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LAXMetrics Week 16: Kurtz’ Compelling ROY Case

It’s highly possible that the NLL Rookie of the Year will come from the Albany FireWolves.

Since the season’s opening week, Albany rookie Alex Simmons has held the pole position for the league’s top newcomer, and for good reason. Simmons enjoyed an absolutely blistering start to the season and has already eclipsed the 30-goal threshold. If the voting were to happen today, Simmons would be a heavy favorite to take home the hardware.

Even in the face of that truth, it’s entirely possible that Simmons hasn’t been the most valuable rookie on his own team. At the very least, the Rookie of the Year race ought to be a whole lot tighter than a lot of folks might suggest. Sure, Simmons leads all rookies in conventional scoring stats (goals, assists, and points). But when you dive into the advanced numbers, there is an interesting story waiting to be told.

Enter Tye Kurtz.

Kurtz was baptized into the NLL in a much more subdued manner than Simmons. After scoring two goals in each of his first three games, Kurtz managed just three total goals in the subsequent five games. At the season’s halfway point, Kurtz hardly looked the part of a possible Rookie of the Year contender. In the last six games, however, Kurtz has clearly settled into his role as a dynamic off-ball scorer, netting 18 goals in that span, highlighted by a sock trick against Buffalo in Banditland on February 24.

Still, Simmons boasts 19 more points than Kurtz, illustrating some separation between their candidacies. When we examine the advanced stats supplied by LaxMetrics.com, however, we see that the distance between Simmons and Kurtz is far narrower than you might assume from merely examining goal, assist, and point totals.

The strongest supporting piece for Kurtz’s hypothetical Rookie of the Year resume is the possibility that Kurtz may already be the NLL’s most valuable off-ball player.

Understated Production (uPro) is a LaxMetrics.com stat that is used to measure a player’s contributions in seldom noticed areas of the game. Factors that are considered in Understated Production include things like pick assists, penalties drawn, and quality passes that don’t result in goals. It is the most valuable statistic for evaluating off-ball contributions.

Through 16 weeks of gameplay, Kurtz sits atop the Understated Production leaderboard as the league’s best performer, with a score of 23.50. He is also one of just five players in the league to have amassed 10 or more Pick Assists. Not only is Kurtz scoring at a hat trick-per-game pace during the season’s second half, he has compiled the best overall off-ball resume of any forward in the NLL this season.

If that isn’t Rookie of the Year material, what is?

As impressive as Kurtz’s Understated Production numbers are, they also don’t make for a fair point of comparison with Simmons. After all, Simmons is Albany’s primary right-handed ball carrier. Kurtz spends significantly more time on the floor without the ball than Simmons does, meaning that his Understated Production numbers should be better than his fellow rookie. Where Simmons has more opportunities to pile up assists, Kurtz has more opportunities to set quality picks. Their roles are different, making their candidacies rather challenging to compare. Fortunately, there are other metrics available to us as we attempt to further the comparison.

Tye Kurtz and Alex Simmons of the Albany FireWolves

Production Rating (pRating) is a metric that evaluates holistic offensive production. In this department, Simmons has a clear edge on Kurtz. Simmons’ score of 1.48 dwarf’s Kurtz’s mark of 1.09. But like Understated Production, Production Rating isn’t an entirely fair terrain for comparing the rookie seasons of Simmons and Kurtz. Whereas Kurtz is an off-ball dynamo, Simmons acts as Albany’s primary right-handed ball handler. The ball is in his stick a lot, meaning that Simmons has a lot of opportunity to produce points. Because of this fact, it should be expected that Simmons out-paces Kurtz in pure production metrics, if for no reason other than the volume of his opportunities to create for teammates and potentially compile points.

But while Simmons has been responsible for more raw production, Kurtz has been more efficient. Yes, Kurtz carries the ball far less than Simmons, but even with that in mind, his penchant for taking care of the ball is fantastic. Comparatively, Kurtz does a much better job than his teammate at valuing possessions and ensuring they are maximized. Possession Termination Ratio (PTR) is a metric that we can use to evaluate a player’s ability to take care of the ball. Possession Termination Ratio expands on the concept underlying the classic assist-to-turnover ratio by factoring in nearly all manners that a possession can end.

Not only has Kurtz been better at taking care of the ball than Simmons, Kurtz has been among the league’s top 10% in the category, while Simmons has been well below average. Some of this discrepancy can be attributed to the fact that Simmons has the ball in his stick more than Kurtz, but the difference between the two numbers is enough to raise eyebrows. Kurtz has produced a PTR of 1.20, while Simmons has managed only a 0.80. This means that possessions ending in Simmons’s stick concluded in negative outcomes more often than they culminate in positive outcomes. The opposite is true for Kurtz.

The question then becomes, are these data points weighty enough to swing the Rookie of the Year conversation away from Simmons and toward Kurtz? The answer to the question is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

While Kurtz is absolutely deserving of serious Rookie of the Year consideration, it would be obtuse to penalize Simmons for assuming a larger role in Albany’s offense. While Kurtz has been remarkable at producing both points and opportunities for teammates without the ball in his stick, the reality is that he still is Albany’s number two forward behind Simmons. That fact can’t be ignored. The argument in Kurtz’s favor, however, rests in overall effectiveness. There is a strong case to be made that Kurtz has filled his role as Albany’s number two righty better than Simmons has managed his as the FireWolves’ lead righty. Yes, Simmons boasts more goals and points, but Kurtz has found a way to make an equal or greater impact on the game while also being markedly more efficient.

All things being equal, it seems quite unlikely that voters would reward Kurtz over Simmons in the face of the point disparity between the two. There is nothing wrong with that. If nothing else, the exploration of Kurtz’s Rookie of the Year candidacy leaves us with a clear conclusion: Albany is going to be set on the right side for a long, long time.

The fact that there is even a relatively coherent case to be made for a second rookie on the FireWolves’ right side serves as evidence for how well-positioned the franchise is on that side moving forward. So while it might ultimately be a quiet Rookie of the Year race when it’s all said and done, the duo of Alex Simmons and Tye Kurtz will be anything but quiet for years to come.