A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Pacers offense and old school thinking vs new school

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The Indiana Pacers season is seen with a pessimistic viewpoint due to the loss of Paul George and Lance Stephenson to injury and free agency. Those wings have been effectively replaced by new additions Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, along with expected increase in minutes for Chris Copeland. Many predictions for the Pacers now have them falling into the 30s in wins, a steep fall from last season’s 56-26.

When it comes to their results as a whole, I’m not sure how well their defense will hold up without Paul George. It’s not just that George is one of the best defensive perimeter players in the league, but making up for losing him may cause Frank Vogel to integrate a more offensive style of play, or the Pacers to expend more energy on offense. This could hurt their defensive results. Although the Pacers still have an elite defensive front court with Roy Hibbert and David West backed up by options like Ian Mahimni and Lavoy Allen.

However offensively, I believe the Pacers drop-off is not as severe as some believe.

Old school thinking

10 or 15 years ago when fans and the league were more obsessed with points per game and “creating their own shot”, the Pacers losing their two leading scorers in George (21.7ppg) and Stephenson (13.8ppg) would be seen as a disaster in the making. The Pacers are surely a disaster without any perimeter players who can create their own shot, right?

Yet how offense is played and viewed is clearly different in 2014. Like RBIs in baseball, it’s not about how many points per game you get, but how it occurs in relation to the team. A player who scores points per game but does so inefficiently and who stops the ball from moving to other more efficient shots, may not be valuable. In addition, floor spacing is now one of the best places to start when evaluating how successful an offense will work as a unit. That doesn’t invalidate the concerns about losing George and Stephenson as both were above average in league efficiency and losing them may cause defenses to key on other players, but it suggests at least looking closer before writing the new Pacers offense off as automatically worse than last year’s sub-average one, finishing 23rd in ORTG and plummeting to league worst levels after the all-star break.

How the Pacers would succeed offensively

The key to the Pacers surviving at SG and SF without Stephenson and George is in spacing and ball movement, both more paramount to offensive success than “creating your own shot”.

The last 2 years C.J. Miles in Cleveland hit 39.3% and 38.4% from 3 on 4.1 and 5.0 3pt attempts a game, in only 19.3 and 21.0 minutes per game. This equates to a sky high 7.7 and 8.7 3pt attempts per 36 minutes. Between his % and volume, it seems fair to suggest Miles could produce a strong 3pt shooting season for the Pacers. Chris Copeland shot 41.8% from 3 for the Pacers last year on 1.9 attempts a game, however by playing 6.5 minutes per game in 41 games, this was on a low volume. However for the Knicks his rookie year he shot 42.1% from 3 on 2.5 attempts a game in 15.4 minutes per game. Overall, it would also seem Copeland is a reliable 3pt shooting option. The Pacers also have a Croatian rookie wing Damjan Rudez who shot 44.1% from 3 on 4.5 attempts a game from 3 last year in the ACB. The wing who is a problem as as shooter is Rodney Stuckey, who has a career 3p% of .286 and shot 27.3% from 3 last year in Detroit. However Stuckey provides a different important skill set to the Pacers, which isg eating to the FT line. Stuckey has averaged 4.3 FTA per game for his career, or a per 36 rate of 5.3 a game. Last year George averaged 5.8 free throw attempts a game on a high volume of shots, while Stephenson only averaged 2.5 a game. Stuckey isn’t the type of offensive player I favor, but he does provide an element of driving to the basket and free throw line hat may be lacking in players like Miles, Copeland, Rudez or Pacers veterans like George Hill.

The Pacers are PG, PF and C are similar offensively to last year. George Hill is not a spectacular PG but he’s a reliable 3 point shooter and passing “game manager”, hitting 36.5% from 3 on 3.4 attempts last year and averaging 3.5 assists to 1.2 turnovers. C.J. Watson is an average but respectable backup point offensively. David West remains a solid option in the post and pick and pop. While for his dreadful offensive numbers at times, I still feel like Roy Hibbert has offensive skill on the block that if used more heavily, could draw defensive attention. Luis Scola had a poor season last year but could refind his skill game this year.

Ideally the Pacers would find themselves with floor spacing provided by players like Miles, Copeland and Rudez and having SGs and SFs who play off the ball, would help the team have ball movement. With players like Hill, West and Hibbert, the roster is still very high IQ, which could help them pass the ball to post players and then if doubles are drawn, out to open shooters. For all of Paul George and Lance Stephenson’s talent, they also dominated the ball and contributed the Pacers finding themselves stagnant enough to settle for midrange jumpshots. The new Pacers may not be able to “create their own shot” like George and Hill, but if there’s more ball movement and spacing, this could in its own way create more open shots from 3 or at the rim than they struggled to get last year.

Barring a defensive collapse I see a lot of reasons why the Pacers would outdo expectations this year. They are a team full of veteran professionals who tend to win compared to younger, mistake-making teams and who has been well coached defensively by Frank Vogel. They won’t wow anyone with talent, but the key is intelligence and effort level. This would play out not only with continued defensive success, but finding open shooters with precision on the offensive end. A season around 44 or 45 wins and being the same type of success story the Bulls have been the last 2 seasons without Derrick Rose, would not surprise me.

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Written by jr.

October 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

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