Only two weeks remain in the MLL regular season, and the playoff picture is almost as murky as last year’s seven-way tie for first. Any team that gets in the tournament will have a chance, though the team playing the best lacrosse in mid-August will win. The Denver Outlaws wrapped up their 2016 championship campaign on an eight-game winning streak. Which team is most likely to replicate the Outlaws’ run?
Let’s look at offensive rating (points per 45 possessions) and defensive rating (points allowed per 45 possessions) since June 29th and on. Teams are ranked based on their net rating – offensive rating minus defensive rating.
9. Boston Cannons (11.5 offensive rating, 16.0 defensive rating)
The Cannons are the only team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They are ninth in offensive rating and seventh in defensive rating since dealing away Will Manny and Joe LoCascio.
8. Charlotte Hounds (13.4 offensive rating, 16.2 defensive rating)
Through Week 10 the Hounds were second in offensive rating, scoring 14.4 points per 45 possessions. In the last three week this group has been stagnant – especially in the pick-and-roll situations that had been working so well. The Hounds are only scoring 11.3 points per 45 pick-and-roll possessions over the last month (eighth in MLL over that time).
It’s tough to understand what caused this offense to sputter. They drafted Matt Rambo, a perfect pick-and-roll partner for Joey Sankey. Rookie John Crawley gave a strong invert presence, shooting 8-for-21 (38.1%) off the dodge. And 2013 MLL MVP Kevin Crowley is still impossible to slide to. He’ll back his man down, wait for the hot defender to scurry back to his man, and muscle his way to the heart of the defense.
Defenses have opted to live with these goals off the dodge. They got caught in No Man’s Land last year trying to slide to Crowley, and he burned them for 12 assists and only 15 turnovers in seven games. This year he has seven assists and 19 turnovers – the fourth-worst assist-to-turnover ratio among players with five or more assists.
7. Florida Launch (13.9 offensive rating, 16.2 defensive rating)
Exclude the Launch’s 17-4 loss to the Blaze on July 1st, and this young team is scoring 16.3 points per 45 possessions in July. There are reasons to be excited, from the rookie class to Connor Buczek to Tucker Durkin locking down X.
6. Atlanta Blaze (13.9 offensive rating, 14.1 defensive rating)
At 5-7, Atlanta needs two wins and some help to make the postseason. It’s unlikely; but their defensive improvement bodes well for 2018. Over the last three weeks, the Blaze defense has been the fourth best defense in the league.
Roster consistency has led to better slides. Blaze opponents are shooting 28.7% off the catch since June 10th; prior, they had shot 36.1%. Much of that can be attributed to the Blaze’s ability to limit shots from the inside. Only 15.3% of assisted shots allowed have been from the hole since June 10th; before then, 24.1% of assisted shots had been taken from the middle of the field. Look for defensive coordinator Jamie Munro’s unit to continue to improve.
5. New York Lizards (14.4 offensive rating, 14.1 defensive rating)
The Lizards are 3-1 since acquiring Will Manny and Joe LoCascio. They’ve shaken things up. Paul Rabil is spending lots of time on attack. Midfield lines are changing from possession to possession.
This defense has been solid all season. Austin Pifani and Jack Carrigan are playing huge roles as rookies. When the Lizards sink into zone, opponents are only scoring on 23.3% of possessions. Other teams have adopted the zone, though none have had this much success. Bayhawks opponents are beating their zone 28.6% of the time; Cannons opponents (mostly the Rattlers in that Sunday evening massacre) are lighting up the #BoomSquad’s zone on 35.3% of possessions.
4. Ohio Machine (13.3 offensive rating, 12.8 defensive rating)
Should we be concerned that the Sheens have the eighth-ranked offense in the month of July? If that’s not concerning enough, then their face-off situation certainly is. The Sheens added Anthony Kelly ahead of Sunday’s championship rematch with the Outlaws. They snuck away with a win, but won only four of 29 face-offs. How many games can you win when you face off below 15%?
The Faceless Men make up the league’s best defense – and the best unit on this team.
3. Denver Outlaws (14.5 offensive rating, 14.0 defensive rating)
In classic, consistent Outlaws fashion, the Outlaws are third in both offensive and defensive rating this month. Matt Kavanagh hasn’t been seen since Team USA tryouts, but Zach Currier has done a damn good impression of him. Currier’s ability to get underneath defenses with speed rather than strength is so unique. Ohio – the league’s best sliding defense! – couldn’t keep him away from the middle of the field without leaving another Outlaw wide open for a stepdown shot. Teammates are shooting 46.7% off feeds from Currier, who is operating primarily on the wing across from Wes Berg.
2. Rochester Rattlers (15.4 offensive rating, 14.3 defensive rating)
That the Rattlers have boasted the league’s second-best offense during July despite Jordan Wolf missing time due to a broken rib is remarkable. They’ve survived a chaotic stretch, not by falling back on their consistent contributors, but by scratching them. Jeremy Boltus (2015 All-Star Game MVP) and Kyle Denhoff (2017 All-Star) have been out of the lineup lately.
The right-hand side of the Rattlers’ offense is the most dangerous. Jordan MacIntosh and Dhane Smith can both play on the perimeter or finish inside. The Rattlers are scoring 19.0 points per 45 pick-and-roll possessions in the month of July – most of those actions have involved one (or both) of these two right-handed box stars.
1. Chesapeake Bayhawks (17.2 offensive rating, 13.2 defensive rating)
Nobody has been hotter this month than the Bayhawks. The bravado of the Bayhawks’ rookie class is unrivaled. Josh Byrne (5.0 unassisted shots per game) and Jake Froccaro (4.1 unassisted shots per game) are both comfortable (and capable of) calling their own number.
In July, the Bayhawks are riding back 12.7% of possessions, nearly double the league average riding rate of 6.4%. Their best defense has been their offense. Byrne (7CT) and Lyle Thompson (5CT) have set the tone for what has been the league’s hardest working attack unit. Week 13 Defensive Player of the Week Niko Amato appears to have won the job between the pipes for the Bayhawks.