The Georgia Swarm’s best offense is initiated from the right side. That was obvious long before we began tracking stats on it. The Swarm are scoring 12.99 points per 100 possessions initiated by their righties – well above the league-average. Kiel Matisz (5G, 18A) and Lyle Thompson (7G, 15A) have piled up the points on the right side, but the unsung hero has been Randy Staats.
Staats is doing the dirty work on the inside; although he only has one pick assist to show for it, he’s been active opening up shots for teammates (and for himself) as a picker. Only Cory Vitarelli, Brett Hickey, Dane Dobbie, Johnny Powless, Matthew Dinsdale and Reid Reinholdt have created more shots via picks for teammates than Staats has. None of them can rival the physicality with which Staats sets picks. He looks like a run-blocking right tackle. Even the best defenders in the world are doomed when they have to pick themselves off the ground and scramble to approach an open Lyle Thompson.
Staats is as savvy as he is physical. He can fool an eager-to-switch defense into thinking that he’s rolling to the cup, then cut his roll short to slam into his former defender, who is now the new on-ball defender.
Shots from that distance and angle are normally chalked up as wins for the defense. Anything outside the teeth of the defense is usually gobbled up by the goalie. But Lyle is the type of generational player for whom defensive rules are tossed out the window. The reigning MVP has shot 2-for-11 (18.2%) as a pick-and-roll ball handler and 1-for-7 (14.3%) in isolation situations, and he often pulls up from that range. His brother, Miles, can create off the dodge, too. No matter who Staats is paired with, he’ll find a way to get them open – even if that means picking his own man into the on-ball defender.
Part of the problem Staats presents as a picker has to do with his ability to finish on the roll. In strong left lineups (i.e. three or more left-handed offensive players on the floor), there’s a lot of room for Staats to roam around inside. If his teammate manages to squeeze that pass through (spoiler alert: Lyle and Miles almost always do), then god bless the goalie.
That same spacing is simulated when Lyle is off-ball. Even though there are three righties on the floor, the New England Black Wolves defense is face-guarding Lyle so aggressively that this two-man game between Staats and Matisz has room to unfold. Not many defenders can soak a cross-check from Staats, switch onto him, and close the gap before he is toying with the goaltender. The subtle shoulder fakes Staats throws when he shoots confuse me even after I’ve watched the GIF a dozen times.
There’s no reason to believe that the Swarm will slow down on these right-handed initiations. They’ve been excellent so far – and the scary part for defenses is that most of the high-quality shots Staats is responsible for creating have not found twine.