The Vancouver Stealth went into Banditland this weekend and grabbed their first win of the season. Everyone stepped up in the victory. Goalie Eric Penney turned away 83.9% of shots in his first start of the season. Corey Small buried four goals and dished out four assists on his way to recording his 500th career NLL point. And perhaps the biggest key to victory: The Stealth used their best goal-scorer, Logan Schuss, as a pick-and-roll ball handler.
It makes sense that pick-and-roll ball handlers shoot better than isolating forwards. You’re going to have a much easier time getting your hands free when a teammate is cross-checking your defender. League-wide shooting percentages for isolating forwards is 12.2% — throw a pick, and that number scoots up to 12.9%.
Not all players are better running the two-man game than they are isolating (see: Kevin Crowley). Different actions suit different skill sets – and the pick-and-roll is tailor-made Schuss’s skill set.
So far this season, Schuss has shot 0-for-11 when isolating. As the operator of a pick-and-roll, he has shot 5-for-14 (35.7%). This weekend against the Buffalo Bandits was the first game in which Schuss attempted five or more shots as the pick-and-roll ball handler. He buried two of them, from almost the same exact spot on the floor. Thanks to up picks from Evan Messenger, Schuss was able to get time and room. Watch him vary his release points to fool the goalie.
Up picks like those can help the 6-foot, 210 lb. Schuss barrel his way to the crease if he’d like. They put pressure on the defense to switch or ice the pick upfront. If they don’t, then they’ll have a tough time helping from across the floor to that underneath move. Switching picks prematurely can leave the picker open on the roll. Icing the pick – which it looks like the Bandits did here – is the less physical option, giving the shooter room to set his feet and shoot.
Schuss can shoot from just about anywhere. He has two-point range in the field game; if you don’t extend to him on these down picks in the indoor game, then he’ll make you pay.
The Stealth have been creative in the ways in which they open up Schuss for shots. I’d like to see more of these staggered picks, especially against defenses looking to switch. When one pick comes right after the first, there’s almost no time to communicate to the new on-ball defender. Schuss is strong enough to generate velocity even off his back foot, and he frequently gets crafty by dropping his hands to use his defender as a screen.
Those pick-and-rolls aren’t dead end roads, either. Schuss only has one assist as a pick-and-roll operator, but he has 12 assist opportunities in those situations – much more than the four assist opportunities he has created in isolation. If he sees a ball-watching defender on the back side, then he can throw a cross-court pass on command. This twister pass is a thing of beauty.
The Stealth have scored 13.1 points per 100 possessions initiating from the left-hand side (third best in NLL). Only the Rock and Rush lefties have been better. Putting Schuss in pick-and-roll scenarios – and trimming isolation shots from their diet – will give this team a shot at a win each week.