With two draft classes of rookies making their debuts this season, NLL fans have been spoiled by the quality of some of the performances put on by newcomers to the league. New York’s Jeff Teat and Vancouver’s Reid Bowering have each put together virtuoso performances out the front and back door respectively. Tehoka Nanticoke has fit brilliantly into Buffalo’s offense. And a collection of others like Panther City’s Patrick Dodds, San Diego’s Tre Leclaire, and Rochester’s Ryan Smith have had huge games and big moments. Top to bottom, it’s been a phenomenal season for rookies.
Here on the LaxMetrics blog, we’ve already talked at length about Teat. Meanwhile Bowering is worthy of his own interesting case study reserved for another day. Those two are known commodities. They’re what we would consider clear “Tier 1” rookies—players that force themselves to the forefront of every Rookie of the Year debate.
In this entry, we’re interested in exploring a different kind of rookie. Throughout this piece, we’ll highlight and evaluate the performances of a series of “Tier 2” rookies that might not be receiving the same fanfare as the pair at the top. But rather than looking at classic stats like goals, assists, and points to make our assessments, we’ll use a group of LaxMetrics categories to create evaluations. Those evaluations will then be placed into the context of each player’s individual role to give an idea of how they’re doing in their own team ecosystems.
To begin, we’ll briefly touch on budding New York Riptide star Jeff Teat to offer a baseline. We’ve already dedicated a full article to Teat’s historic rookie pace, which you can read here. Below is a radar chart that serves as a visual representation of Teat’s league-wide percentile scores in nine different LaxMetrics categories: Total First Order Chances Per Game (TFoC/Gm), Weighted Assists (wA), Goals Over/Under Expectations (Goals o/u Exp.), Production Rating (pRating), Facilitator Score (fScore), Understated Production (uPro), Experimental Offensive Efficiency (eOE), Experimental Offensive Efficiency Plus (eOE+), and Experimental Possession Termination Ratio (PTRe). You can read about each metric on their individual pages here at LaxMetrics.com.
Looking at the chart, we see each category scored on a 1 to 100 scale. These values reflect Teat’s percentile scores relative to the rest of the league in each category. As with all percentile rankings, if we say that Teat scores in the 99th percentile, we mean that he is in the top 1% of performers. The same language applies to all parts of the 1 to 100 scale.
When examining Teat’s breakdown, it takes only a momentary glance to recognize that the top pick in the 2020 draft scores among the top 20% in six of the nine categories we are considering. It’s a performance breakdown that makes him competitive for the league’s MVP award, not just Rookie of the Year,
The only mild holes in Teat’s resume are his scoring pace relative to the LaxMetrics projections (Goals o/u Exp.), his PTRe, and his uPro score. Of those three, PTRe is a measure of efficiency, while the other two are measures of production. What this means is that Teat is producing at an elite level in some areas, but is producing only at an above average level in others, such as “dirty work” stats like Penalties Drawn and Pick Assists that comprise uPro.
But again, Teat is not the subject of this piece, his case is merely an example from where we can begin. Looking outside of the two-man “Tier 1” class of rookies, we quickly notice a player that in an ordinary season would likely be in the “Tier 1” camp and might even be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. We’ll call him a “Tier 1A” rookie. He’s not quite at the same level as Teat and Bowering, but is the next-closest in the class to their performance. Below we see a graphical representation of Buffalo’s Tehoka Nanticoke.
Right away, we see what is visually an extremely interesting and unique pattern. Whereas Teat has elite numbers as a facilitator, Nanticoke is among the league’s best finishers, regardless of rookie or veteran status. His Goals Over Expected output ranks in the top 10% of the league, as does his Understated Production (uPro) score. These two items tell us that Nanticoke is excelling without the ball in his stick. Whether he’s finishing scoring opportunities set up by teammates, drawing penalties, or setting picks, Nanticoke is proving to be one of the league’s best “dirty work” players.
Moving on from Nanticoke, we approach the smallish group that LaxMetrics would consider “Tier 2” rookies. While we will look at some of them in depth, we won’t discuss all “Tier 2” rookies individually.
Because of the steep drop-off from Teat and Nanticoke to the next group of rookies, the radar charts you’ll see from this point forward are scaled from 1 to 80 instead of 1 to 100. This is because none of the players we are about to discuss score in the top 20% of the league in any category. Quite literally, Teat and Nanticoke are on a scale of their own.
Let’s begin with San Diego rookie Tre Leclaire. The towering right-hander came into the league as a scorer at Ohio State and in the BCJLL, but has produced for the Seals primarily as a passer. In an offense that features Dane Dobbie, Wes Berg, and Austin Staats, Leclaire isn’t asked to carry nearly the load that Teat shoulders in New York. Stylistically Leclaire is quite different from Nanticoke, so even though their usage rates are similar, we don’t expect the same kind of off-ball production from Leclaire. In fact, Leclaire has underperformed the league average as both a finisher (Goals o/u Exp.) and as a “dirty work” player (uPro).
Where Leclaire has succeeded has been as a passer, helping his teammates run the league’s second-highest scoring offense. His Facilitator Score (fScore) is among the league’s top 25%, which is reflected in his assist total (23), which is third among rookies. The righty’s other passing categories are roughly in line with the league average.
Graphically, Leclaire is somewhat similar to Vancouver’s Adam Charlambides. You can see his radar chart below.
To describe the former Rutgers star’s chart as being chaotic would be an understatement. On one hand, his efficiency has been abysmal. This notion is reflected by his eOE+ and eOE scores raking in the league’s bottom 5% and 20% respectively. Those are severely below average numbers. But on the flipped side, Charlambides has posted a PTRe in the league’s top 35%, indicating some minor degree of efficiency. How can the efficiency metrics say different things? The simple reason is that Charlambides is having more trouble scoring the ball than almost any other player in the league. In categories that consider shots that get saved (eOE+ and eOE), Charlambides is penalized by his trouble finding the back of the net.
But while he has had a miserable time trying to score, Charlambides has mostly successfully stepped into a bigger role as a passer with Mitch Jones on the IR. Charlambides has posted quality numbers in most passing categories (fScore, wA, TFoC/Gm) and gets good off-ball marks as a “dirty work” player (uPro). Clearly Charlambides has more in common with Leclaire than either Teat or Nanticoke.
Another rookie with a chaotic, uneven radar chart is Panther City’s Patrick Dodds. Dodds has received quite a bit of fanfare and attention for his late-game heroics and quality assist numbers in the traditional box score.
As the chart shows, Dodds has been among the league’s least efficient players in his first year as a primary ball handler for the expansion Panther City Lacrosse Club. His lack of efficiency is demonstrated in his exceptionally poor eOE+ score, blended with a similarly atrocious Facilitator Score (fScore). Much of the righty’s poor efficiency scores can be traced to a first-half binge in turnovers. Additionally, as someone who plays primarily with the ball in his stick, Dodds hasn’t offered much value as a “dirty work” player, which is reflected in his uPro score.
Where the Victoria native has thrived, though, is in the opposite arena from Charlambides and Leclaire. Dodds has scored goals at a rate well above that suggested by the LaxMetrics projections. His Goals Over Expected ranks among the league’s top 35%, which places him sufficiently above average. In this manner, Dodds has more in common with Nanticoke than he does with Teat, Leclaire, or Charlambides. The traditional box score might say that Dodds thrives as a passer, but the LaxMetrics analyses disagree with that narrative.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that Dodds isn’t even having the best rookie season on his own team. While Dodds carries the ball far more than Nathan Grenon, the former Mercyhurst star has actually put together a fantastic resume relative to his low usage rate. It’s hard to say which player statistically adds more to the Panther City offense.
We see that Grenon ranks among the league’s top 25% in virtually every efficiency metric, despite his relative lack of assists in the traditional box score. Additionally, Grenon’s scoring rate is vastly better than both the LaxMetrics projections and that posted by Dodds. Perhaps Grenon benefits from some of the production and protection provided by Dodds, but given that the pair play on opposite ends of the floor, it’s hard to draw a clear relationship between their perforomances.
What the numbers tell us about Grenon is that he’s filled his role brilliantly as kind of a Nanticoke-light that also happens to be more efficient as a facilitator. The undersized Grenon is excellent at drawing penalties, collects a lot of loose balls, and doesn’t turn the ball over much. Given how he’s played for Panther City, Grenon could likely fill the same role as a third or fourth option even better with a more mature set of teammates in an established offense.
Another rookie who is significantly over-performing as a scorer will likely see his role increase in the coming weeks. Following the trade of Shawn Evans to Halifax, Rochester’s Ryan Smith can likely expect to find the ball in his stick more often. Here is Smith’s radar chart after last weekend’s career-best performance:
From a shape standpoint, Smith’s radar chart doesn’t closely resemble any of the other rookies we have examined to this point. With no clear parallel, Smith may be the most interesting rookie on this list. The first item that jumps out is his Goals Over Expected score. Smith has wildly over-performed projections.
Is his goal scoring performance something that can be sustained down the stretch of the season? It’s possible, but not particularly probable. Smith is likely to see a regression to the mean as a scorer, particularly with Evans no longer serving as Rochester’s primary ball handler. But in the event that Smith receives more touches, we could see his passing numbers (TFoC/Gm, wA, fScore) spike down the stretch. Given that his role is likely to grow, the Robert Morris alum might have the most room for growth and improvement of all of the rookies discussed in this article.
Now, as you’ve likely concluded at this point, comparing rookies to each other is difficult. The various kinds of roles that a rookie plays can impact his performance, as can the quality of the team surrounding him. In order to create something resembling a fair comparison, the LaxMetrics blog is going to introduce you to “Usage Adjusted Performance”.
Usage Adjusted Performance (UAP) is not a statistic that is currently available for viewing anywhere on LaxMetrics.com other than this article. In fact, it was developed with this piece in mind and is still a work in progress. In a nutshell, the Usage Adjusted Performance of a player tells us how well a player has performed relative to the size of his role. Lower usage rates mixed with quality performances will be reflected by high UAP scores. This is explicitly to help us grade role players, not stars.
To find the UAP, we take the average percentile score for a player across the nine metrics discussed in this article. That average is then divided by the player’s usage rate to find his UAP. For context, the league’s average is about 5.8, and Buffalo’s Kyle Buchanan lead’s the NLL with a score of 11.29. Below you can see a chart of the 11 “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” rookies as ranked by their Usage Adjusted Performance. Not all of them have been inspected in this piece.
By this metric, Nathan Grenon and Tehoka Nanticoke are having the most productive rookie seasons relative to their usage rates. Obviously Teat is having the best rookie season of the group, but again this experimental metric is designed to reward role players succeeding in non-primary ball handler roles.
Because Grenon and Nanticoke each have usage rates under 7%, they rank as the least-used regulars on their respective offenses. While they may be on the floor a lot, they do not touch the ball a lot. To do what the pair has done, despite being the least-used forwards on their teams is reflective of two players embracing and thriving in their roles. Similarly, Mac O’Keefe and Tre Leclaire are the two least-used regulars in San Diego’s offense. O’Keefe has been just above the league average, and while Leclaire’s UAP score is below the league average, it is still indicative of a player settling into his role.
But do any of these analyses, discussions, or stats change the nature of the Rookie of the Year discussion? Absolutely not. The LaxMetrics blog is firmly of the belief that Jeff Teat, Reid Bowering, and Tehoka Nanticoke are the top three rookies in the NLL this season. Nathan Grenon is having a nice year, particularly when you consider the role he plays, but he does not belong anywhere near those top three. You didn’t need LaxMetrics to tell you that. But when it comes time to consider who the All-Rookie team should be outside of that top three, perhaps a second look at the stats would be worthwhile. After all, what value do the numbers have if we don’t use them to explore new questions?