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LAXMetrics Week 18: Dhane’s Great MVP Case

Dhane Smith is the NLL’s Most Valuable Player.

Not his teammate Josh Byrne, not New York’s Jeff Teat, nor Rochester’s Connor Fields. If the season ended today, the Great Dhane would be the clear choice for MVP, despite the fact that his goal scoring has seen a massive dip year-over-year. He might be tallying fewer goals, but Smith is still the league’s Most Valuable Player.

For the purposes of this argument, we’re going to consider six different LaxMetrics.com statistics. These six categories are: Weighted Assists (wA), Goals Over Expectations (o/u Exp. G), Production Rating (pRating), Facilitator Score (fScore), Possession Termination Ratio (PTR), and Experimental Offensive Efficiency (eOE). Of the six, Weighted Assists, and Facilitator Score are passing-centric metrics. Possession Termination Ratio, Experimental Offensive Efficiency, and Goals Over Expectations are efficiency metrics. Production Rating is a holistic measure of overall offensive production, not accounting for efficiency or usage rate.

Before we make the case for Smith as the league’s MVP, it is important to acknowledge that, yes, Smith ranks third on his own team in goals scored. His 25 goals sit well below his typical pace and could potentially lead to a new career-low since his move to playing forward full-time in 2015. But don’t be distracted by Smith’s relative lack of scoring. It doesn’t matter.

He brings so much to the table as a ball carrier and facilitator that any scoring Smith does at this point is essentially icing on the cake. While there may be other players with gaudier stat lines at season’s end, it is mathematically impossible for any of them to surpass Smith’s impact on the game. More on that to come.

Firstly, Smith leads the NLL in chance creation by a margin that is borderline laughable. Total First Order Chances (TFoC) are the total of Unrealized Assists (quality passes that lead immediately to shots that are not converted into goals) and First Order Assists (quality passes that immediately lead to goals). Smith leads the NLL by averaging 12.7 Total First Order Chances per game and has compiled an insane 191 total TFoC’s.

The next-highest numbers belong to New York’s Jeff Teat. Teat has accounted for 9.1 TFoC’s per game and a total of 137. Even if Smith didn’t play the rest of the regular season, it is all but impossible for Teat to catch him. Teat would have to average nearly 20 TFoC’s per game over his last three contests. There has only been one instance of a player recording 20+ TFoC’s in a game this season, and the individual who accomplished the feat was Dhane Smith. All of this goes to say, when the season ends, no player will have been responsible for creating more scoring opportunities for his teammates than Dhane Smith. But in order to make a case for Smith as the league’s MVP, we need more data points.

Consider the four radar charts below.

Each radar chart plots the placements of the four primary MVP candidates on the basis of their percentile rankings in the six categories we are exploring. As major ball carriers, each player struggles in Possession Termination Ratio relative to the other five categories, which is to be expected. Smith and Fields each lag well behind their peers in terms of scoring efficiency expressed by Goals Over Expectations (G o/u Ex.) Notice that Smith paces the group in Possession Termination Ratio and ranks in the 99th percentile or better in each of the other four categories. He both takes care of the ball the best of the group and passes the ball better than the other three.

As fascinating and informative as the radar charts are, they fail to illustrate one key component of the case in favor of Smith. All four contenders rank in the 90th percentile or better in at least four of the six categories. But in the departments where Smith ranks in the 100th percentile as the league’s leader, there is a failure of context. Smith isn’t just the best of the four in the passing categories. He is so much better that it is inappropriate to label the other three MVP contenders as his peers.

Begin by examining the below chart that compares players on their Weighted Assists (wA) totals.

The quartet of Smith, Fields, Byrne, and Teat rank 1st, 12th, 4th and 2nd respectively.  Even in 2nd place, Teat is nowhere near Smith in the Weighted Assist Rankings. Teat is closer to Fields (12th place) than he is to Smith (1st place). This phenomenon isn’t isolated to Weighted Assists, it leaks into the other passing categories. Consider Facilitator Score (fScore) for example.

Once again, the radar charts don’t do justice to the distance between Smith and his “peers” when it comes to Facilitator Score. Smith, Fields, Byrne, and Teat rank first, thirty-sixth, third, and second respectively. Teat, who has the second-best score at 19.42, is roughly as far from Smith (1st) as he is from Fields (36th). This is the second passing category in which Smith truly does not have a peer.

Now turn your attention to a comparison of Production Ratings. This stat is not simply a passing metric, but an overall measure of offensive contributions—scoring and assisting both factored in equally. In theory, this is where Smith’s numbers should suffer due to his relative lack of scoring. Yet, his numbers still jump off the graph.

In this case, we see that Smith clearly leads the pack, but not by the same colossal margin as he does in the passing stats. Smith, Fields, Byrne, and Teat, rank first, fourth, third, and second respectively. In this case, Teat (2nd) is closer to Smith (1st) than he is to Fields (4th). We can attribute the fact that the gap is narrower to Smith’s relatively unimpressive scoring campaign. Remember, with just 25 goals, Smith is the only player of the four we are discussing to have fewer than 40 goals, let alone less than 30 goals. To overcome a goal-scoring margin as severe as Smith has managed to accomplish is illustrative of such a dominant passing campaign that it is almost impossible to comprehend. Despite scoring at a clip reminiscent of a second or third option on most teams, Smith has managed to factor into significantly more scoring chances than any other player. Yes, Fields, Byrne, and Teat have scored considerably more goals. But the advanced numbers clearly point to Smith as having been more valuable at creating scoring opportunities this season. Without him, Buffalo would be in shambles. If he were to be added to any other offense in the league, they would immediately see an uptick in chance creation. No other player can claim that kind of impact.

Now let’s circle back to the point made at the beginning of this exploration. Smith has not just been the NLL’s best passer this year. That much is obvious when we examine the stats. Rather, Smith has been the league’s Most Valuable Player and has done so in an unconventional manner. Despite a history of pouring in massive quantities of goals, Smith has proven that a special kind of ball carrier can be the single greatest difference-maker on the floor offensively without consistently being a serious threat to score.

The fact that Smith’s scoring pace has picked up in the last month only serves to bolster his case for the league’s highest honor. Should Smith finish with 30-35 goals, the advanced stats offer a consensus opinion that he should be honored as the NLL’s Most Valuable Player. Consider the numbers and decide for yourself. But don’t overlook Smith. His season has been quietly historic.