Monday, September 18, 2006

The Break

So it is reiterated frequently that offense has the advantage, the offense should score most, if not all the time, etc. While I recall someone saying that they thought that the West Coast Offense was actually a tacit agreement among the NW teams to neuter the impact of a turnover, I think we can mostly agree that the goal and expectation of most high level offenses is to become automatic. I know that some teams give their O only one shot to score before going with Plan B. Having said all that, it seems to me that, like tennis, one of the most significant and exciting moments in an Ultimate game is, therefore, The Break. The Break is a coveted opportunity, but only if set up by efficient offenses. The Break will lose much luster in a game of many turnovers and inefficient offenses, but as a team develops confidence in the efficiency of its offense, it can start to turn its attention to converting its break opportunities.

To me, this just reinforces my feeling that the most important position in Ultimate is that of the D handler. A player that can play intense and focused D and then turn around around and run the show is special indeed. Is there a better historical example of a D handler than Lenny Engle? Mid-Mid in a zone that actually worked, good person skills, and got as many touches as Mooney. While it is obvious which side of the disc won the Dog media battle even though Zaz wrote a great article on Lenny a few years ago, is there a player more under the radar, in terms of recognition, than Lenny? Perhaps it is in the nature of this position to go unheralded. It seems to me pretty obvious, though, that if a team is going to truly focus its energy on coverting the rare break opprtunities that come along in high level play, then it must make sure that it has the D handler position well-covered.

10 comments:

Seigs said...

Great post, George.

Sam TH said...

So, who are the great D handlers today? Jeff Cruikshank of Furious plays some D, although Furious doesn't seem to divide the O and D up as clearly as many other elite open teams.

parinella said...

Lenny was one of the best teammates ever, also. We lost a lot when he left (and the ice industry suffered, too).

Shank seems more like an O guy who is asked to play on the D squad because they need someone who can throw. Al-Bob was a D handler, but now they have him playing O.

And speaking of the Break and D, defenses really need to start thinking of their own version of getting broken. That is, if they get a turnover and then fail to score, that's as if they just got broken, and shouldn't be thought of as a partial success (having gotten a turnover).

gcooke said...

Jim,
It is interesting to think about how the sport might change if the expectation of the D's O was as high as that of the O. If that became the case, it might impact how teams are formed as there might not be as much room the young kid who can run all day but not throw.

-G

Neva said...

The O/D line is not very popular in women's ultimate; and, since 2002, there are tons of turnovers even at the highest level. Coincidence?

Fury had separate O and D lines the past two years (and each year they failed to make finals). This year, they got rid of the O and D lines and have had a lot more success, though nothing counts till Nationals.

Riot's philosophy seems to be "let's put the best women on the line", regardless; some players are more O and some are more D, but there's a core that will go in and stay in during important games. If you look at the stats from the finals last year - which were in the magazine, I can't find them online - there's a huge difference in the number of people on Riot who have any kind of stat versus the number on Backhoe (Riot's number is a lot lower).

This might just be an artifact due to the NW (women) way of playing ultimate, which has come to dominate since 2002 - athletic, aggressive play, deep shots, take your chances on O and get it back on D.

But I wonder if the talent on women's teams is simply not as deep as it is on men's teams. I think it is difficult for women's teams to put two completely dominant O/D lines together.

Flo said...

I think the difference in strategies in womens Ultimate stems more from the generally higher number of turn overs in the womens game. There are multiple factors contributing to this difference:
1. men are taller. bigger targets equal fewer turn overs.
2. men are stronger. more strength makes it easier to complete longer passes.
3. men jump higher. see 1.
4. more men play the game, leading to a deeper talent pool.
5. more boys grow up throwing stuff around (think skipping stones on a lake). again, deaper talent pool.

but even if you (over?)correct for 4 and 5 (say, pick an allstar womens team and a mens upper level mens regional club team), in a game against a comparable opponent (this is really important, I am not talking about games against inferior talent), I'd expect more turn overs in the womens game due to 1-3.

How do more turn overs make O/D lines a bad idea?
Well, let's simplify and make up some numbers. a standard team in national level open ultimate may convert 50% of its possessions (and get a turn on 50% of the opponents possessions), which leads to a scoring percentage of 67% on O and 33% on D (disregarding field position). Now put in the O line, and say they have conversion rate 60% but only get turns on 40% of the opponents possessions. This leads to a scoring percentage of 71% on O. Similarly, putting a D line in that gets turns on 60% but only converts 40% will get you a scoring percentage of 38% on D.
Now look at a game with more turn overs (women, college men...). Say a standard team scores 30% of its possessions and gets turns on 70% of the opponents possessions, which leads to scoring percentages of 59% and 41%, respectively. Now change the numbers by the same factors as above (this assumption is a little sketchy...). An O line with 36%/56% would score only 56% of the points.

-Flo.

luke said...

i don't think that HNH(tm) is a tacit agreement to neuter the impact of a turnover so much as an explicit agreement to kick your ass.

at least it's been that way for the past few years. i actually have a couple serious thoughts on this, but they'll have to wait til i have more time

Julian said...

Continued hijack warning.

I've been coaching a mid-level women's club team this season, and I've been trying to figure out what the high number of turnovers in our games means (strategically, not statistically).

For a mid-level team like us, the quickest way to improve our outcomes is to improve our offensive effeciency. Given that we're likely to have the disc in our hands on almost every point of every game (except against the top few teams in the region), the value of better defense is limited by the already high number of turnovers. In other words, causing one more turnover per point doesn't gain us much. However, scoring just a few more of our posessions per game could dramatically change our results. In light of that, I want the best possible offensive team on the field as much as possible so we have a better shot at scoring when we get the disc. So I guess our handlers are all D handlers in a way...

Neva said...

My experience has been that on a mid-level team, D can create turns against even the best teams. At least for us, mid-level translates into less skills, more pure athleticism (speed, ups, aggressiveness). So if "best offensive line" means "slow handlers that are liabilities on D", that's not a line I can put in, because the opponents will score immediately after a turn. If I have a few decent defenders on a O line, it means less scoring efficiency, but more chances to score.

But I guess that goes back to my earlier post about depth on the women's side (and the fundamental difference between elite and mid-level: the top 10).

parinella said...

The main case for platooning is that most players are significantly better at either O or D, so starting them on those points increases the % of possessions that will be to the players' advantage. An O player on a 60% scoring team will play 75% of his possessions on O. For a 50% team, it's 67% of possessions. For a 25% team, it's only 57%. When you add turnovers, the benefits decreases.

The other reason for platooning is synergy. It's easier to learn your teammates' tendencies when there are (effectively) only 10 of them, not 20. So, even if you randomly assigned players to platoons at the beginning of the season, you'd expect those platoons to score more frequently (given the same distribution of playing time) than a team that randomly assigned players each point.

And playing time matters. If your top players are on the field for 75% of the time, which might be the case with the women's teams, then they'll be playing a substantial number of points on both sides, and your platooning might not be as strict. If your top players are on 50% of the time, then you might as well take advantage of the benefits of platooning by limiting most of them to either O or D.

Besides depth of the team, another factor limiting playing time is the pace of play. Even now I could play every point of a summer league game without needing a sub, but just the O points of a club game against a top opponent would be taxing. So, the faster the pace of play, the more reason for platooning your top players.