advantage Growers.
Advantage Killers are the guys who catch the ball with an advantage and make the wrong read or hold the ball.
For example, the team runs a set and creates a disorganized defense. Your teammate attacks the paint and skips the the ball to the wing, forcing a long closeout. Advantage Killers will read the situation wrong. They’ll shoot when the defender closes out hard. They’ll drive when the defender closes out soft. They’ll pass to a teammate who has no advantage instead of the teammate with the mismatch.
Or, the one that makes me want to scream; they’ll catch, pump fake, jab step and wait. When you catch the ball with an advantage and hold it, your defender is now set and the rest of the defense has time to organize itself. All the work the offense has done up until that moment to earn an advantage is now nullified. Coaches can't stand this.
These categories aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I’d argue that the best offensive players are both Advantage Makers and Advantage Growers. If they catch the ball with a small advantage, they turn it into a bigger advantage. But if they catch the ball with no advantage, they can create an advantage on their own. Only the very best players have the luxury of catching the ball with an advantage, holding it, and then creating another advantage from scratch.
Every team needs Advantage Growers. It doesn’t take elite athleticism or skill to be an Advantage Grower. It simply takes the ability to make quick, intelligent decisions and a base level of skill to execute simple plays and keep the advantage machine churning.
The best offenses rarely have Advantage Killers. In place of Advantage Killers, they’re full of Advantage Growers. The Spurs are a team of Advantage Growers. The Warriors have superstars but their role players are all Advantage Growers.
By looking at offense through the framework of advantages, we can perceive the game in a new way. We can begin to understand why certain offenses hum and why others sputter to a halt.