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FILM ROOM: Zed Williams’ breakout season

The skills and unselfish play that Zed Williams puts into every game

Teams don’t typically finish with 12 regular season wins without a player or two having a breakout season. And for the Georgia Swarm, that player would have to be Zed Williams.

What makes a breakout player? It’s someone that’s been in the league in previous seasons (so rookies are out) that has really elevated his game in the current season and contributed positively to his team’s success. Williams fits that bill. He quintupled his offensive output – from eight points (5G, 3A) to 45 (22G, 23A) – after being moved out the front door, also setting a new career-high in loose balls with 69.

But the real treat in watching Williams’ game in the 2018-19 Swarm season has been what he does off-ball, and no one said it better than Swarm assistant coach Dan Ladouceur back in February:

“(T)his year, with him being able to come into camp and know that he was going out the O door consistently and being able to feel out the other O guys and what they want to do and how he can help them and be productive on the O side, I think it’s been good. He’s such a big, physical presence. He sets amazing picks, he seals, he gathers a lot of loose balls. About the only thing I wish is he would shoot a little bit more than he does. He’s really out there working for everyone else, and I think through that, he has opportunities that I would like him to take advantage of a little bit more.”

Williams’ willingness to work for his teammates was a significant part of the Swarm offense being the second-most productive in the NLL. While there are a number of different areas he excelled in this season, arguably two of his best non-scoring facets on offense are how he creates space and spins past defenders. It’s what we’ll be taking a look at in this Film Room.

With guys like Lyle Thompson and Randy Staats on your side, you just need to give them enough room to operate in, and Williams often went to great lengths to do just that. Up in Philadelphia in January, the University of Virginia product displayed the effort sometimes needed to get a teammate in a favorable matchup.

He immediately started by making contact with Anthony Joaquim and Adam Osika before hounding Joaquim’s numbers to potentially give Shayne Jackson some room. When Staats gets the ball, Williams headed over to Osika to tie him up, giving Staats a one-on-one situation with Joaquim instead of Joaquim and Osika. Joaquim got beat one-on-one with Staats, and the 2016 NLL Rookie of the Year didn’t have to worry about Osika being in his way since Williams was effectively sealing him.

Williams also takes advantage of opponents doubling up on him. Take when the Swarm played in Calgary in April as an example.

Lyle had been knocked down during the shift and was getting up right as Williams started his drive towards the crease. He spun past Tyson Bell, and Chad Cummings, possibly thinking Lyle’s down for the count, slid towards Williams. As he drew Cummings’ attention towards him, Williams made a slick pass to the now-standing Lyle. The 2017 NLL MVP had plenty of room to work his magic in thanks to Williams efforts to draw the double team.

But Williams isn’t limited to just creating space for teammates. That work effort can benefit the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NLL Entry Draft just as well. He has arguably one of the best spinning juke moves in the NLL – as demonstrated above –  and is adept at using it to separate himself from particularly irksome defenders, particularly left-handers to get on their weak side.

Look at how he uses the move to get around Brent Adams when the Swarm played the Mammoth in February.

Adams’ stick head slips right over Williams’ shoulder as he spins, allowing Williams to quickly get under then behind the right-hander. After that, there’s no one between Williams and the cage other than Dillon Ward, and Williams is particularly effective at scoring east-to-west diving goals.

“But that was against a guy who was just in his 11th NLL game,” some would argue. Good point. Here’s Williams doing the exact same thing against 2018 NLL Defensive Player of the Year Graeme Hossack.

Williams looks like he’s going to cut north towards the restraining line, but his quick pirouette perfunctorily places him on the lefty’s weaker hand. This gives him the space necessary for another E2W diver. Whether a rookie or one of the top defensemen in the league, it doesn’t matter. That spinning slip is difficult to stop.

Williams demonstrated that he can score from anywhere he wants to on the floor, from up close and personal to outside shots while on the wrong side of the floor. But that slip is particularly dangerous and difficult to defend, and unfortunately for opposing defenders, Williams uses it for himself and for his fellow Swarm forwards.

Lacrosse is a team sport, and you’d be hard pressed to find a coach that wouldn’t praise a player that works for his teammates the way Williams does. Fortunately for the Swarm, that unselfishness is a key component to every Swarm forwards’ respective game. With five guys on the floor working to give their partners the time and space they need to be creative in, it’s no wonder the Swarm featured one of the best offenses in the NLL in 2018-19.

And for Williams, that unselfish play also meant he scored some of the best looking goals on the Swarm. 22 for #28, and pretty much every one of them is pretty.