Positionless sets have taken over the NFL. Running backs like Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson are running routes – not out of the backfield like traditional running backs, but from the slot. Dual threat tight ends like Rob Gronkowski allow offenses to run and pass out of the same formations.
The same trend is occurring in the NBA. The line between shooting guard and small forward is blurred; those players are now simply known as wings. Stretch-4s are on every roster, and in crunch time, the power forward spot is often occupied by a wing, too.
It’s no surprise that lacrosse is moving in the same direction. Catch-and-shoot crease attackmen are being pushed out of lineups. It’s not that their skill set is no longer valuable, rather there are players who can play inside while also bringing something else to the table.
Whether that second skill is dodging, feeding, picking or perimeter shooting, the player with a more versatile skill set will almost always get the spot on the 19-man gameday roster.
At Brown, Molloy earned the nickname The Human Tonka Truck (from IL’s Kyle Devitte) for his ability to run through anyone standing between him and the cage. That skill has carried over to MLL, where he is shooting 35.7% off the dodge (league average off the dodge is 25.9%). The Launch offense features so many perimeter players – Connor Buczek, Nick Mariano, Sergio Salcido, Chazz Woodson – that Molloy’s off-ball presence (and Kieran McArdle’s off-ball presence on the left-hand side) is required to space the field for the rest of those pieces.
Scoring off-ball often requires more IQ than athleticism. There are so many moving parts developing in front of your eyes. Molloy has a knack for finding where the defense is sliding from, protecting his stick, and at times, confusing the help defenders into leaving him open even when the dodging attackman doesn’t get a step. Watch him slip this mumbo and finish as Brian Farrell closes out.
Sometimes those initial cuts fail to produce a shot; patience is as valuable on the crease as it is when passing. When two players let the play develop like Mariano and Molloy do here, the result is beautiful. Watch Mariano re-think the decision to jam that first pass, extend the dodge, and hit Molloy who follows the slide when the Bayhawks eventually send it.
That’s a crafty cross-handed finish by Molloy, who is shooting 52.9% off the catch (third among players with 15 or more assisted shots).
While Molloy is a dodger who can mix it up inside, Holman is a time-and-room shooter first and foremost. His release time has to be the quickest in MLL – and until we have SportVU cameras measuring this stuff, you can’t convince me otherwise.
Defenses enter games planning to hold all slides from Holman. Executing that plan is easier said than done with the way the Machine offense can pop any player to the perimeter. Eventually, you need to send a second slide from Holman, and that’s when Tom Schreiber threads a pass through the defense to his favorite target.
Holman led MLL in catch-and-shoot goals in 2015 and in 2016, averaging 30 per season. He has mixed in 10 dodge-to-shoot goals per season over that time on a healthy 28.1 shooting percentage. If you short-stick him to double pole the deadly Machine midfield, then he’ll make you pay.
Nobody has scored more assisted goals than the Machine (8.7 per game) this season. Like Holman, they’re at their best when the ball is moving – but Holman and the rest of this offense can beat you off the dodge when it matters.
Lizards’ lefties (Will Manny, Matt Gibson, Joe Walters)
Manny (26 catch-and-shoot goals), Gibson (18) and Walters (10) combine for 54 of the Lizards’ 88 catch-and-shoot goals.
It’s not uncommon for the finisher to reside on the left-hand side. Lineups that trot out only one or two lefties leave those players with lots of green grass on that side of the field, giving them the most time-and-room. For the Lizards, the left-hand side is as capable of beginning the play as it is finishing it.
One or two of these Lizards will run out of the box on a given possession, creating favorable matchups for any to capitalize off the dodge. After shooting 2-for-29 off the dodge as the go-to guy in Boston, Manny has shot 3-for-10 off the dodge in New York. Walters (9-for-27 off the dodge) and Gibson (5-for-17) have been able to create for themselves as well – especially in the pick-and-roll.
This Lizards offense is not lacking shot creators by any means. If Manny, Gibson and Walters only bury stepdowns on the wing and from the crease, then they’ll have done their job. But the off-the-dodge game each of these three provides is a luxury, and it can be clutch with low time on the shot clock.
Last week we wrote about the new-look Rattlers. MacIntosh and Dhane Smith are working two-man games on the right-handed wing while Ty Thompson spots up across from them. Jeremy Boltus – one of the best inside finishers in the league and the 2015 MLL All-Star Game MVP – has been pushed out of the lineup to give these looks space.
With MacIntosh in the lineup, the Rattlers are scoring on 40.4% of possessions that end in a pick-and-roll. Whether he’s picking for Jordan Wolf or picking for Smith or running the play himself, he’s been one of the league’s most underrated playmakers.
Denver Outlaws attack (Mike Bocklet, Eric Law, Matt Kavanagh)
Among players who have attempted 25 or more catch-and-shoot shots, Eric Law (48.7%), Mike Bocklet (45.8%) and Matt Kavanagh (38.9%) rank first, fourth and ninth, respectively. All three bring something else to the table, too.
Law can take out-of-place defenders to the rack from X. Some teams try to short-stick him, but that rarely lasts more than a quarter before they bail for the backup plan. Law has shot 9-for-26 (34.6%) off the dodge, the second best percentage on the team behind Wes Berg (36.4%).
Mike Bocklet can finish from anywhere on the field. Off the catch, he has shot 9-for-14 from the doorstep, 4-for-9 from the hole and 14-for-36 from midrange. The Outlaws will move him around and pick with him to change matchups or coax the defense into sliding. Show early, and he’ll slip into space for a stepdown rocket.
Kavanagh leads the Outlaws in assists. He’s one of five players with 10 or more assists and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. The other four? Matt Mackrides, Mark Cockerton, Tom Schreiber and Zach Currier.
This Outlaws attack unit is ahead of the curve. They’re the worst offense initiating from X (10.9 points per 45 possessions), because they haven’t tried to build the same offense everyone else does with a quarterback at X flanked by two finishers. They’ve assembled interchangeable parts in Law, Bocklet and Kavanagh on their way to the 2016 MLL Championship and (with a win) a 2017 playoff berth. The Outlaws score 17.9 points per 45 possessions when initiating from up top (1st in MLL) and 18.0 points per 45 possessions when initiating on the wings (2nd in MLL). All six players on the team are cage-facing players capable of finishing inside or outside.