Jan 9, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme that could use another glance. Today, we swing our attention to Indiana, where the Pacers are putting together one strange season.
I wish there were a more aesthetically pleasing comparison available, but the Indiana Pacers are the cockroaches of the NBA. They are an ugly team, scattered about on the offensive end, waiting for the shot clock to tick down to the skinnier numbers so they can rush to the rim for scraps. There is very little sex appeal or sophistication here — just resiliency.
You chop off their head, and they live for 35 games and counting. Last year’s leading scorer Danny Granger hasn’t played a single minute.
You eliminate the new addition to their ranks, and they still keep coming. Gerald Green has an 8.2 PER, good for fifth worst in the league of players who average more than 20 minutes a night.
The Pacers are 29th in offensive efficiency, 28th in field goal percentage and 29th in points per game. They should be finished already, planning their trip to Secaucus, New Jersey to watch lottery balls bounce around with the rest of the inept offensive teams in the league.
But instead, the Pacers are 21-14, fourth in the Eastern Conference, and just three games back of a Miami Heat team they vanquished last night. Three games out of first place. The Indiana Pacers. With all that going on.
The best defense can be a slow offense
The Pacers have evolved in the best way– they know that they’re terrible offensively without Granger (and with Hibbert missing layups), so they’ve adapted by helping themselves on the other end. The offense, as brutal as it may be, serves a purpose for the defense by playing purposefully slow.
The Pacers play at the league’s 25th slowest pace, but they also rank 10th in offensive rebounding percentage. The victory over Miami was a wonderful example of how these two things work together. The Pacers absolutely bled the clock with the lead, and combined with their 22 offensive rebounds, they made that 8-10 points feel like 18-20 instead. The opportunities for Miami to come back in the fourth quarter were extremely limited.
Of course, taking the air out of the ball, so to speak, would mean nothing if the Pacers weren’t defending the way they are. For as every bit as bad as they’ve been offensively, the Pacers have been even better defensively.
It starts inside
Hibbert has used his own struggles at the rim as a way to exact revenge on his opponents, blocking the third most shots in the league (2.7 a game) and altering countless others. From 9-feet and in, the Pacers hold their opponents to the league’s lowest shooting percentage.
Although Hibbert isn’t fleet of foot, he’s a space eater for a defense that rarely gambles (26th in turnover percentage). The Pacers as a whole are very conservative defensively — their guards like to go under screens, and their big men rarely hedge or trap on pick-and-rolls. As a result, the Pacers are rarely scrambling to recover or asking their bigs to make lightning quick rotations.
And although he’s not noted as a defensive force, David West uses that thick chest of his as the wall to Hibbert’s sentry tower arms — opposing power forwards notch a PER of 12.2 against West, and the Pacers are about 2.4 points better defensively per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor (and a whopping net 13.5 points overall).
Thanks to West and Hibbert, and the crazy size of Paul George, the Pacers are also the 6th best defensive rebounding team in the league. Opposing teams go one-and-done offensively quite a bit.
Length on the perimeter
Another thing the Pacers do extraordinarily well defensively is defend the 3-point line. The average team this year shoots around 35.7 percent from behind the arc, but the Pacers hold their opponents to a stingy 31.6 percent shooting. That’s the top number in the league, and the length of guys like George Hill (who owns a ridiculous 6-foot-9 wingspan), Lance Stephenson (6-foot-10 wingspan) and Paul George (near 7-foot-wingspan) play into that heavily. According to Synergy Sports, the Pacers are the number one defense in the league defending against spot-up jumpers — a testament to the ability of their wings to get a hand up and contest every shot.
Coach of the Year?
There’s a reason Frank Vogel just got a contract extension, folks. The Pacers have a lot of plus individual defenders, but no one in their right mind expected them to have the league’s most efficient defense 35 games in. This is a core that has benefitted a great deal from playing together, and give Vogel credit for allowing Indiana’s starting five (Hill-Stephenson-George-West-Hibbert) to play the second most minutes together of any unit in the league — even if Indiana’s bench has been a question mark ever since he grabbed the big seat. If Tom Thibodeau can win a Coach of the Year for the defense he brought to Chicago, Vogel should at least be seriously considered if this keeps up.
Thank you, David
And here’s the reason why it might not keep up. Indiana’s Dr. Jekyl defense and Mr. Hyde offense is unlike anything we’ve seen, but a very soft schedule certainly has played into that a bit. Indiana’s strength of schedule is dead last in the league, and their SRS, a rating that factors point differential into that equation, is just 15th. Although more recent wins against Memphis, Milwaukee and Miami are impressive, their wins prior to that came against sub .500 clubs almost exclusively. Some regression should be expected as the quality of opponents spikes back up.
But even with that said, it’s tough to deny the staying power of the league’s most resilient team to date. Things can’t possibly get worse offensively, especially since Stephenson has made such a positive impact lately. With Granger targeting a February return, there is hope on the horizon.
It’s not often we see a contender so painfully one-dimensional, but if this defense holds on to the distinction of being the best in the league, the Pacers will be awfully hard to ignore any longer.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:39 AM EST
The seas part and Rudy Gay had a path to the rim.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
The Cavs beat the Grizzlies in Cleveland.
Dec 21, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Of course he said he’d consider the Knicks, it’s just smart business.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Rose has been there before.
Dec 21, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
The very public meeting with Jackson was leverage to help get Karl to lower his asking price.
Dec 21, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Stevens dismisses rumors of Indiana University.
Dec 21, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
The Knicks guard will be reevaluated in two weeks.
Dec 21, 2014, 1:52 PM EST
Knee injuries have robbed us of the good Gallinari.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Everything went wrong for Sanders and the Bucks last year.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Why else would trade rumors surface 20 games or so into his first season in Charlotte?
Dec 21, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
The Thunder are right to be cautious here.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
The Bucks went heavy with Brandon Knight at the end of the game. That went about as well as you’d expect.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:46 AM EST
Nine assists but shot 3-of-11.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:16 AM EST
He can do better.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:30 PM EST
A final look back at Rondo’s time in Boston as he gets set to make his debut with Dallas.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
Cavaliers are tied with the Pistons for 23rd in defensive efficiency.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:11 PM EST
Kings are looking to make a splash, and Williams has been made available in trade by the Nets.
Dec 20, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
Dragic will opt out of the final year of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
An expletive was added for emphasis.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
No contact on the perimeter, yea he’s up for that.
- Sources: Kings prefer George Karl, not serious about hiring Mark Jackson 8
- Nuggets Danilo Gallinari has meniscus tear in right knee, out three weeks after surgery 6
- Rajon Rondo was very Rondoesque in debut with Mavericks (VIDEO) 19
- Report: Kings discussing trade for Deron Williams with Nets 12
- Report: Multiple teams contacting Suns trying to trade for Goran Dragic 10
- Clippers rip officials after being called for seven technical fouls in loss to Nuggets 18
- Jeremy Lin after Kobe misses at the buzzer: ‘I like game-winners too’ 60
- Damian Lillard drops career high 43, leads Blazers to 3OT win over Spurs (VIDEO) 8