Since Gary Gait’s run of five straight MVP awards from 1995-99, there have been 18 different players to win the award, with only three accomplishing the feat twice (John Tavares, John Grant, Jr., and Shawn Evans). To win the award once is massively difficult, but to do it again essentially requires a Hall of Fame pedigree. Just ask Dan Dawson, who is near the top of practically every all-time leaderboard, but can only claim the 2009 MVP as his own.
This season, three of the top candidates for the award at the season’s midpoint are trying to win the honor for a second time. The other four players we are going focus on in this LaxMetrics.com exploration are hoping to join the elite club for the first time. Using eight NLL New Age Stats metrics to compare seven players head-to-head, I’m going to show you why San Diego’s Wesley Berg should be at the top of the MVP list heading into Week 13.
The criteria for the LaxMetrics “Most Valuable Player” is similar to the MOPScore (Most Outstanding Player Score) formula, but includes an additional pair of metrics that scrutinize a slightly more dynamic set of performances from each player. Additionally, there’s an obligation to consider team success as part of the larger MVP discussion.
In this post, we’ll consider each player’s holistic individual resume by observing the radar chart representation of his performance relative to the other competitors and, more specifically, Wesley Berg. Rather than using raw stats for this visual representation, we’ve chosen to use each player’s percentile rank for the eight categories in question. This way each statistic can be interpreted on a clean 1-to-100 scale that is somewhat friendlier to comparison. There is one instance in which the comparison breaks down a bit, but we’ll get to that later.
Below is an overlay of the seven MVP contenders we are focusing on for the purposes of this article: Wesley Berg, Kevin Crowley, Dane Dobbie, Ryan Lee, Dhane Smith, Jeff Teat, and Lyle Thompson. If you’re able to follow the legend on this chart, you’ll see that each player has his own strengths and weaknesses, but relative to the competition, San Diego’s Wes Berg has put together the best holistic performance.
Let’s start by comparing Berg against his teammate in San Diego, Dane Dobbie:
Through the season’s first four weeks, Dobbie’s obscene goal scoring pace had him positioned as an early favorite in the MVP race, largely overshadowing his longtime teammate and friend, Berg. Now playing for their second team together, the tandem has combined to create one of the deadliest left-right duos that the league has enjoyed in years. But now two months later, we can see in a side-by-side comparison that Berg’s performance has been better overall.
Where Dobbie has made a habit of scoring loud goals in volume, Berg has quietly kept a 40-goal pace of his own, all while being more efficient and impactful in virtually every other category. In fact, the only two arenas in which the pair have been comparable are their scoring efficiency (Goals Over Expected) and overall Production Rating (pRating). In the other five categories, Berg has clearly outperformed his teammate.
Another trendy early-season MVP pick was Colorado’s Ryan Lee, who through six games was on pace to threaten the NLL’s single-season points record. But buoyed by an assist spree that is likely unsustainable in the long-run, Lee has seen his candidacy quieted a little bit following Colorado’s second loss in which he was quiet.
In addition to underperforming Berg in seven of the eight categories above, one major shortcoming stands out. Lee has offered little to nothing measurable away from the ball (uPro). While the Mammoth’s offense runs through the right-hander, he hasn’t been nearly as productive as Berg at setting teammates up with quality picks or by drawing penalties to set up Power Plays. Lee’s season has been quite good, but from an overall impact standpoint, his division rival seems to have a clear advantage.
Like Dobbie, who we looked at first, Georgia’s Lyle Thompson is campaigning for his second league MVP award, and may have as strong of a case as ever. Entering the weekend, Thompson leads the league in both goals scored and total points, helping to keep his Swarm team in playoff contention.
Given their roster changes from the 2020 season to present, Thompson is asked to do significantly more for the offense as both a scorer and a facilitator, and he’s largely succeeded in those modified roles. But in addition to his team’s relative lack of success compared to that of San Diego, Thompson hasn’t been nearly as efficient as Berg. Thompson’s high usage rate empowers him to produce in bulk, evidenced by his high pRating and fScore, but his efficiency is more reflective of an above-average player than an MVP candidate. The chart tells us a tale of two comparisons. Looking at the right side that reflects production, we see two players who are comparable. When we observe the left side, which reflects efficiency, we see that Berg is clearly having the better season.
All that said, Thompson has a unique situation going forward, thanks to Georgia’s status as a playoff bubble team. With half the season still to play, Thompson should have ample opportunity to make meaningful, memorable contributions that factor into the discussion. The element of drama and carrying one’s team isn’t lost in the LaxMetrics MVP debate.
Unlike the players preceding him on this list, New York rookie Jeff Teat doesn’t have a body of past success to fall back on. As the only first-year player to get any serious consideration in the MVP debate, Teat’s debut season is made all the more remarkable. Already one of the league’s best and most creative passers, Teat matches or surpasses Berg in three of the five production focus-metrics that value passing. His weighted assists (wA), production rating (pRating), and facilitator score (fScore) all exceed those of Berg.
But in a league in which scoring and efficiency are also crucial, Berg’s performance wins out. In each of the other five metrics, Berg has clearly been better. Additionally, the team aspect of the MVP conversation isn’t kind to Teat’s candidacy. His last-place Riptide team has quite a bit of work to do for its rookie phenom to challenge for a potential spot as an MVP finalist.
The next entry on this list is Philadelphia’s Kevin Crowley, who some people might not even consider the most valuable member of his own Wings team. While there is a fair argument to be made in that vain, Crowley’s performance in the LaxMetrics categories in question has earned him a seat at the seven-player table.
Similar to Teat, Crowley has thrived this year as one of the league’s best passers and assist men. His production-focused metrics have all been good, even including his work away from the ball setting teammates up by setting quality picks and drawing penalties. But also similarly to Teat, Crowley’s efficiency has left quite a bit to be desired in comparison to Berg. While Berg ranks in the 90th and 96th percentiles for eOE and eOE+ respectively, Crowley is in only the 74th and 56th percentiles. Additionally, Crowley’s goal scoring has been wildly less efficient than Berg’s. His Goals Over Expected mark is only in the 23rd percentile, while Berg’s sits in the 98th.
One note on Crowley’s candidacy that could theoretically change the conversation in the season’s second half is how well or poorly his team performs. By a handful of measures, the Wings have underperformed through the season’s first half. That means that Crowley will likely have a lot of room to make a visible, memorable impact in the season’s second half. A more efficient final eight games in which Crowley contributes substantially to a strong Wings finish would go a long way toward validating the legitimacy of his early-season candidacy.
Last in this discussion is the most formidable competition for Berg as the season’s MVP at the midpoint. Smith, who leads the NLL in assists, owns as much name recognition and MVP cache as any player in the league today. Thus far, his production as the quarterback of Buffalo’s league-best offense has been every bit commensurate with his reputation.
Smith has the best facilitator score (fScore) in the league, which is more than twice Berg’s mark. Even with Berg in the 91st percentile of the fScore category, Smith has been so much better as a passer that he’s doubled Berg’s production. This is the one instance in which using percentile rankings as our inputs fails to convey the proper value. Even at his percentile rank of 100, Smith’s performance has dwarfed Berg’s own excellent work in this department. That’s just how good of a passer Smith has been this year.
But where Smith has been the better passer, Berg has been the better scorer in terms of efficiency and to a lesser extent volume. Berg has also been better in more nuanced departments like understated production (uPro) and roughly equal to Smith, although slightly better, in Possession Termination Ratio (PTRe). The question between the two candidates essentially lies in which approach you interpret as being more valuable. While one player is significantly better than everyone else in the league at a couple of disciplines, another does virtually everything in front of him at a near-elite level without being the league’s best in any single discipline. It’s a valid debate without a correct answer.
However, for our purposes today, what makes Berg the LaxMetrics midpoint MVP is the way in which he’s deployed his remarkably varied skillset to lead the Seals to the Western Conference’s best record. No one fits a more diversified set of roles better than Berg, and his LaxMetrics performance reinforces that idea. Whether San Diego deploys him as a primary ball handler, a shooter, or an off-ball decoy, Berg has thrived wherever Patrick Merrill has asked him to play.
None of this is to say that Smith hasn’t been similarly phenomenal in multiple areas of the game. He has. But where Smith shifts roles from half to half or from game to game, Berg regularly flips his focus from quarter to quarter or possession to possession to fill a need on his team’s offense. He’s not just good at a lot of things, he’s good at a lot of things all of the time.
By definition, value is a subjective concept. But at LaxMetrics.com, the ability to do a lot of things really well at any given time carries extra weight. What Berg is doing goes beyond being versatile or flexible. He’s dominating wherever he wants on the floor.
All of this goes without saying that there is still a significant portion of the season left to play, which makes this kind of exploration fun. In 10 weeks, we’ll surely be having a different conversation that perhaps includes some of the same players, while also integrating others into the debate. Such is the beauty of a league like the NLL with all of its supremely talented players.