By the Numbers: MLL Team Needs and Draft Targets
While every team's roster has been depleted by the expansion draft, adding the right pieces in the 2016 Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft can make any team a contender. Coaches around the league expect an even playing field this summer. One coach mentioned that the Charlotte Hounds (3-11 in 2015) are "not as far away as people think."
Finding those fits can be the difference in such a competitive league. Each team's big board varies greatly, especially without a senior season to scout players. However, each team knows what it needs to take the next step. Here are some holes each team will address on Friday night, based on advanced statistics.
Last summer, the Boston Cannons (13.0 percent) and Charlotte Hounds (11.3 percent) were the only two teams to allocate greater than 10 percent of their shots to 2-pointers. While the Hounds' 2-point attempts were inflated by fourth quarter desperation, a majority of the Cannons' attempts was part of then-head coach John Tucker's plan. Tucker, who is now the general manager and head coach in Atlanta, loves two-way midfielders who push the pace and generate looks in transition, when 2-point percentage soars from its typical 13.5 percent to 16.2 percent.
Without a 2-point arc in the collegiate game, projecting which NCAA players will be able to shoot 2-pointers is mostly a conjectural exercise. Conveniently, the consensus first overall pick, Myles Jones (Duke), is an athletic midfielder who frequently operates from high percentage 2-point shooting areas.
Tucker's Cannons led MLL with 88 attempts beyond the arc last summer; the roster he has constructed for the expansion Atlanta Blaze combined for just 33 attempts in 2015. A full season from Ryan Tucker (14 attempts in six games) and more green lights for Justin Turri (4 attempts in 11 games) and Kevin Cooper (5 attempts in 13 games) will help get that number up. Jones will be drafted for his ability to win one-on-one matchups and dissect a sliding defense, but his shooting range could be an added bonus for the Blaze.
With Brodie Merrill in the lineup, the Cannons' defense allowed 1.4 fewer points per 45 possessions. That is an enormous jump. By that measure, Merrill's presence would make a league-average defense as good as the league-best Chesapeake Bayhawks. It would make the league-worst Charlotte Hounds better than the league average.
Of course, not all of that difference can be explained by Merrill. Defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins was acquired shortly after Merrill's first game with the Cannons; long-time Cannon defender Mitch Belisle was also missing for two of the same games as Merrill. Those two players had significant impacts, but losing Merrill (22CT, 33GB in seven games) to the expansion roster of the Atlanta Blaze leaves the Cannons searching for a cover defender alongside Chad Wiedmaier.
Luckily for the Cannons, close defense may be the deepest position in the draft. Maryland defenseman Matt Dunn (6-3, 215) and Syracuse defenseman Brandon Mullins (6-2, 202) are both bruisers. Schmeisser Award winner Matt Landis (Notre Dame) is widely regarded as the top defender in the draft. There's potential for all three to develop into elite cover defenders in this league for years to come. While the Cannons may not have their choice of those three with the sixth overall pick, they should be content with whichever defender falls to them.
The Hounds' front office is confident in its defense, which was 4.1 points per 45 possessions better when Michael Ehrhardt was dressed. Offense is the top priority in this draft, with 2015 Cascade Rookie of the Year Joey Sankey serving as the building block. Two needs jump out looking at this offense: a supplementary dodger and a complementary finisher for Sankey.
Labeling Notre Dame's Matt Kavanagh (27G, 25A in '15) and Syracuse's Dylan Donahue (50G, 21A) as solely a dodger or finisher is unfair. Both are lefties like Sankey, however. Pairing left-handed attackmen together is not entirely unheard of -- Sankey thrived alongside Jimmy Bitter at North Carolina -- but the skill sets must align. For the Hounds, it is a matter of determining which left-handed attackman will avoid stepping on Sankey's toes on the dance floor of American Legion Memorial Stadium. Donahue's inside game and ability to carry at X make him a prime candidate to mesh with Sankey's low wing slashing.
On the weak side, right-handed attackman Ryan Brown (Johns Hopkins) would feast floating into the pockets of open space. As a junior Brown buried 61 goals. His shooting motion has an aesthetic appeal reminiscent of Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing -- it's pure perfection. Drafting Brown would also allow the Hounds to tinker with the way they use Mike Sawyer.
The front office would like to see Sawyer run out of the box this summer for obvious reasons. Pinning a 114-mph shooter underneath the 2-point line is like keeping a $250,000 Italian sports car in your garage. Attackmen across the league shot a mere 5 percent from behind the 2-point arc last season. Sawyer (0-for-15) was no exception. As a midfielder, he can be a pick-and-pop partner for Garrett Thul or John Haus, relative to sprinting away from the cage off flare screens. This is an easy way to free Sawyer's hands from high percentage 2-point areas.
The Bayhawks ranked first in defensive efficiency (12.1 points allowed per 45 possessions), eighth in offensive efficiency (12.5 points per 45 possessions) and eighth in faceoff percentage (34.7 percent). After acquiring veteran Anthony Kelly during the supplemental draft, the latter should improve drastically. Now, the Bayhawks must add goals to the lineup.
On average, 30.2 percent of MLL shots were rebounded or run out by the defense this summer. For the Bayhawks' offense that number was a league-worst 36.3 percent. The four shooters guiltiest of this in the entire league were all Bayhawks: Peet Poillon (48.0 percent), Joe Walters (45.0), Ben Hunt (45.5) and Kevin Crowley (45.2). Without Poillon (retirement) and Crowley (traded to Charlotte), the Bayhawks have an opportunity to assemble a midfield line versed in the art of deliberately missing the cage when appropriate.
Three Terps (Pat Young, Bryan Cole and Henry West) are surely at the top of head coach Brian Reese and president Dave Cottle's draft board. The most intriguing option, if he were to slip to the 11th overall pick, would be Challen Rogers (Stony Brook). The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Canadian buried 30 goals and dished out 23 assists while shooting 45.5% percent as a junior.
Rogers may spend the summer playing summer ball in Canada, but the reward may be worth the risk for the Bayhawks, who have relatively few holes for a sub-.500 team. The retired Ben Rubeor's opening on attack should be filled by a healthy Brendan Mundorf. Defenseman Chris Hipps (selected by Atlanta Blaze in the expansion draft) can be replaced by Michael Quinn (Yale), Robby Haus (Ohio State) or Austin Schultz (Navy). Historically, the Bayhawks have drafted so well that a miss at the top of the second round would not cripple the franchise.
Replacing Lee Zink is not as simple as drafting an elite cover defender. In fact, the 2015 Outlaws had a great cover defender in Dillon Roy, but the team's six-on-six defense struggled. Blame it on a lack of speed, poor positioning or, as head coach BJ O'Hara regularly mentioned on weekly media coaches' conference calls, being "slide happy."
Any way you slice it, the defense needs improvement.
Opponents shot better on assisted shots against the Outlaws (38.7 percent) than any other team. Zink's off-ball duties — hello checks on shooters' wrists and timely crease fills — may have been missed more than his on-ball defense. Opposing teams ripped out the heart of the Outlaws' defense and took it to-go in a doggy bag, burying more goals per game (3.4) from the heart against the Outlaws than against any other team. Like the Cannons, the Outlaws should be targeting that elite crop of defensemen: Landis, Dunn and Mullins.
It's already safe to consider the Launch's 2015 draft a success. Offensively, the Launch took off when first overall pick Lyle Thompson, second overall pick Connor Buczek and Miles Thompson (acquired via trade with Rochester) joined the lineup. A unit which scored just 12.2 points per 45 possessions -- a lower mark than the Bayhawks' league-worst offense -- began scoring 14.6 points per 45 possessions. Over a full season, that would be about 0.5 points more efficient than the league-leading Ohio Machine.
This year, expect head coach Stan Ross to build out his defense in the draft. The Launch defense struggled in front of goalie Brett Queener last summer. Not only did it allow a league-high 49 shots per game (and 5.5 shots on the doorstep), but it couldn't steal a loaf of marble rye from a 70-year-old woman in Manhattan. Tucker Durkin and company was last in MLL with 8.6 caused turnovers per game.
Landis would be an excellent fit for the Launch. For some coaches, coming from Gerry Byrne's dominant Irish defense is a deterrent. That's not the case for Ross, who is looking for system guys to pair with Durkin (Hopkins) and Pat Frazier (Loyola). Plus, Landis has shown enough flashes of greatness as a one-on-one defender against Lyle Thompson to quell any "system-dependent" concerns. He will immediately help the Launch play defense the way it wants: creating possessions for the Launch offense and keeping Queener's blood pressure at a healthy level.
2016 MLL Draft Order
1. Atlanta Blaze
10. Atlanta Blaze
Draft lasts eight rounds. For complete order, visit MajorLeagueLacrosse.com.
New York Lizards
NFL teams crunch the numbers to determine the point at which trading down for more picks is preferred over using a certain draft pick. General manager and head coach Joe Spallina has found the optimal use of draft picks in MLL does not involve trading down, but instead trading out entirely. The Lizards will not pick until 24th overall on Friday night (barring any trades), and they are completely content with that.
Until the MLL draft is moved back to May, player evaluation will be considered too foggy for the Lizards to prefer a pick over a known commodity. Over the years Spallina has dealt collegiate and supplemental picks for Paul Rabil, Kyle Hartzell, Chris LaPierre and Jake Tripucka. This wheeling and dealing has been enabled by Spallina's ability to hit the few picks he has kept: JoJo Marasco (37th overall in 2013), Tommy Palasek (28th overall in 2012), Matt Gibson (38th overall in 2012), Rob Pannell (1st overall in 2012) and Joe Fletcher (3rd overall in 2014), among others.
Don't be fooled by the #stillchamps tweets out there. The Lizards are not complacent after last year's title. Their perception of winning the offseason simply does not involve piling up collegiate draft picks — Spallina will leave that to the Hounds. Acquiring Dave Lawson and Tripucka provided the Lizards with the athleticism between the lines that they wanted this offseason. Now, this draft is for taking shots on diamonds in the rough.
Unlike many teams who lost key on-field contributors to the expansion draft, the Machine's biggest loss this offseason was on the sidelines. Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Tom Mariano is now a member of the Bayhawks' coaching staff. Coaches around the league recognize how crucial Mariano was to the Machine's second-ranked defense (12.2 points allowed per 45 possessions).
Mariano's defense was predicated upon disrupting rhythms and dictating tempo. Machine opponents coughed up a league-high 20.8 turnovers per game due to constant pressure at all areas of the field. Aggressive approaches from long-stick midfielder Brian Karalunas (31 caused turnovers) and short-stick defensive midfielder Dominique Alexander (10CT) stretched offenses and chewed up the shot clock. Down low, Jackson Place (30CT) played as well as any cover defender in the league. While defenseman Dana Wilber, who missed the end of last season due to injury, will be returning, several high-IQ players will not be.
Defenseman Brian Farrell (retired) and goalie Brian Phipps (traded to Chesapeake) are both MIAA coaches whose knowledge of the game helped the Machine play fast without playing recklessly. Jake Bailey (traded to Atlanta) is an enormous, MLL-prototype defender whose potential excited many in the Machine organization. For the Machine to play the same style and quality of defense in 2016, they will need to draft some smart and fast defenders. Landis, Dunn and Mullins might all be gone before the seventh overall pick, but Stephen Jahelka (Harvard), Quinn, Haus or Schultz could fit nicely.
This summer Randy Staats will still be posting up and Kevin Rice will still be running the pick-and-roll, except they will be doing so for the Atlanta Blaze. Both are exceptional players with unique skill sets; replacing them in this draft would be difficult, if not impossible. Instead, the Rattlers will likely address one of the offensive deficiencies that Staats' and Rice's presence masked: step-down shooting.
The Big Boy Line had a steep drop in production last summer, especially on hands-free looks. The Rattlers generated 10 assisted shots per game for their midfielders, yet converted on just 25.7 percent (sixth-ranked in MLL) of them. Dave Lawson (22.0 percent) and Justin Turri (21.4) are gone, but John Ranagan (20.0) and recently reacquired Ned Crotty (10.0) are guilty of squandering even more assisted opportunities. Here's a look at Rochester's midfielders when assisted, which would be an even uglier graphic if not for Jordan MacIntosh and Kyle Denhoff:
Two shooters would help alleviate pressure from 2015 Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Wolf: Greg Coholan and Deemer Class. Coholan is a Rochester native and career 36.8 percent shooter at Virginia. A two-time All-American and two-time national champion at Duke, Class has 84 career goals on 31.3 percent shooting. While it wouldn't be a shock if the Rattlers were able to snag both (especially if Class drops as far as some coaches are predicting), either would be welcomed with open arms by Wolf, whose feeds were finished just 27.1 percent of the time by midfielders (compared to 43.5 percent by attackmen).
The Rattlers' left-handed attack position has experienced more turnover than Hogwarts' Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. In the last two years alone, Rochester has featured Dan Hardy, Mark Cockerton, Ty Thompson and Matthews. Like Rice and Staats, Matthews will be suiting up for the Blaze this summer. Princeton's Ryan Ambler (22G goals 29 assists as a junior) is an intriguing option to replace Matthews. Ambler can run the two-man game from both the attack and midfield. Marist's Joe Radin (55G, 18A) is another sleeper to keep in mind. Both make more sense for the role than Crotty, who is primarily an X-attackman who happens to be left-handed.
The 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET in downtown Baltimore as part of the US Lacrosse National Convention. Check back to LaxMagazine.com for live coverage and full results.
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