The final step of your initiation to the Major League Lacrosse fraternity doesn’t take place until your second season. If you can juggle a full-time job while keeping yourself in shape without access to a world-class weight room, then you can have a long career in MLL.
The Denver Outlaws (6-2) won the MLL Championship last summer while dressing eight rookies: Tim Barber, Wes Berg, BJ Grill, Matt Kavanagh, Jack Kelly, Tom Kelly, Nick Ossello and Bailey Tills. Seven of those eight are still on the Outlaws roster; four are key cogs in the league’s best offense (14.6 points per 45 possessions).
While Drew Snider, Jeremy Sieverts, Eric Law and Michael Bocklet are the stars of the Outlaws offense, you could make a case that the roles played by Berg and Kavanagh on the wings are most crucial to the team’s success. Even when Brendan Mundorf was an Outlaw, this was never an offense that would ask any one attackman to dominate dodging duties from X. Of the league’s top four offenses, three are also top-four initiating from X. The Outlaws are eighth in the league, generating only 9.8 points per 45 possessions initiated at X.
Rather than trotting out one ball-dominant player, the Outlaws offense heavy on picking, and even heavier on passing. Some teams use the wings to swing the ball from X to the midfield; many of the Outlaws’ actions start on the wings and use X or the midfield to swing to the other wing. Initiating from the wings, the Outlaws are pouring in 19.2 points per 45 possessions (2nd in MLL). They ask everyone to be cage-facing players, and whether Eric Law (43.5 catch-and-shoot %) is sneaking above goal-line extended for an open shot or to set a pick, it puts extra pressure on opposing defenders.
Berg has shot 5-for-15 (33.3%) off the dodge. As a right-handed wing initiator, his role is reminiscent of Curtis Dickson’s role for the 2014 Outlaws squad. On the other side, the left-handed Matt Kavanagh has lit up the league since stepping into John Grant Jr.’s spot.
Kavanagh leads the Outlaws with 12 assists, and though nobody on the team is too careless with the ball (the Outlaws turn the ball over on 23.6% of possessions, fewest in MLL), his 1.0 flat assist-to-turnover ratio is rare for such a high-usage passer. His tenacity attacking the cage makes him a huge threat, even when dodging underneath. If you don’t drive him way, way below goal-line extended, then he’ll find a way to contort his body into position to crease dive. This leads to defenses sending slides to the underneath move – a nearly universal no-no for defenses – and Kavanagh has burnt them with same side passes and cross-crease passes alike.
Much of the success on the wing is due to how quickly the Outlaws transition from one action to another. Their midfield is the most potent in the league, scoring 17.1 points per 45 possessions initiated from up top – almost three full points above the league average. Jeremy Sieverts (27.0 dodge-to-shoot %) has overpowering smaller defenders on his way to the cage this season. Pole Sieverts, and Snider – who is down from 38.9% off the dodge last year to 14.3% this year – will feast on his matchup.
Ossello, Barber and rookie Romar Dennis give the Outlaws even more punch up top. For young players, none of them tend to overcarry. When the initial dodge doesn’t produce a quality shot, they’ll throw back, change fields, and count on the weakside mumbo to slow down Kavanagh’s defender’s approach.
Four players are shooting north of 40.0% off the catch: Bocklet (47.1%,), Kavanagh (41.4%), Law (43.5%) and Snider (42.9%). Does the off-ball movement of those players open up dodging lanes for others? Or do hard dodges draw slides that give Bocklet, Kavanagh, Law and Snider the time and room to do that damage?
It’s a chicken-egg scenario. Some teams dodge well. Other teams move off-ball well. Denver does both. The Outlaws struck a perfect balance of unassisted shots and assisted shots; of two-man games and dodges; of off-ball cuts and off-ball picks.