Since the All-Star break, the Florida Launch have scored 21.6 points per 45 pick-and-roll possessions. Worded differently: They have scored on 48.0% of possessions that end with a pick-and-roll.
Those pick-and-rolls have appeared in several different forms. There have been picks at the top of the two-point arc geared toward springing free downhill dodgers like Connor Buczek, Tim Barber, Steven Brooks and Sergio Salcido. There are vertical picks on the left-handed wing for Kieran McArdle, one of the league’s premier pick-and-roll operators. For the most part, there’s only one constant: Nick Mariano is setting the picks and then rolling or popping into open space.
At their most basic level, picks are intended to free the hands of players unable to win their one-on-one matchup. There are countless more benefits – and plenty of pick-and-roll operators, like Jordan Wolf, who can get their hands free without a pick. Picks eliminate an extra defender from slide packages, alleviating off-ball spacing. They force the defense to communicate, therefore presenting the potential for defensive miscommunication. But as far as keeping the on-ball defender off his man, few teams surprise defenses with picks like the Launch do.
Those goals are freebies for MLL players. The Boston Cannons’ defenders failed to land a check on Barber until he was already inside the two-point line.
That won’t happen against Ohio. The Faceless Men press out as aggressively as any defense in the league. Dominique Alexander and the rest of the Sheens’ short-sticks will land cross-checks early, but that aggressive play could leave them susceptible to the roll man.
Watch what happens when the Cannons send help from the picker’s defender. Barber backpedals, finds McArdle, and Mariano continues to roll to the cage in this ‘Nations’ look.
In a six-out set, there’s no clear help to the roll man. The middle of the field is wide open. There’s no chance that the original on-ball defender, Mitch Belisle (#85), recovers and beats Mariano to the hole. Tim Muller contemplates helping, but Mariano’s slick shovel release allows him to get the shot off before Muller arrives.
On the wing, Mariano pairs with McArdle for a lethal left-handed combination. In 2016 McArdle was a one-dimensional pick-and-roll operator. He was hell-bent on getting to the middle of the field for his own shot. It worked (he buried 12 goals in pick-and-rolls), but with only one assist out of pick-and-rolls, the actions turned into disguised isolations.
After a season in the NLL, McArdle learned the nuances of the pick-and-roll. This season he is shooting 5-for-11 unassisted out of pick-and-rolls with five assists and only four turnovers. A year ago, he may have put his head down, posted up Muller, and tried to wrap a shot around him. Now, he baits the slide even when the initial two-man game fails to draw a double-team.
McArdle led the Launch in assists, but the most unselfish player on the team is Connor Buczek. The third-year midfielder out of Cornell led the Launch with 41 assist opportunities – nine of which came in pick-and-roll situations.
This Buczek-Salcido-Mariano three-man game looks like a Spain pick-and-roll. Mariano slips his pick into open space. His man, Brian Farrell (#27), loses track of him while sifting through the aftermath of the Buczek-Salcido portion of the play that successfully walls off Jesse Bernhardt (#36).
Statistically, there aren’t any obvious ways to beat the Machine defense. Ohio ranks first in midfield defense, first in fast break defense, first against one-on-one dodges, third in wing defense and fifth defending X behind.
Their two-man game defense is their “weakness” on paper, but opponents haven’t been able to finish many possessions against the Machine this way. The Faceless Men treat Alexander as a fifth pole, comfortably switching matchups across any of those five defenders. Their matchup indifference beats two-man games before they begin.
Nick Mariano’s counters have beaten nearly every type of pick-and-roll defense the Launch have seen. If you chip the ball-carrier, then he’ll roll. If you’re looking to switch too early, then he’ll slip. And if you don’t support your teammate, then his will score.