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Moneyball Lacrosse Dives into NLL in 2018

Editor’s Note: Welcome Joe Keegan and his brainchild, Moneyball Lacrosse, to the lacrosse world. These guys went in deep for the MLL season and now their bringing the same effort over to the box game for this NLL season. Facts and figures nerds, this one is for you!

Last spring, The Lacrosse Network launched Moneyball Lacrosse to take a deeper, statistical look into Major League Lacrosse. The goal of the site wasn’t to create an all-encompassing stat like the NBA’s PER which would rank players or teams. Instead, we want to highlight the nuances of each player’s and each team’s playing styles. To do this, we use game film to tag actions with certain variables.

So, what do we track for NLL?

Every shot and turnover… in every NLL game. Each event has a play type associated with it. Did it occur in transition? On a powerplay? In a pick-and-roll? On a cut? That allows us to calculate shooting percentage by scenario for each team.

For example…

Before the weekend, the Rochester Knighthawks’ pick-and-roll ball-handlers have shot 27.6%. The Saskatchewan Rush have shot 32.0% on off-ball actions, mostly off-ball screens.

Rochester Knighthawks Georgia Swarm NLL 2018
Photo: NLL

Each event also has an assist play type associated with it.

This lets us know which player the play started with – and since box lacrosse players stick to one side of the floor, we can find out which side of the floor the play started on. Check out which sides of the floor are most efficient in five-on-five settings.

“Offensive rating” means how many points they score per 100 possessions.

Why 100 possessions?

That’s roughly how many possessions each team has per game. So in other words, how many points would the New England Black Wolves score if they initiated every possession in one game on the right side? 19.7. That’s 10.6 more points per 100 possessions than the Black Wolves have generated from the left side.

Essentially, the Black Wolves have been twice as likely to score when they dodge or feed on the right side of the floor than when they dodge or feed on the left side of the floor. It’s early in the season; expect the gap between their two sides to dwindle a bit, but you get the idea. Their best offense starts with their righties, which defenses know and are able to alter their schemes accordingly.

(Of course that would never happen, since so many possessions are used in transition and on powerplays and, if we’re being honest, Shawn Evans and Kevin Crowley would probably need a rest at some point during those 100 possessions.)

Shooting Stats

For players, we’ve separated “shots” into two stats: dodging shots and off-the-catch shots.

What’s the difference? A dodging shot can still be assisted by traditional box lacrosse definitions. However, if a player catches the ball, lacks a clear advantage on his defender, and is forced to create an advantage on his own before shooting, then it’s categorized as a dodging shot.

We tracked dodging shots and off-the-catch shots for Major League Lacrosse, too. It gave us some valuable insight, because not all shots are created the same. Kevin Crowley’s ability to post up his man and shoot 5-for-15 (33.3%) in dodging situations is extremely valuable to the Black Wolves, especially late in the shot clock. He can single-handedly make up for 25 seconds of wasted shot clock with one strong move to the cage.

New England Black Wolves NEBW vs GA Swarm Photo Jeff Melnik NLL 2018
Photo: Jeff Melnik / Conquest Photos

On the other hand, there are lots of off-ball players who pile up goals – but which of those players makes the most of their opportunities? Nobody has done better than Saskatchewan’s Ben McIntosh (7-for-9, 77.8% off-the-catch) so far this season.

That’s Not All!

Another individual stat that we’ve tracked: the pick assist. When a player plows his teammate’s man out of the way for a goal, then he gets a pick assist. This could be on-ball…

… or off-ball, like Matthew Dinsdale’s pick here.

As the season continues, we’ll add even more to the site. Get ready to see defensive stats – which teams allow the lowest shooting percentages to pick-and-roll ball-handlers? (SPOILER: Right now, it’s Saskatchewan at 5.6%.) Our team – Jake Watts, Alex Siegel, Dallin Kimber, and Max Huston – will write blogs highlighting teams, players, and trends.

We want to encourage you to follow along as we look at the game from an analytical angle!