Unassisted two-pointers may be the toughest shot in Major League Lacrosse. Only 10.9% find the back of the net, so when you hit one, the rest of the league takes notice. The respect defenses have shown Denver Outlaws rookie Romar Dennis since his two-point jump shot in Ohio has led to more openings for other Outlaws.
Range is the reason why Dennis, who shot 18.1% during his career at Loyola, is demanding early slides. He might not be the league’s most consistent shooter off the dodge – canning 5 of his 22 unassisted looks so far in MLL – but the threat of the two-ball has defenses scared out of their minds. Teams are trying to get the ball out of Dennis’ stick as soon as possible, and the unselfish Outlaws offense is thriving in the unsettled situations those slides have created.
Most of Dennis’ dodges are two-way green lights. His two-handedness and the balance of right- and left-handed sticks around him allow the offense to take what the on-ball defender gives them and react from there. The defense will slide from the popping Outlaw, forcing Dennis to make one of the toughest passes on the field: The cross-body pull pass.
The Rattlers recover as well as any defense in MLL. If you can get them on the carousel and capitalize, then you can do it against any MLL defense. That’s one of Dennis’ five hockey assists on the season – which is absurd for a seven-game season, considering the league leader, James Pannell, tallied 11 in 13 games.
All five of Dennis’ hockey assists have come in six-on-six settings. Myles Jones, Jeremy Sieverts and James Pannell each have five, too; only Jake Froccaro (6) has more hockey assists in settled sets.
Dennis doesn’t just initiate the offense; he ignites it. Before he debuted, the Outlaws were shooting 31.7% in catch-and-shoot scenarios. With Dennis in the lineup, the ball is spinning faster than ever, and the Outlaws are burying 35.5% of catch-and-shoot looks thanks to the extra time and room. Right-handed or left-handed, it makes no difference. Dennis has proven capable of making that pull pass and getting the offense going.
This offense was clicking before Dennis arrived, scoring 14.0 points per 45 possessions. Combined with a stout defense (13.8 points allowed per 45 possessions), arguably the league’s best face-off specialist in Tommy Kelly and a surefire Goalie of the Year finalist in Jack Kelly, this team looked ready to repeat. Mix in Dennis, and now you have an offense scores 15.1 points per 45 possessions.
He’s drawing a slide nearly every time he dodges. Sometimes, he’s drawing two. After an early show by a short-stick fails to knock him off his course, the Rattlers send a close defender out to the alley, leaving them vulnerable on the inside. Two passes later, and Mike Bocklet is finishing with some flare.
That ball movement existed in Denver long before Dennis arrived. Defenses could hardly keep up with it when they were in position. Now that they’re constantly sending help to Dennis on the perimeter and scrambling to recover, they’re doomed.
When you have Eric Law (45.8% catch-and-shoot), Michael Bocklet (43.7%) and Matt Kavanagh (41.5%), you need to find ways to get them shots. The Outlaws’ wing attack with Wes Berg, Zach Currier and Kavanagh initiating has been able to do that. Their initiations from up top, though, have been absolutely lethal.
Whether it is Dennis or Jeremy Sieverts or Drew Snider, the Outlaws are scoring 18.1 points per 45 possessions initiated from the midfield. The next best team in MLL (Ohio Machine) scores only 15.0 points per 45 possessions in those situations. Any combination at midfield — Sieverts, Snider, Berg, Currier, Dennis — presents a “Who do you pole?” problem. Double-poling frees up the finishers on attack. Any of those five can torch a short-stick. The Rattlers midfield defense will have their hands full against this unit in Saturday’s semifinal matchup.