And finally, here is last part of my first annual MLL Trade Value. For those stat geeks out there, here are a few numbers for you to digest. The top 50 included nine attackmen, 16 midfielders, eight defensemen, three short-stick midfielders, five long-stick midfielders, two faceoff athletes, three goalies and four attackmen/midfielders.
Twenty of the 30 members of Team USA were included. (Well, 21 if you let me use a mulligan and include Marcus Holman.) Only six of my hometown Boston Cannons made the cut. (Who said I was a homer?!) A mere 9,821 words later, and here we are–the top 10:
10. Sam Bradman—M—Rochester Rattlers
Those who are unfamiliar with the LXM Pro Tour are often quick to make broad assumptions about the players. Lots of the midfielders on the Tour have a reputation for dodging on the perimeter. They will jab-step and sweep right-to-left, but they won’t get dirty.
That’s not Bradman. Although he’s small, he plays smash-mouth lacrosse. Lots of his goals come from that intermediate range between the perimeter and the crease. We’ll see if that changes when guys like Brian Spallina and Mitch Belisle are sliding to him. Maybe he won’t drive to the hole so much, but his perimeter game is nasty. Watch as he drops both his stick and his head on this low-to-high rip on the run:
That’s beautiful stuff. I’m jealous of all 1,991 Rattlers’ fans who will be seeing this live on a regular basis.
9. Matt Danowski–A–Charlotte Hounds
“Coaching has helped his game tremendously. He’s a much smarter player now that he’s had the chance to step off the field and view the game from the sidelines,” said every commentator of every game Danowski has played in since joining Duke’s coaching staff last spring.
But seriously, they are right. Danowski has taken his game to another level in the last year. He’s a coach on the field and the guy for the Hounds.
8. Greg Gurenlian–FO–New York Lizards
Raw “points for” and raw “points against” are primitive, fruitless statistics. Some teams play faster than others. By using less of the shot clock, each team gains more possessions per game. MLL doesn’t currently publicize possessions, so pace cannot be measured. We cannot derive a statistic such as “Points Per 30 Possessions.” The best we can do? Measure “Points at 50 Percent Faceoff Success.”
I wrote about this at length a few months ago. Teams with dominant faceoff specialists (i.e. New York and Boston) are much better in “points for” and “points against” than they would be at 50 percent faceoff success. Check out the league standings for 2013:
|Team||PFPG at 50%||Actual PFPG|
Gurenlian’s success at the X gave the Lizards’ offense 2.15 more points per game than a league-average specialist (i.e. Mike Poppleton) would. Impressive, right? Now look at the impact he had on his team’s defense:
|Team||PAPG at 50%||Actual PAPG|
WOW! Gurenlian’s success masked a truly terrible Lizards’ defense. He saved them 4.43 points per game relative to a 50 percent faceoff specialist. Add those numbers up and the difference between The Beast and Poppleton is 6.58 points per game. To put that in perspective, Gurenlian’s teammate Rob Pannell led MLL with 4.20 points per game this summer.
I don’t care if facing off is the only thing Gurenlian does, I want him on my team. Specialization happens at every position in every sport. Matt Poskay is a legendary finisher, but he’s never been asked to create offense with the ball in his crosse. There are plenty of physical defenders who can’t open up and run with midfielders. Nobody wants to create any rules to put those players in uncomfortable positions. I don’t understand why some are proposing rules against faceoff specialists. Let’s focus on other rule changes first (i.e. a visible shot clock and less than one timeout per team per five minute overtime period).
7. Tucker Durkin–D–Florida Launch
If Wade Leaphart could rewind one year and not trade Durkin to the Nationals for John Haus, Casey Carroll and Jake Tripucka, would he do it? Generally, you always trade three quarters for one dollar when given the opportunity. Plus Charlotte had seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2014 MLL Draft. The Hounds don’t lack depth–they might actually have too much. If MLL adds more teams this fall, then the Hounds will only be able to protect 10 or 12 players. Seems like keeping Durkin is the obvious choice, right?
Eh, not really. Even after Durkin’s phenomenal rookie season and all the reasons above, I still think Leaphart makes that trade. Everyone knew Durkin was an All-MLL talent while he was at Hopkins. Leaphart said at the time of the trade that he was not looking forward to seeing him in a Nationals jersey and that he was convinced Durkin had superpowers.
So why was the trade the right decision? One factor trumps all in MLL: Location. Haus went to Chapel Hill High School, Carroll plays at Duke and Tripucka graduated from Duke in 2013. It’s tough to put a value on location. Most MLL teams have two practices each week (on Friday night and Saturday morning). Having a roster full of out-of-towners limits your ability to create chemistry. Let this trade serve as a reminder that personnel decisions are rarely made on talent alone.
6. Lee Zink–D–Denver Outlaws
When you think of players who make their teammates better, you think of offensive players. Maybe it’s a distributor like Ryan Boyle or a slide-magnet like Paul Rabil. Zink is also the type of guy who makes his teammates better, except he does it defensively.
First and foremost, Zink takes care of his matchup. The first step to making your teammates better is keeping them in position. Slides are rarely needed when Zink is on-ball. After an inexplicably aggressive start to his MLL career (39.5 penalty minutes in his first 47 games), Zink has learned to stay out of the box. He has just 21.5 penalty minutes in his last 61 games.
When he is off-ball, he doubles with extreme efficiency. He calculates the risk before applying pressure and almost always gets the ball on the ground. Watch him help out his offensive teammate Jeremy Sieverts:
As soon as Zink sees Brent Adams change directions, he doubles. Adams rolls with his back to Zink, and by the time he is facing the net, Zink is all over him. Zink’s savvy play spoiled the Cannons’ chances of capitalizing on the Sieverts matchup.
Watch one Outlaws’ game and you’ll see Zink make a handful of plays like this. Whether he is stopping a fast break or helping a teammate win a groundball, he does all the little things defensively. Although it isn’t flashy, it hasn’t gone unnoticed–Zink was the unanimous decision for the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year award.
5. Michael Evans–D–Chesapeake Bayhawks
As a freshman at Hopkins he switched to short-stick defensive midfield because of injuries. The experience has made him one of the most versatile defenseman in the league. He is capable of covering all types of players at all spots on the field. At the 2014 MLL Draft, Evans said that the MLL is a “one-on-one league.” Well, one-on-one lacrosse is Evans’ style. He is the most physical cover defender in the league. He has been the best defender on three championship teams. And he’s only 26 years old.
4. Matt Abbott–SSDM–Chesapeake Bayhawks
My favorite player from the ’09 Syracuse squad. (In case you were wondering, that ranking looks something like: Abbott, John Galloway, Stephen Keogh, Jovan Miller, Dan Hardy, Kenny Nims, the rest of the roster, then a huge gap, then another huge gap, and then Pat Perritt.) Abbott’s coach Dave Cottle described him best:
“No matter what the criteria is Matt Abbott does more for his team than any player I have ever been around. To replace him you need two guys.”
He plays defense. He is on the faceoff unit. He is a one-man clear. Although he is rarely called upon to generate offense in Chesapeake, he showed that he is more than capable of doing so during Team USA tryouts. Abbott is lacrosse’s Rodney Dangerfield.
Give the man some respect!
3. Rob Pannell–A–New York Lizards
As I mentioned earlier, Pannell averaged 4.2 points per game as a rookie. Almost every MLL player experiences a sophomore slump. After an offseason of Team USA tryouts and practices, I doubt Pannell will slow down at all. It is very possible that in March 2015 he will be with the hottest chick in town, buying the most expensive fashions, dining in the fanciest food places, riding around on jet skis and topping this Trade Value list.
2. Kevin Crowley–M–Florida Launch
The differences between box- and field-styles are distinct. Field-style players rely on both hands, speed, split dodges and outside shooting. Box-style players are powerful finishers around the crease who can do with one hand what most can do with two. Lacrosse fans usually use the terms “box” and “Canadian” interchangeably when referring to styles (and the same for field and American). For the most part, they can get away with that generalization.
Canadians like John Grant Jr. and Mark Matthews are known for their ability to operate with limited space. For a long time, Gary and Paul Gait were the only true box- and field-lacrosse “hybrid” players. They played a spread out, isolation style of midfield with their box-quality hands. It was revolutionary–except the revolution didn’t gain momentum until now.
Crowley is the leader of a new generation that I call the Global Warming Babies. I have no logical explanation for the sudden emergence of Gait-esque players decades after the Gaits. The Great White North must have less snow and Canadians must be playing outside more. Players like Ohio State’s Jesse King are enjoying success as one-handed, cage-facing midfielders. North Carolina has two Global Warming Babies (Chad Tutton and Shane Simpson).
These guys have ideal MLL skillsets. They are fast enough to win their matchup and force a slide. Their box-lacrosse backgrounds help them in midfield two-man games. When you get a player with hands like that dodging at a high speed, the result is delightfully creative:
I don’t think it’ll ever look normal to see a midfielder favor a face-dodge over a split-dodge like these guys do, but I don’t care. I love it. Hopefully the number of Canadians in the college game continues to grow. I don’t want the GWB phenomenon to end. In fact, I want it to stick around for so long that the meaning is eventually lost. Maybe one day they will be mistakenly (or perhaps rightfully) referred to as Gait Wannabe Boys. Maybe…
1. Paul Rabil–M–Boston Cannons
In Part 3 I wrote that Rabil was Boston’s Batman. Well, that might not have been entirely accurate. Rabil is Boston’s Superman. This year, teams around the league should be more scared of the Man of Steel than ever. Why? Boston swapped PT Ricci, Lee Coppersmith and a second round pick for Brodie Merrill this offseason. Now, Kryptonite is on Superman’s side.
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