10 Man Ride: 83.3% of Offense is Off-Ball

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Feb 18, 2021

CLEAR! The ride is on. 83.3% of offense is played away from the ball. Seals, screens, seesaw cuts, sneaks from X, mirrors, and more make up most of the offensive actions on the field.

Let’s dive into the film of some of the best off-ball movers in the PLL.

1. Quantifying off-ball offense

Part of the reason off-ball offense is underappreciated is because it cannot be quantified.

Is the best off-ball offense Chrome because they buried a league-best 36.4% of their catch-and-shoot looks?

Is it the Waterdogs because a league-high 57.4% of their shots were assisted?

Is it the Archers because defenses locked off their off-ball shooters, opening a lane for sweeping midfielders?

There’s no correct answer. Every team has its own way of accomplishing the same goal: Creating shots from the middle of the field.

2. Whipsnakes’ double crease set

The Whipsnakes’ 2-2-2 set is lethal. Whoever is inside – usually some combination of John Haus, Jay Carlson, Zed Williams – causes complete and utter confusion for the sliding defenders.

This screen-and-roll by Zed shows how quickly a crowded crease can be vacated. When Zed’s man slides he and John Haus are playing two-on-one. A hard cut by Haus pulls the defense away from Zed – camped right in front of the crease.

3. Open sets don’t stay open for long

Contrast that with the Archers’ twins set. There are three sets of twins: the lefties, the righties, and the twins at X.

Nobody is inside… yet.

All offenses want to create shots from the paint. The Archers’ twins set lends itself to a different type of read-and-react off-ball play than those Whipsnakes’ double crease sets. It looks like a counter opposite; its goal is the exact same.

4. Open sets in tight quarters 

The field is shrinking – both in transition and in settled sets. Trimming space from the middle of the field has eliminated the runway for alley-dodging midfielders. PLL is an attackman’s league; especially attackmen who can operate in tight spaces.

This Waterdogs “open” set isn’t too open. It’s a bite-size version of the Archers’ twins set. But it reaps the rewards of an open set. No crease defender means no clear slide – plus opportunities for cuts. Several defenders are swiveling their heads, and Drew Snider’s beesting pick frees Ben McIntosh for the dunk.

5. Eric Law: Very, very sneaky

Eric Law is the sneakiest X attackman in the league. (Grant Ament and Jules Heningburg are in the conversation, too.) Watch him when his team is initiating from the wings or from up top. He either catches his man napping then creeps above GLE for a dunk or he notices his man hedging and floats to the opposite side of the cage.

6. Hangup strategy

We’re seeing more hang-ups than ever at the college level this spring. It’s out of control. Defenses are okay with elite attackman planting their feet and scanning the field from X. They’re less dangerous than they are on the move drawing double teams.

Offenses need to cook up better off-ball movement to capitalize on those hang-ups.

Defenses are anticipating screens. Deceptive screening – like this moonwalk by Eric Law – can prevent communication. The Whipsnakes don’t play sides and pass off matchups, because Law’s screen looks like an accident.

Oops! Didn’t see you there!

7. “I’m going to attack the defense when they’re most vulnerable”

Law’s approach to the X position is unique. His conversation with Jules Heningburg – whose own off-ball game has shades of Law’s – is worth a listen.

8. Crease Collapse of the Week Gone Wrong 

Certain off-ball players have more gravitational pull than others. Matt Gaudet keeps the collapsing defender in his orbit just long enough for Justin Guterding to release this time-and-room bullseye.

9. Seal… psych!

Offenses can be visually deceptive, vocally deceptive, and physically deceptive. This seal-and-roll by Drew Snider is the latter.

Snider applies slight pressure on his defender’s back, signaling a seal. So, his defender sprints to the perimeter, leaving Snider open inside.

10. What’s the right balance?

Orchestrated off-ball movement makes sweet, sweet offensive music. What makes an offense tank?

Is it too many dodgers? I don’t think so. “There’s only one ball” is an overused critique. Offenses don’t fail to reach their potential because they have too many dodgers; they do so when they have too few off-ball players.

Look at the Whipsnakes. Matt Rambo is their quarterback – he also happens to be excellent on the wing in their invert set. Zed Williams’ inside roll is the most unstoppable dodge in the league – but his off-ball game is complete, too. There’s only one ball for the champs, yet Rambo, Zed, and company share it well.

Thanks for reading!

Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you next week!

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