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The Buffaloes don’t have a go-to scorer, and that’s fine

Colorado’s versatility makes up for a lack of individual consistency

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes have a best player (McKinley Wright IV), a best defender (Tyler Bey) and a most important offensive threat (Lucas Siewert). But they don’t have a go-to scorer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Six Buffaloes average at least 9 points on a squad that scores 85.3 per game. There’s Wright leading the way (14.3) and doing everything, but he’s struggling to shoot from deep (26.7%) and still hasn’t locked in yet. There’s Siewert (12.7) shooting the lights out and bullying smaller defenders, but he’s most valuable as a floor-spacer vital to the Buffs’ five-out lineups. There’s Bey (11.7) finishing everything inside, but he doesn’t do much besides finish dump-offs. Namon Wright (10.1) is the electric scorer off the bench capable of putting up 20+, but he’s always been inconsistent on that end. Shane Gatling (9.6) can catch fire, but he doesn’t have the versatility to be relied upon. Evan Battey (9.4) is going to be a matchup nightmare and running the offense through him is already dangerous, but for now he’s still getting adjusted to the game.

A valid criticism of this team is that there’s no single scorer capable of demanding the defense’s attention. McKinley is the only player who even uses the ball, it seems, and he’s often looking to set up his teammates with his absurd 34.4% assist rate. Even with his lightning quick first step, he can only draw so much attention without a threatening jumper. Everyone else is basically there to space the floor or finish inside; only Battey, Namon and Daylen Kountz can create.

Most basketball team-building strategies want a go-to scorer in tight games and crucial possessions. Unselfish teams without a singular scorer often struggle in the clutch because no one steps up in that spotlight. The Denver Nuggets won 57 games in 2012-13, but were undone in the playoffs because Andre Igoudala gave the Warriors their gameplan they didn’t have someone to take those shots. But the Buffs are closer to the 2018-19 Nuggets, who led by the unselfish Nikola Jokic thrive in tight games because their versatility means a different player leading the way depending on the matchup.

The Buffaloes have had five leading scorers in six games (only Siewert has repeated) and it changes based on the opposition. Namon and Gatling are there if the team struggles closing out on shooters or holding up in transition. Siewert is there if the other team doesn’t have a versatile big capable of defending outside-in. Battey will beat up on teams without the size to battle in the post. Bey can pop off if the paint is soft to cuts and rolls. McKinley, finally, plays the role of Jokic in the Nuggets comparison, the star who should lead the charge in close games and often does, but it’s difficult to demand a playmaker to abandon his best skill. Everyone has clear limitations to their games, but the team’s overall versatility makes up for lack of consistency with flexibility and unpredictability.

Once the schedule gets more difficult and the Buffs are tested every game, we will likely see Kin leading the way, but it’s unlikely a pecking order will form. We will see how successful these Nuggets are as the season progresses, just as we will find out how good the Buffs can be without a go-to scorer.