Dumba: Less Iverson, More Lowry

The defenseman's career-defining challenge

Matt Dumba is a talented athlete

The 88 Summit is an event created by Darryl Belfry and Patrick Kane for a select number of NHLers. It’s a summer meeting-of-the-minds for the best in the business to train, compete and share.

At the 2019 edition of the event, which I attended as a staff member, Dumba showed elite execution in practice drills and took over the 4v4 scrimmages with his athleticism and urgency. He stood out despite sharing the ice with Roman Josi, Charlie McAvoy, Aaron Ekblad and other elite NHL defensemen.

Matt Dumba is a selfless person

Dumba became the first NHLer to kneel for a national anthem in protest of racial discrimination and police brutality. He is an inaugural board member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and works to advance important social issues. If I were 11 and not 31, as a fellow Asian-Canadian he would be my favorite NHL player.

But as a 26-year-old embarking on the second half of his NHL career, Matt Dumba also has significant room to grow in how he thinks and plays the game.

In The Offensive Zone

The biggest strength in Dumba’s game is his offensive-zone play.

The right-hander maximizes his shooting by seeking out ways to get active and move into open space. With the Wild in full control of the puck, he leaves his designated post at the right point and either fades left for a teammate to serve him with a pass, or runs down the right wall and attacks the net as a wingback.

Corey Sznajder’s microstat tracking project has him as the Minnesota Wild’s most active OZ contributor in 2019-20.

As the chart above illustrates, Dumba looks to create offense for himself first (via shooting) and for teammates a distant second.

It’s not a terrible plan for a player who already has four double-digit goal-scoring seasons under his belt, but it also speaks to some of the larger issues in his game.

In The Neutral Zone

Maximizing his team’s offensive zone time is probably the best way to get the most out of Dumba’s high-end skillset. However this is where we start seeing gaps in Dumba’s on-ice results.

At the 88 Summit Dumba looked stronger, faster and tougher to contain than Roman Josi. But the Nashville Predator captain (all the way in the upper-right corner of the chart) laps the field in terms of transitional contribution, while Dumba ranks behind three Wild teammates.

League-wide, Dumba plots out as an above-average passer off the rush but simply doesn’t create as many successful entries as many of his peers.

In The Defensive Zone

On breakouts Dumba is the primary puck mover when playing with Ryan Suter or Jonas Brodin. His exit volume and efficiency are close to league-average. It’s not a terrible showing, but Dumba’s outputs are somewhat underwhelming.

As a player with excellent skating technique, hand skills and a willingness to play inside contact, we would expect Dumba to be closer to Mike Green (DET), John Klingberg (DAL) and Morgan Rielly (TOR) in the upper-right corner rather than be adjacent to Ian Cole (COL), Michael Stone (CGY) and Josh Manson (ANA) in exit attempts rate and possession exit percentage.

Tale of the Tape

Above are Dumba’s DZ and NZ touches from his most recent game, an play-in overtime loss against the Vancouver Canucks.

The first thing you will notice is Dumba’s frantic energy. Rather than the quiet and composed body language of a Jared Spurgeon (MIN46) or a Quinn Hughes (VAN43), Dumba has a lot of extra movement when skating onto a puck. He then rushes to get up-ice rather than easing up for a split-second to survey his options and manipulate defenders.

All in all Dumba’s hastiness doesn’t help him very much.

On breakouts he has a tough time identifying weak-side options and often forces low-percentage plays up the wall. In the neutral zone he carries the puck into pressure rather than taking the time to influence defenders and open up lanes to his teammates.

As a result Dumba is relatively easy to defend inside of a Minnesota’s north-south transitional scheme:

  • On the breakout: Angle him wide and expect him to force the puck through the strong side

  • In transition: Contain and wait for him to skate into trouble

“Mindset Drives Skillset”

NHL skills consultant Adam Nicholas shared the tidbit above with me, and I think it applies very well to Dumba’s situation. Here is a player with immense physical and technical gifts who just doesn’t seem to be getting as much out of his body as other, more modestly-talented NHLers.

Two NBA guards who exemplify where Dumba is and where he could be are Allen Iverson and Kyle Lowry.

Iverson was a transcendent shooter and playmaker whose teams underachieved because of his inefficient, self-centered way of playing.

Lowry does much more with less and drives the Toronto Raptors with timely reads and a facilitator’s mindset on offense.

In talking with Adam over the years about Dumba’s potential, I never fail to mention how I wished he were better at creating for his teammates.

When it comes to finding space in the OZ and shooting the puck in the net, Dumba is already great.

But I can’t help to think that he’d be so much better (and score more often) if he adjusted his mindset when controlling the puck in the other two zones.

I’ll be rooting for him to figure it all out.

Learn Roman Josi’s secret for dominant transition play

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