There aren’t many midfielders – or players in general – capable of creating their own shot like Connor Buczek can. The third-year pro out of Cornell is shooting 13-for-43 (30.2%) off the dodge, but his ability to impact the game as a passer and as an off-ball player has improved steadily. He’s an All-MLL candidate and potentially an MVP candidate, depending on how the Launch (5-4) finish their season.
Buczek entered this season shooting 21.4% off the dodge in his career. He’s one of many MLL players who have benefited from being a full-time assistant coach for an NCAA program. By having access to D1 facilities and being able to study film regularly, the latest generation of MLL players has been able to continue developing their games as assistant coaches.
Part of his improvement is due to the ways the Launch are deploying him. He’s running off more picks, where he has shot 34.6% unassisted in his career, as opposed to dodging one-on-one, where he shoots only 22.1% unassisted. Even without the picks, though, Buczek has been so strong as a dodger that even some of the league’s best long-stick midfielders fail to get a piece of him.
That decisive dodging style has led to quick slides, which has led to tons of assist opportunities. Teammates are shooting only 12.5% off feeds from Buczek so far this season, which is extremely low when you look at the quality shots that they’ve missed. Turn on the tape, and you’ll see him facilitate some looks that Kieran McArdle and company typically bury.
During his first two seasons in the league, Buczek’s teammates shot 33.3% when he fed them. If he can continue to feed them — and they can start finishing like they have in the past — then Buczek’s assist total could approach some of the top passing midfielders in MLL.
Off-ball, Buczek is as dangerous of a two-point threat as you’ll find in the league. He’s only shooting 2-for-17 (11.8%) off the catch, but 14 of those attempts have been from beyond the arc. On catch-and-shoot two-bombs Buczek is burying 14.3% – a much more respectable number that, given the momentum swing accompanied by two-point hammers, must be defended at all times.
One way head coach Tom Mariano has sprung Buczek free for two-point shots lately is to use him as a picker. Two-point shooting percentage is down league-wide this season to 10.3%. There aren’t as many players who can sling it from downtown. Even when you have a threat like Buczek or Myles Jones or Jeremy Sieverts, prying their hands free from the very top of the arc is difficult. You need to get creative, which is what the Launch have done turning Buczek into the picker. Watch Buczek pop off this pick as Ryan Drenner seals the defender looking to close out.
That action will produce a two-point goal at some point this season, but the most dangerous part might be what it creates for Steven Brooks, Nick Mariano, Sergio Salcido and Tim Barber. Getting a hands-free shot down the alley is easy, because defenses are designed to force shooters there. If Buczek is picking up top, then those same shooters might get to the middle of the field more easily. Teams are hesitant to help from Buczek because of his reputation as a shooter. His teammates will see more square inches of net running off his picks.
This offense has hovered around the league average all summer. Personnel is starting to solidify; the Launch have found their optimal lineup. Expect Buczek’s already improved numbers to take off and launch him from All-Star to All-MLL status this summer.