Whipsnakes’ Off-Ball Screens and Cuts
By Joe Keegan | Apr 14, 2020
Every offense aims to maximize its catch-and-shoot chances. Moving the ball (and the goalie) gives the shooter an advantage. Across the league, six-on-six shooting percentage jumps 50.7% (from 21.6% when unassisted to 32.6% when assisted) when a pass is made. For the Whipsnakes, the value of a pass is even greater. Their shooting percentage increases by 90.9% (!) – from 16.7% when unassisted to 32.0% when assisted – because most passes are accompanied by a seal or screen.
Many of those screens are for the most dangerous time-and-room two-point shooter in the league: Mike Chanenchuk. His range makes closeouts tough enough. The arc sits at 15 yards, but Chanenchuk can sling it from 17 and beyond. Defenders who sink in too far to help on the crease have little chance of closing out to Chanenchuk in time; and their odds get slimmer when a screen is set.
Hurried approaches are easier for Chanenchuk to hitch and blow by. He can decline the two for a closer shot. His heavy cradle and unorthodox, wrist-heavy shooting mechanics make his shot on the run one of the most unpredictable in the league. By the time goalies realize he’s shooting, the ball is in the back of the net.
Crease play is key to the Whipsnakes’ offensive success. They preached all season the importance of making the simple play – or to borrow a baseball term, “hitting singles.” Those singles aren’t available if the interior players crowd the dodger. When they stay opposite, opportunities for screens present themselves. This pass by Matt Rambo was more like a triple – and the screen on the inside drove the runner home.
The two interior players are key to the Whips' spacing. Most of the work done by players like Jay Carlson and All-Film Team member John Haus goes unnoticed. Their cuts clear space for teammates to cash in. They won't get a traditional assist, but there's no question that they play a role in many of the Whips' goals.
Check out this cut by Haus. There's no numbers advantage here for the Whips. They are matched up two-on-two behind the cage and four-on-four above the cage. By switching this pick cleanly, the defense has avoided sending a third defender, which prevents a potential four-on-three above goal-line extended. The Whips need to work to create an open shooter. Enter John Haus. He overloads the right side of the field by cutting between Joe LoCascio and LoCascio's defender. It's like a rub route in the red zone -- and Rambo finds LoCascio for the touchdown.
We tend to think of off-ball screens as tools to set up shooters with time and room. Screens for feeders are equally effective. The Whipsnakes buy time for feeders at X with physical front swings. Watch Rambo here; he buries his own defender (who is looking to slide) on the inside. Now, a short-stick is forced to travel a longer distance to close out to Ben Reeves. Reeves sees the short-stick’s approach is out-of-control; he takes advantage, draws a slide, and feeds Rambo.
That’s advantage lacrosse. Once you draw a slide, keep the pressure on the defense. While they scramble to reset matchups, use their momentum against them.
The Whipsnakes’ dodge-to-shoot struggles would only be a concern if it hampered their catch-and-shoot chances. Their midfielders still get downhill and draw slides. Rambo can create his shot on command. A big chunk of the Whips’ unassisted whiffs came with nine seconds or less on the shot clock. As long as there’s enough oomph in this offense to put the defense on the carousel, their screens will open up opportunities for finishers.