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LAXMetrics Week 6: Better Days Ahead for Bandits

Have we forgotten about the Buffalo Bandits?

Don’t get me wrong, everyone knows the Bandits played in the last two NLL Finals, winning last season’s crown in a rematch with Colorado. In the season’s first third, however, the Bandits have seldom been a topic of conversation when discussing the league’s top teams. Perhaps that is for good reason, but it also is possible that we’ve been discounting them unfairly. After all, the Bandits are a group that likely should be respected given what they’ve done both in recent seasons and this year.

Let me explain further.

On the surface, Buffalo hasn’t been impressive. They’re 2-2 with a resounding, notable loss to the early season darling Albany FireWolves and a one-goal loss to the Georgia Swarm. But even then, according to most power rankings around the NLL, Albany and Georgia are two of the consensus top-four teams in the league. Are we unfairly penalizing the Bandits?

Start by considering the below chart. The y-axis places teams by their Offensive Rating, which is one measure of offensive efficiency. The x-axis places teams by their Defensive Shooting Percentage Allowed—a measure of defensive efficiency. The size of each team’s logo illustrates how many Goals Over Expectations they have accumulated—another measure of offensive efficiency.

A simple explanation of the illustration is as follows: teams should want to have the largest logo possible, be located as far to the left as possible, and be situated as close to the top as possible. Look for the Bandits and where do you find them? Precisely in the middle of the 15 NLL logos, sized at roughly the midpoint between Albany and Colorado. Just looking at this graph suggests that the Bandits are extremely average. Decent offense, decent defense, and a mediocre record at 2-2.

 

 

But also keep in mind who their two losses have come against. The FireWolves and Swarm are two of the four largest logos with some of the best offenses in the league. San Diego, who the Bandits beat, also has one of the best offensive placements in the league. Colorado is the only opponent Buffalo has faced that isn’t one of the league’s best offensive teams. Of their four opponents, Buffalo has played three of the five best offenses and has still been slightly above average defensively (7th in Defensive Shooting %). Surely that must be worth something, right? By most accounts, escaping a stretch like that which the Bandits have played with serviceable defensive numbers should be considered an accomplishment.

But more importantly, conventional conversation is sleeping on Buffalo’s offense. With the duo of Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne fully healthy, it’s fairly shocking that the Bandits’ offense has flown under the radar. Consider the chart below for an illustration of where Buffalo’s production offensively ranks against the rest of the league.

The second chart is entirely centered on offense. The x-axis is Total First Order Chances per game (high-quality scoring chances) and the y-axis is goals per game. The further to the right a team’s logo falls, the more chances it creates. The higher its logo is placed, the more goals it averages. This is where things get interesting for Buffalo. The Bandits are tied for the NLL lead with 29.0 Total First Order Chances per game, but rank ninth in goals per game. They’re creating more opportunities than anyone else, but are in the bottom half of the league in scoring. How is that possible?

Simply speaking, the Bandits have been the league’s worst team at finishing their highest-percentage chances. In four games, the Bandits have created 37 one-on-one chances offensively, but have converted just under 19% of them into goals. That is an absolutely unacceptable and also unsustainable rate. If the Bandits keep creating quality chances at a stable rate throughout the life of the season, they’ll all but certainly score significantly more goals.

Look no further than their 9-8 loss to Georgia as an illustration of the phenomenon described above. In that game, the Bandits piled up 45 Total First Order Chances. In three seasons of tracking data at LaxMetrics.com, no team has created more chances in a single game than Buffalo did against the Swarm. Yet, somehow the Bandits were limited to eight goals. In that game alone, the Bandits went 2-for-14 in one-on-one chances, as Swarm net minder Brett Dobson played a remarkable game between the pipes. If the Bandits had been able to convert those chances at roughly a league average rate (~35%), they would have won the game relatively easily.

But the key to all of this is just how unsustainable their struggles are. Over the course of an 18-game season, the law of large numbers comes into play for one-on-one opportunities. As the season wears on, the Bandits are virtually guaranteed to see their productivity in those chances climb. As their one-on-one success rate climbs, so too will their goal scoring averages. If the Bandits can convert 30% of their one-on-ones (still below average) as opposed to 19%, they can expect to average more than a full goal per game more than they are currently. An increase of that magnitude would catapult the Bandits from ninth in scoring offense to the fringes of the top five. In that hypothetical case, Buffalo’s above-average defense paired with an offense scoring 12.5 or more goals per game would likely position them as one of the more complete teams in the NLL.

All of this is to say that the Bandits are far more dangerous than their traditional production to this point suggests. They are the reigning champions for a reason and still boast one of the most lethal duos in the NLL. They may be just 2-2, but the numbers point to a significant improvement from Buffalo’s offense in the coming weeks. If their defense holds steady alongside an offensive improvement of the order described in this piece, the Bandits will be a serious contender to reach a third straight NLL Final.

Don’t sleep on the Bandits. Their improvement is coming.

NLL