In five games without Kevin Rice last season, the Atlanta Blaze offense managed merely 11.0 points per 45 possessoins. Rice (37G, 21A in only nine games last season) suffered a hand injury in Week 1 this year. Head coach Dave Huntley’s offense kept burning.
The Blaze offense is fourth in MLL (14.0 points per 45 possessions) – higher than perennial offensive power Ohio Machine and the “super team” New York Lizards – despite missing its MVP candidate.
Huntley threw a log in the fire in the form of an invert offense in which Matt Mackrides (8G, 8A) and Greg Coholan (6G, 4A) capitalized on short-stick matchups. Then, he dumped gasoline on the fire by turning James Pannell (11G, 1T, 7A) into a pick-and-roll operator.
Pannell doesn’t have his brother’s ability to get to the island at will. He has shot 0-for-10 when unassisted in isolation situations. Put Pannell in a pick-and-roll, and all that changes. Off picks, Pannell is shooting 4-for-4.
Those picks don’t necessarily need to clobber Pannell’s defender. As long as they minimize contact below goal-line extended, Pannell can get to his spot. When he gets there, you won’t knock him off it. This is a strong dude; watch him dump David Manning coming across the crease.
When he plays attack, the Blaze will bring a pick to him to set him free from the constraints of lockdown defenders like Joe Fletcher. It’s an easy way to identify an opponent’s pick rules, and it’s a growing trend across the league. Some of the quickest cats (i.e. Jordan Wolf, Joey Sankey, Will Manny) are at their best as pick-and-roll players; the elder Pannell ran pick-and-rolls toward the end of last summer, though we haven’t seen many yet this year (C’MON, DANEHY!).
Even against the Lizards – who are allowing a league-best 21.6% shooting percentage off picks – it can cause miscommunication when you enter the actions fast enough.
The best part for the Blaze is that Pannell has proven himself as a passer out of the pick-and-roll. He has two assists (and a second assist) in such situations. Your bread-and-butter offensive motions cannot be dead ends. Pannell’s patience when teams trap the pick-and-roll – combined with his ability to coax double-teams by putting his head down and running straight through his defender – have led to pretty, unselfish goals like this.
Soon, Rice and Randy Staats (30G, 1T, 15A in 2016) will return to find a brand new pick-and-roll partner. Last season they primarily picked for each other or Jeremy Noble. Throw James Pannell in the mix, and the Blaze will be able to choose which defenders they put in the pick-and-roll defense.
There’s also a role for James Pannell as a midfielder in this league. He has the shooting range; this season he’s 7-for-26 (26.9%) off the catch. With the ball in the stick, he’s so much savvier than an alley-dodging, low-and-away ripping midfielder. After this pick draws a double and a throwback, Pannell puts pressure on the defense while keeping his head up.
That cross-body pull pass is high-level stuff. Many midfielders need to spin it through X and let an attackman find Mackrides. Those passes are rarely on shooters’ ears, and they’re so susceptible to “goodbye!” checks that the risk outweighs the reward in the shot clock-less college game.
His lacrosse IQ is on display as a shooter, too. Rather than run down his angle right off this pick, Pannell pulls it out and re-dodges once his defender contests him outside the arc.
Blaze midfielders aren’t often asked to shoot off the dodge. This is Kevin Rice’s offense – as it should be. Finding midfielders who can pick for Rice and stretch the field as a stepdown shooter was an offseason priority. Coholan can shine in that role this summer, and Pannell seems primed to do so as well. More than one team missed the younger Pannell in the first 91 picks of the supplemental draft.