At the center of one of the league’s most dangerous extra-man offenses is a long-haired, shooting string-less, wall ball wizard. Sixth-year pro Matt Gibson has 18 catch-and-shoot goals (10th in MLL). In an offense full of ball dominant players, Gibson’s off-ball role is key. When the New York Lizards go man-up, Gibson’s playmaking abilities are on full display.
Only the Ohio Machine convert on a higher percentage (38.5%) of extra-man opportunities than the Lizards (32.7%). When you factor in the three extra-man two-pointers that the Lizards have scored this season, then that number is roughly even. Gibson has had a hand in most of the Lizards’ 18 extra-man goals – he has four goals, two assists and four second assists in EMO situations.
Because of his quick hands, defenses collapse quickly when Gibson catches on the inside. He can sense this pressure, and when he kicks it back to the perimeter, the defense has to scurry back outside to stop the Lizards’ shooters.
Those inside-out passes — known as wall passes — are absolutely back-breaking for man-down defenses to react to. Defenders can’t stay on their spoke at the same speed the ball is moving at. The defense is forced to rotate, and it’s almost always late.
Helping to Gibson from the pipes leaves Rob Pannell or Will Manny open on the right-hand or left-hand side. Crashing down from the two-point arc gives Paul Rabil and Joe LoCascio room to shoot the money ball. Given time and room, both can bury the two-point shot. Rabil has shot 3-for-19 (15.8%) off the catch from downtown; LoCascio has shot 2-for-16 (12.5%), including one on the EMO from Gibson.
To state the obvious: The Lizards offense has been at its best on the EMO. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to unlock that same level of unselfishness in the six-on-six. They have scored a league-low 38 assisted, settled goals this season on a league-worst 26.8% shooting.
As a team, the Lizards have been too content taking unassisted shots. Rabil (12-for-66, 18.2%) and Pannell (12-for-47, 25.5%) have taken the lion’s share, which wasn’t a problem in 2016 when they shot 29.5% and 27.5%, respectively, off the dodge. This season’s Lizards rank eighth in offensive rating, managing merely 13.3 points per 45 possessions.
There’s no easy way to translate the Lizards’ EMO success directly into six-on-six goals. The sets don’t make sense against an even strength defense – but the concepts do. That draw-and-dump playmaking by Gibson works. When the Lizards work harder to find the two-on-one advantages rather than playing one-on-one, then they look like the league’s best offense.