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LAXMetrics Week 3: Manns of the Hour

Editor’s Note: LAXMetrics, powered by the NLL, is an innovative data approach to better understand the league. Cooper Perkins will break down these stats each week on NLL.com and the league’s social channels.

 

It’s the same script every year, but it never gets any less compelling.

On a seemingly annual basis, a player’s life is uprooted by a trade or free agency and that player thrives. Last year, it was Rob Hellyer enjoying a breakout season after his transition from Toronto to Las Vegas. This year, it’s a former teammate of Hellyer’s: Saskatchewan Rush forward Zach Manns is the early season breakout player of the year in the NLL.

In three games with his new club, Manns looks like an entirely different player than he did in Toronto. Not to say that he wasn’t already an excellent player for the Rock, but Manns is simply in a better situation to utilize and show off the full complement of his skillset. He’s a scorer, he’s a passer, and he’s proving to be invaluable to the Rush.

There goes that Manns!

Through three games, Manns has been a top 10 forward in the league, according to advanced stats. The simplest indicator of how a player compares to his peers is the LaxMetrics.com MOPscore, which stands for “Most Outstanding Player Score.” The MOPscore is the average percentile ranking of a player across the five major LAXMetrics stats that are used to measure production and efficiency. A player that produces a lot of numbers inefficiently won’t score as highly as a peer who provides similar production at a more efficient rate. After the third week of the season, Manns ranks fourth in the NLL in MOPscore, making him one of two Rush forwards in the top 10 (Ryan Keenan being the other).

What is so compelling about Manns’ start is the way he’s balanced elite level production with tremendous efficiency, particularly as a scorer. It’s one thing to score a lot of goals; it’s an entirely different thing to score a lot of goals in an efficient manner. Lacrosse is no different than basketball in this respect. The more shots a player takes, the more we can expect him to score. There are volume shooters and then there are rare players capable of doing what Manns has done to this point in the season.

No player in the NLL has outperformed his Expected Goals projection by more than Manns, who has blown past his number by 4.92 goals. This means that Manns isn’t just scoring a lot of goals, he’s doing it on relatively few shot attempts. Even more fascinating, though, is the degree to which Manns has eclipsed his projections. With his 10 goals, he has nearly doubled his projected goal total. For context, last year’s leader in Goals Over Expectations (GOE) was Calgary’s Tanner Cook with 10.6 goals above his projections — an overproduction of about 30%. While Cook needed 18 games to build that number, Manns is nearly halfway to the same mark in just three games. That’s an absolutely crazy stat.

In addition to his scoring production, Manns has been a valuable passer and off-ball contributor for the Rush with a Weighted Assists (wA) value of 5.09 (9th in NLL) and an Understated Production (uPro) of 4.25 (T-3rd in NLL). Manns isn’t just putting the ball in the back of the net, he’s setting up teammates to do so both when he has the ball and when he does not. Across the board, he’s been one of the two or three most valuable offensive players in the league this season. Saskatchewan’s win over the weekend featured Manns playing a leading role in both scoring and impactful passes. In addition to his four goals, Manns posted three Pick Assists (off-ball assists), four Unrealized Assists (good passes that don’t lead to goals), and one First Order Assist (primary assist). No other player in the league has had an effort of 3+ goals and 3+ pick assists in a game this season.

But to the point that Manns has been the beneficiary of a change of scenery, his numbers through three games absolutely dwarf what he did for Toronto last year. Manns finished the season a year ago with a MOPscore of 46.40. On a scale of 1-100, a MOPscore of 46.40 is right at the average. Nothing about the performance Manns put together last year in Toronto was spectacular. While he’s been a top 10 player in nearly all of the major LAXMetrics.com forward metrics this year, Manns didn’t score in the top 30% of any of them last year, let alone the top 10 overall!

Calling the start Manns has had “progress” over last season would be an understatement of criminal proportions.

Let’s go back to his scoring efficiency. As explained above, Manns leads the NLL in Goals Over Expectations this year with 4.92 goals over his projections. In 18 games last year, Manns scored 9.04 goals under his projections, which ranked in the second percentile. Manns was one of the five least-efficient scorers in the NLL last season, but now suiting up for a different team with fresh teammates around him, Manns has had the most lethal scoring touch in the league through the season’s first month.

For lack of a better explanation, Manns has gone from worst-to-first in scoring efficiency.

Is there an explanation for the incredible improvement that Manns has shown so far this year? Conventional wisdom would suggest that the change in role he’s enjoyed is likely the biggest driving factor. Manns is now the lead ball carrier for Saskatchewan after being the third or fourth option in Toronto the last few years. Whereas Manns rarely had the opportunity to initiate and create alongside Tom Schreiber and Dan Craig, he is afforded far more opportunity with the Rush. The fact that Robert Church and Ryan Keenan are less ball-dominant than former Toronto teammate Tom Schreiber is also a major factor. Simply put, Manns is in a situation where he gets to lead the attack, which is a markedly different role from that which he has played in the past.

While Manns has gotten off to a torrid start, is it sustainable over a full season? The answer to that question isn’t simple. Some of the contributions that Manns has made appear to be durable over the course of an 18-game season. Others likely will see some regression to the mean.

Regardless of how the next 15 games unfold for Saskatchewan, the Rush have found themselves a gem in Zach Manns.

NLL