As recently as three weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Rush were untouchable and Colorado was going to have to fight off Calgary to get an extra game in The Loud House for the playoffs. Now? The Mammoth are sitting pretty, locked into the 2 seed in the West with a top three defense in tow. The only small hiccup that fans might be worried about is the fact that Colorado has a below average offense. This is surprising, because they have some very good, very skilled players on the offensive side of the ball. If they really want to make a push to do something special and bring the Champion’s Cup home to the Rockies, they’ll need to get their offense rolling. Some of the ways they use their offensive players could be switched up or emphasized more in order to create that success. I think that two key players, if used a little more often in certain situations, are Ryan Benesch and Jacob Ruest.

First, with Ryan Benesch: the man is a genius carrying the rock, and does so well at reading the coverages thrown at him in the pick-and-roll. But for some reason this year he’s had some trouble canning the off ball looks he gets, and scores at below-league-average marks in all off ball actions. A great way for Colorado to up their offensive input would be to let Benesch get more touches in positions where he can be a primary decision maker, as shown in the following clip:

Benesch does a great job reading the pick and defense here. As Chris Wardle approaches to set the pick, Jordan MacIntosh and Connor Sellars react and move into a Drop ( https://medium.com/the-basketball-dictionary/drop-part-i-42add19791f1 ) pick coverage, which has the intent of forcing the ball handler to use the screen. Wardle reacts to this coverage by flipping his pick to the top side of MacIntosh. Right before Wardle flips his pick, Benesch grabs MacIntosh’s attention by drifting towards the original pick location. After Wardle is in position, Benesch darts over the new pick location, rubbing off MacIntosh and forcing Sellars to sprint around under the pick to try and close out. This buys Benesch just enough time to unleash a shot and bury the goal. This was a really subtle and crafty manipulation of the defense, a skill that can lead to more goals if he is given more opportunities.

Jacob Ruest has been as good off ball as Benesch has on ball this season, albeit in limited opportunities. In those few chances, though, he has shown some flashes of brilliance. Check out this one timer:

Jacob Ruest does a great job to create this goal for himself in a sweet “Nations” action. On the original pick with Jeremy Noble, Ruest sets a great pick on Ethan Schott that forces a switch with the defense in a Deep Drop pick coverage. Because Ruest rolls so hard to the cage, Schott has to exert some unexpected extra effort, which throws defenders slightly off rhythm mentally and requires a small moment to reset and reengage. Normally this moment can happen as Ruest moves back out to the wing off ball and no longer becomes a threat, which is what most offensive players do in this situation. Since that is what Schott (a veteran defender) is used to, he takes a second to reset and reengage mentally to prepare for his next defensive role. Ruest sees from the lack of head swivel that Schott has started that reset and decides to hang around a little longer. That small mental lapse leaves Ruest and Benesch just enough time to connect on the skip pass for the one-timer.

This next clip, however, is the hidden gem. If Colorado can use Ruest to replicate it more, these kinds of looks will open up all sorts of options for their offense. Having a passer who can make decisions like this out of the 2-man game is invaluable:

This is a very Warriors-esque action that some of you NBA fans might recognize, which has the roller pop to the middle and lets him spray passes all over the field. Draymond Green has had a lot of success in this role out of this action. As the passer in this situation, Ruest has two options. Move it opposite side to the 2-man game developing, or hit Wardle curling behind the cage. Generally players stick to the system of what Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz refers to as The Blender. ( http://weareutahjazz.com/lockedonjazz/2017/12/05/emptying-the-noggin-perfect-basketball/ ) The basic idea is to work one side, reverse the ball quickly, then work that side while the defense is scrambling. This pattern goes as many times as needed until a quality shot is created. Most players would move the ball without a second thought. But Ruest is aware of the shot clock, and that getting another quality look off in 10 seconds might be hard. He also noticed Chris Wardle cutting behind the goal when the pick was set originally. So, he takes a step outside of the system for a second and peeks down to the post for the easy goal from Wardle.

One thing is for sure: The Mammoth have a league-leading defense that needs a small bit of help offensively to be able to win games. The showdown last weekend in Saskatchewan shows that they definitely have a chance to knock off the Rush if their offense can get just a little more production. If not, they may not even get past Calgary in the first round.