Skip to content

The Extra Pass: Indiana’s Strange Success

Jan 9, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT

Paul George, Lance Stephenson AP

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 take away what they’re looking for, and they find something else. 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert is shooting 40 percent from the field and averages less than 10 points a game.

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.

How?

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Phil Jackson breaks down the Knicks roster. He’s high on Shumpert, says Carmelo must move ball

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:21 PM EDT

    Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks

    Phil Jackson has spoken to the media more than the previous three GMs ever did, I think.

  2. Commissioner Adam Silver talked television money, what it could mean for potential 2017 lockout

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT

    Adam Silver Adam Silver

    “ We still have roughly a third of our teams that are not profitable under the current system, despite revenue sharing.” —Adam Silver

  3. Other highlights from NBA’s GM survey: Some thought Chicago had better summer than Cleveland

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day Getty Images

    Oddest vote of the survey — 10.7 percent of GMs thought Chicago had a better offseason than Cleveland.

  4. Jeff Van Gundy: Confusing a system (like the Triangle Offense) with reason for success is ‘a huge mistake’

    Oct 22, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson answers questions at a post-game news conference following Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas Reuters

    Van Gundy says players are responsible for wins and losses, not systems — like the one Phil Jackson is bringing to the Knicks this season.

  5. Five top candidates for NBA Rookie of the Year

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT

    Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks

    This could be the year a big man breaks the string of guards winning the award.

  6. Paul Pierce on players switching teams in free agency: ‘It’s a great thing for our league’

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:13 PM EDT

    Paul Pierce AP

    Pierce played 15 years for the Celtics, but is now with his second new team in as many seasons with the Wizards.

  7. Celtics trying to trade Will Bynum, who they recently acquired from Pistons

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT

    Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons Getty Images

    Boston is hoping to get an asset in return for Bynum instead of simply waiving him.

  8. NBA GMs surveyed predict LeBron will win MVP, Spurs will repeat as champions

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Game Five Getty Images

    There are plenty more interesting tidbits in the league’s annual survey.

  9. Owners vote down NBA Draft lottery reform, system to stay same for this season

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT

    David Griffin, Jeff Cohen David Griffin, Jeff Cohen

    It may come up again, but for one more season at least Philadelphia’s uber-tanking system will pay dividends.

  10. George Hill leaves with knee injury, creating more problems for Pacers

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    George Hill AP

    In addition to losing its two best playmakers in the offseason. Indiana has struggled with injuries.

  11. ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Houston Rockets

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Houston Rockets Media Day Getty Images

    This is a team where winning 50 games and exiting in the first round would feel like a big disappointment.

  12. Chris Kaman suffers head laceration thanks to the teeth of Timofey Mozgov (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers

    Inadvertent collision resulted in Kaman needing stitches in the back of his head.

  13. Kobe Bryant responds to ESPN article with basically a shrug (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

    “Understand that it’s a cycle and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment.” —Kobe Bryant

  14. Timberwolves’ fan’s 90210 spoof is brilliant (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT

    Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day Getty Images

    Combining the NBA and 90210? Brilliant.

Featured video

Lakers, Celtics among lottery bound teams
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Bryant (4640)
  2. D. Rose (4115)
  3. B. Lopez (4067)
  4. V. Oladipo (3937)
  5. N. Noel (3884)