“If your hands are free, I’m never going to tell you not to shoot.”
That was Archers Head Coach Chris Bates’ message to Mac O’Keefe leading up to the club’s second game of the 2023 season. After O’Keefe put up three goals on 11 shots and 41 touches in his first game as an Archer, Bates only wanted more out of his new big weapon.
“Him getting as many touches as we can get him is good news for us,” said Bates last week. “I find myself thinking about ways to get his hands free. Through the course of a game you realize, it doesn’t take a whole lot. His release is so quick and he’s got that gunslinger mentality that is just going to create a volume of shots. And it’s not typically a save-able shot.”
Game two was a similar story as game one. Even with college teammate and close friend Grant Ament out of the lineup this past weekend, O’Keefe still managed to put up serious numbers. He notched four points with two one-point goals and one more which he ripped home from two-point range. He shot 3-7 (42.8%) and registered 32 touches, good for second on the team — only behind Tom Schreiber.
For O’Keefe, such a message from his coach has been special, particularly after he had to play out of position as a midfielder for Chaos in his first two years in the league. In fact, O’Keefe only took three shots per game with the Chaos.
“As a player, having a coach that has that type of confidence in you [means that] you’ll never really second guess opportunities that you might have,” noted O’Keefe. “In the past, I’ve definitely hesitated at times, just because I want to play within the offense and not overstep. But having a coach that instills that confidence in you, it allows you to be creative, to take chances. It lets you play a little bit looser. It’s definitely helped my game.”
Through two weeks, O’Keefe is shooting 33.3% on nine shots per game. His shooting success rate is fifth in the PLL among players with more than ten total shots, his five one-point goals are tied for third in the league, and he’s one of just eight players with a two-pointer in the first two games.
Clearly, the confidence the club’s coaching staff has in O’Keefe and the way they’ve prioritized him within the offense has changed how he’s played. O’Keefe is averaging six more shots and 16.6 more touches per game than he did in his two years with Chaos. Importantly, that increased volume has come with practically no drop in efficiency with just a 0.6% decrease in shooting percentage from his first two seasons.
The most obvious answer for how the Archers and Head Coach Chris Bates have unleashed O’Keefe has been quite simply giving him a higher volume and quality of touches and shots. But there’s more to it than that because sustaining the efficiency that makes O’Keefe great goes beyond simply telling him to let it fly more often.
Playing O’Keefe at attack
Moving O’Keefe back to his natural position of attack has worked wonders for him and the club. Being on the field for the full 48 minutes of game play and playing on the right wing where he’s scored so many goals throughout his career has immediately proven beneficial for both his comfort level and the volume of opportunities he gets.
O’Keefe commented that “with the shot clock, as a midfielder you’re only out there for a quick period of time. So the opportunities to get shots off are definitely more limited.” Now that he’s back at attack after Chaos used him at midfield for two years, O’Keefe has found it a lot easier to get the volume of shots necessary for his skillset to be maximized. “Being on attack now, being in every single possession, there are way more opportunities and chances to get my hands free and let shots go that I might not be seeing if I was coming out of the box and only playing for 20-25 seconds and then getting right off.”
Starting O’Keefe at attack has been the first step among many to create surplus shots for him. After the Cannons win, Bates expressed that “we’ll get him as many shots as we can get him,” and that by “leaving him at attack, there’s going to be production.”
Allowing O’Keefe to be a complementary player by surrounding him with initiators
Obviously the pairing with college teammate and close friend Grant Ament is a factor in all of this. But there’s so much more to how the Archers have used O’Keefe in settled offense that has worked wonders for him and the pass-heavy players around him.
When asked before the season about how excited he was for the O’Keefe-Ament connection, Bates actually highlighted how valuable he thought O’Keefe’s presence as a lefty shooter would be for Tom Schreiber and his love for feeding off a split dodge up top.
Such value was immediately evident in the season opener. A Schreiber right-to-left split off a Ryan Ambler pick got his hands free to feed and forced O’Keefe’s defender to hedge for a beat long enough to open the passing lane. With Schreiber’s feeding ability and O’Keefe’s shooting prowess, that sliver of space is all that’s necessary.