Leading up to the MLL Championship, we’re going to dive into the key to success for each offense. The key for the Denver Outlaws: Creating open shots via slipped picks and shallow cuts.
The Outlaws’ two-man exchanges will need to draw double teams from the Ohio Machine defense — and the ball movement following those picks must generate quality shots. The Machine defense is hyper-aggressive against pick-and-rolls. The Faceless Men will need to clean up their communication behind the double teams (or adopt a more conservative pick-and-roll scheme) to keep the Outlaws’ finishers away from the cage.
The Florida Launch leveraged picks to get their best players’ hands free. With a pick, Kieran McArdle’s unassisted shooting percentage jumps from 32.4% to 45.5%; Connor Buczek’s jumps from 20.5% to 57.1%
Throughout the season, the Launch incorporated the pickers – especially Nick Mariano – through Nations concepts and Spain pick-and-rolls. Most of the Launch’s pick-and-roll actions could be thwarted with an aggressive defensive scheme; the Launch shot 37.8% unassisted off picks, yet only managed to shoot 25.7% when assisted in those same scenarios.
The Outlaws present a polar opposite pick-and-roll offense. Their picks aren’t hard screens, and their ball-carriers aren’t settling for the first available look. Outlaws’ pick-and-roll ball-carriers are shooting 17.1%; when the Outlaws move the ball off a pick-and-roll, they shoot 30.6%. Their objective is to drive double teams toward the ball and force defenses to rotate behind those double teams. Shallow cuts creep up on the on-ball defender in a hurry; there’s often little-to-no time for the defense to communicate through these Outlaws actions.
The Faceless Men’s pick-and-roll scheme is built upon sending those early double teams – when there’s no slide to the picker, that scheme can get them into trouble. That happens too often for the league’s top-ranked defense. Expect the Outlaws to test the Machine’s pick-and-roll rules early and often; Ohio allows nearly 4.4 more points per 45 pick-and-roll possessions than it does per 45 one-on-one dodging possessions.
Opponents are feasting against the Machine on shots created by pick-and-rolls, burying a league-high 39.1%. When they jump the ball-carrier, but whiff, then they are forced to defend a 6-on-5 advantage. Watch Nick Mariano bait two defenders to the ball after picking for Kieran McArdle, then send it over to Steven Brooks who reels in three defenders before sending a touch pass back to McArdle.
When that initial double team causes a turnover, the Machine defense looks brilliant. When it doesn’t, opponents start some San Antonio Spurs-esque sequences of ball movement. The Faceless Men have limited opponents to an 0.48 assist-to-turnover ratio in pick-and-rolls – slightly better than the league average of 0.51.
No team makes better decisions than Denver in the pick-and-roll, where the Outlaws boast a league-best 0.79 assist-to-turnover ratio. Pick-and-roll playmakers are all over the field for the Outlaws from Matt Kavanagh (20A, 15TO) on the left-handed wing to Zach Currier (16A, 13TO) at the midfield to Eric Law (20A, 20TO) at X.
Sometimes the looks are straightforward. When the picker’s defender jumps the ball-carrier, but the on-ball defender gets caught in between switching and trapping, that split second of miscommunication can be enough to free up the picker.
Other times, the Outlaws’ offensive patterns help the picker elude help defenders. “Nations” concepts in which the offense utilizes a third player to serve as the middle man between the ball-carrier and the picker result in tic-tac-toe passing. Wes Berg thrives as the picker for these concepts. His off-ball game is best when the Outlaws are running two-man games. Berg has buried 3-of-9 (33.3%) catch-and-shoot looks generated by two-man games; in all other scenarios, he’s shooting 4-for-25 (16.0%) off the catch.
Picking from open sets puts a lot of pressure on help defenders. Ohio will extend farther from the heart of the defense than any team in MLL. Can they sink back to the middle in time to tag rolling scorers like Berg and Bocklet? It sounds like a crazy question — sliding and recovering is what this defense does better than any unit in the league. However, sliding and recovering to a two-man game is much tougher than a dodge. Send help to a dodge, and you’re tasked with playing four-on-five temporarily; send help to a two-man game, and your disadvantage turns into a three-on-four. Advantage: Offense.