The hottest team in the league right now is the Toronto Rock. They rebounded from an 0-2 start and are on an offensive tear during their current three-game win streak, scoring a combined 61 goals. That is not a typo. The righties of the Rock are playing as expected. Tom Schreiber, the reigning NLL Rookie of the Year, has elevated his play to MVP status; Rob Hellyer is on pace for another 100-point season, which is impressive considering he missed all of last year, and Brett Hickey keeps reminding defenses they cannot forget about him. While the Rock righties have been producing, the lefties are becoming a nightmare for defenses. The Rock lead the league in goals (20) when initiating from the left-hand side.
An off-season, as well as a mid-season trade, are now paying dividends for Toronto. Before the season, the Rock acquired two-time All-Pro second team lefty forward, Adam Jones. The addition of Jones made Toronto one of the best teams on paper. However, the Rock set offense could not get anything going the first two games; scoring only eight combined goals. The left side seemed stagnant and lacked chemistry. The clip below shows a glimpse.
The Rock made a change after two games and traded away lefty forward Stephan Leblanc for the speedy defender Sheldon Burns. They were comfortable with this move because they knew they had depth on the left side. Enter Dan Craig.
Craig could end up being the steal of the draft, being selected 57th overall. General managers were nervous to take a chance on the Penn State Nittany Lion because he had been on a two-year hiatus from the box. He has added speed, skill, and athleticism to the Rock offense. That backhander from distance is just sick, but what is more impressive is the repertoire of shots. He shows the ability to cut down the middle, catch with a defender on his stick, and finish. That last goal looks like something you would see in the field game. Dodge from up top, jump shot for the off-side hip goal. Craig, in just three games, has six goals; tied for the lead among rookies with number one overall pick Josh Byrne.
Kieran McArdle is getting back into the groove of the box game after a summer on the field. In the first two games, the Toronto left side operated primarily from the wing and below. McArdle has been able to stretch the defense from up top. The first play, he carries his defender out of the restraining box, this allows Reid Reinholdt and Adam Jones to run the two-man game. By the time McArdle’s man sluffed down to help, Jones has already put the ball in the back of the net. The Rock also struggled to get to the middle of the floor in their two-game skid. McArdle, a natural dodger, gets to the prime shooting area on the floor and puts it under the crossbar.
Reinholdt has been the grinder of the Rock offense; he leads the league in pick assists (7). The clip above shows him creating open shots for his fellow lefties. First, he picks off-ball to open up space for Dan Craig’s spot up shot. Second, is your standard pick and roll. He knocks the on-ball defender out of the way to free Jones up for a shot he has made probably a thousand times.
Jones rewarded him for his efforts with these roll man opportunities.
The left side has also created opportunities for the right. Both plays are pretty similar in that the pick action allows the ball handler to get top-side to find the open man. I did not see much of this from the Rock in the first two games.
Mr. Jones has been phenomenal to start the season; he leads the league in points (36) and is the best in the NLL shooting off the dodge with nine goals. The Reinholdt-Jones combination has been effective. Jones has five goals as a pick-and-roll ball handler — four of those have been off Reinholdt picks.
This weekend the Toronto Rock will face off against the New England Black Wolves, the team they shipped LeBlanc off to, in a battle for first place in the East Division. Jones, Reinholdt, Craig, and McArdle will look to continue their dominance against one of the top defenses in the league.