The Bandits are riding high with Josh “Air” Byrne scoring goals at a rate that should net him the Rookie of the Year Award. And after making a blockbuster trade for former league MVP Shawn Evans, Buffalo has gotten a Butch Cassidy to go with their Sundance Kid, and The Wild Bunch ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_Cassidy%27s_Wild_Bunch ) is looking to make some noise in the East standings and the playoffs.
But just making front office moves doesn’t win a championship. Goals need to be scored on the field. As we have covered, the Bandits are better than anybody else at scoring goals in 1v1 situations. But if they’re going to improve their seed and take a swing at the Champion’s Cup, they’re going to need some more scoring than just in Isolation.
The next obvious place to look is the 2-man game, where Buffalo has struggled mightily to score with the ball handler in the pick-and-roll with anyone besides Dhane Smith. An intriguing option is to use the roller more. League-wide, shots that come from the stick of Roll Man in the pick-and-roll situations are the highest shooting percentage situations outside of transition or power play. Here is a look at a couple players who can make that happen:
The name sounds familiar, right? Well, Byrne can do more than just carry the rock to the cage. He’s also good at opening up other opportunities. In this clip, Byrne does a great job of repicking and then using a short roll to get to space. He doesn’t roll hard to the cage, but he doesn’t pop high either. He reads that the defense is in Drop ( https://medium.com/the-basketball-dictionary/drop-part-i-42add19791f1 ) coverage and sees that his defender John LaFontaine is hedging towards Mitch Jones just a little bit. So he rolls sideways, shows great hands inside and sidesteps LaFontaine’s closeout to put the shot in. Having that good of hands inside in small spaces is an important skill as a Roller. If Byrne gets more chances to showcase it, it’s a new tool that defenses will have to deal with.
Mitch Jones does a great job working hard for this goal. First, he comes back to re-pick for Josh Byrne after the first pick doesn’t work. As he comes back, he sets a hard screen on Jordan Gilles that knocks him off balance. The defense is in an Aggressive Drop ( https://medium.com/the-basketball-dictionary/drop-part-ii-76d41f7d87a9 ) coverage on this pick because Josh Byrne is a great player, and they want to be on his hands as quickly as possible. This coverage also prevents Byrne from hitting Jones when he is wide open initially, and the ball moves to Dhane Smith. Normally at this point, continuing to roll would gum up the new offensive action starting after the ball reversal, so the player would stop. Stopping the roll makes it easier to be covered by the defender chasing you or a helping defender. Since the only other “backside” defender, Tim Edwards went hard with Byrne off the pick, there’s no help for Gilles. Mitch Jones takes all of this information, sees the lane in front of him and keeps running, which creates just enough extra separation for Smith to feed him the ball for the score. This was a great job by Jones of reading the field and making the appropriate decision to be an aggressive roller.
As an interesting side note, all of Jones’ opportunities as a roller have come since March 3rd. This doesn’t mean he hasn’t been setting picks, it just means that 1) his teammates haven’t fed him, or 2) that he hasn’t shot off of feeds he has gotten in this situation. Either way, the more touches Jones gets, or the more aggressive he decides to be with those touches, he could be the dark horse spark to take the Bandits to a playoff spot and beyond.
It’s possible that the Bandits organization has already recognized this, as we’ve seen a slight uptick in possessions either finishing with or being assisted from the roll man in their settled offense. It remains to be seen if it will be enough to break the tie with the Knighthawks and the Swarm to make it to the Finals.