Much like Benjamin Button lived his life backwards compared to most of us, the Buffalo Bandits offense is exhibiting backwards stats. The Bandits are currently in last place in their division, and one reason for this is the difference between their isolation and pick and roll ball handler shooting percentages. As covered by Joe Keegan earlier this week, a player coming off of a pick generally shoots better than an isolation dodger.
For the Bandits, they lead the league in isolation shooting percentage at 16.28%, so you would expect that their pick-and-roll ball handler’s shooting percentage would be, at worst, roughly equal to that number. Unfortunately, it is not. And it’s not just slightly worse; it’s at 9.62%, almost half! No other team in the league has that large of a difference between these two actions.
Now, this would not matter to the Bandits except that they spend more time in settled, 5-on-5 offense than any other offensive situation, and of that settled offensive time they spend 27% of their possessions with the pick-and-roll ball handler finishing the play. That is by far the biggest chunk with the least amount of production in the league. Logic follows that if where you spend most of the time is where you’re getting your worst results, you aren’t going to score very many points. And if you don’t score more points than the other team, you will obviously lose a lot more than you win. So, let’s take a look at what the Bandits have to work with, what they’re doing in isolation situations, what’s working and not working in pick-and-roll, and then a fun wrinkle that we should be on the lookout for in the coming weeks.
First, it needs to be understood that the Bandits have some very capable dodgers on their team. Each one has an electric first step, is creative around the crease, and is powerful from outside. Not all of these next clips end in goals, but they showcase the skills that are creating high percentage scoring opportunities.
So, why doesn’t that skill and ability translate to the pick-and-roll part of their game? Each of these players has been pretty evenly involved in scoring goals for the Bandits, and they all get looks in both situations. Let’s start with some of the issues first.
Here, the slow approach by Craig England leads to Callum Crawford’s shot getting blocked, because the defense was able to be completely set up for the two-man game. The defense had time to communicate, set their body position, and then re-check their positioning before Crawford was actually able to attack.
In this play, the pick by Jones is late, arriving after Josh Byrne has already stopped his own momentum. He still fights through the pick, but the defense has had almost two seconds to talk before Byrne turns the corner. After almost losing the ball, he ends up snapping a fall away shot from the hip that is saved. Separation wasn’t able to be created, even though Byrne is one of the fastest dodgers in the league.
The down pick is what Buffalo turns to in the majority of their pick-and-roll situations — specifically a pass-down pick-down. Mitch Jones could easily have burned his defender if the pick were to an area away from slides. But, because Jordan Durston’s pick takes him right into the teeth of the defense and quick slides, he has to stop and take a contested shot. The slides will be quick and perfectly timed because the defense has been able to stare down the action without worrying too much about what’s going on with their man. There needs to be more movement off-ball for this type of pick to allow Jones a chance at scoring.
And here we have an almost exact copy of the last clip. This is later in the Calgary game, and Jones has seen this about four times by now. There’s just enough lane there to make it enticing, and this time Jones decides to turn the corner on his man, who he has beaten all night, and try to beat the slide. He fails, because the down pick took him within sliding range of two defenders, one of whom is watching him the whole way. A turnover is the result.
It’s not all bad for Buffalo; they do have some things going right for them.
In this play, for instance, Vaughn Harris executes impeccable timing when setting his pick. The defender has just finished turning his hips and didn’t have his feet set on his approach, which is a big problem against someone as quick as Dhane Smith.
Here is one example of a practice that I am still getting used to about the NLL, but it opens up the wrinkle we’ll talk about later. This down pick set by Durston takes out both defenders, because he shoves one of them back off balance before standing in the second defender’s way. Jones’ hands get free for a solid step down shot with no interference because the first defender was not able to change direction again and close out. Again, Durston uses the element of surprise to create the opportunity.
Interesting pick set here by Vaughn Harris. Instead of picking the on ball defender, he picks the player who will be the switch, because he knows that Smith will beat the on ball defender and needs space to beat the switch. As Harris rolls, he slows down the trailing defender and opens up the side step by Smith. This only works because Dhane Smith is lightning fast. This is the kind of *wink wink* pick-setting that needs to happen more often.
These next three clips are a small trend I noticed while going through the film. It has only happened three times from what I have found, but it has been used in the same situation all three times with an offensive player coming out of the box at the end of transition. I call it a “Stunt” pick, because it looks similar to the defensive line stunt/twist actions used in american football. For a basic explanation, see here.
The way this concept is executed by the Bandits is that they have the ball carrier and two other players forming more or less a line/arc on one side of the field. The second player approaches as if he’s going to pick the on ball defender, while the third player hangs back a little. The ball carrier begins his dodge, the middle player of the line moves from being the picker to picking the switch defender, while the third player moves up and picks the on ball defender. Just like that *snaps fingers* the third defender has gone from being a second slide to being the on ball man! Now he has to try and close out on a dodger who is already going downhill. As we saw in the iso play clips earlier, dodging downhill on a late closeout is the Bandits’ bread and butter.
Crawford gets a “Stunt” pick from Smith and Fraser. Smith and Fraser both set great picks, but because Crawford is moving to the middle of the field, through the defense, he has to worry about stick checks. This could still work in the future, the backside defenders just need to be occupied a little longer. Crawford could side step this slide no problem if given the space.
Mark Steenhuis gets a pick in the middle of the field that takes him down the alley for a hands free stepdown shot. Shooting lane is slightly clogged, but no slide is able to reach him in time. If this is Byrne, Smith, or Crawford, well…we saw what happens when they attack late close outs at the beginning.
The picks set by Steve Priolo and England here do a great job of freeing up Crawford. The added benefit of the defensive confusion is that they’re not ready to go after rebounds either, which England is able to scoop and score in this clip.
In summary, the Buffalo Bandits have some choices to make. They’re already very successful at isolation dodges, so they could shift the majority of their offense away from the pick-and-roll and focus on getting their dodging goals from isolation plays. On the other hand, they have some good concepts they’re working with in the pick game; they just need to tighten up their timing and get a little more active off -ball. I, for one, am all for seeing more stunts messing up defenses early in the shot clock. If they can find their shot in those situations, paired with elite isolation scoring, we could definitely see the Buffalo Bandits make a little more noise in their division, and move up in the playoff push.