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The Extra Pass: Fixing Pacers offense not simple, easy

Apr 1, 2014, 7:59 AM EDT

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers are a mess.

A second place in the conference mess. The team’s month-long swoon — one that has gone from “oh, these stretches happen to every team” to “maybe we should really be worried here” — finally caught up with them when the Pacers’ loss to the Spurs Monday night allowed the Miami Heat to pass the Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

A team that looked like a legit title contender the first months of the season has been 8-10 since March 1 and in the past couple weeks their game has smelled like organic fertilizer. The most points the Indiana Pacers have scored in their last five games is 84 (their lone win in that stretch, vs. Miami). Against the Spurs Monday night the Spurs put up 77 points on 37.7 percent shooting. It wasn’t pretty.

While the Pacers’ vaunted defense has slipped (102.1 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, 11 more than they surrendered on average in first 30 games of the season) it is their offense that has been painful to watch. In the first 30 games of the season they were scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, which wasn’t exceptional (would be 18th in the NBA for the season), but with their defense it was enough.

In their last five games the Pacers have scored just 85.8 points per 100 possessions. They are pointing fingers at each other over it.

The rut their offense is in, the problems in their game, are just not ones easily fixed. Here’s a short list.

• Lack of elite ball handling/shot creation. Against the Spurs 22.9 percent of the Pacers’ shots came from the pick-and-roll ball handler (the largest single way they generated shots), and they shot 5-of-14 on those and turned the ball over on 22.7 percent of those plays (stats via Synergy Sports). Because a lot of guys with questionable handles have the ball in their hands, when the defensive pressure picks up — as it did against the Spurs — they struggle. And that defensive pressure is only going to get more intense as we get into the playoffs.

• Early in the season the Pacers adjusted for that lack of ball handling by creating shots through good ball movement, spacing and moving better off the ball. Those days are gone. Their offense is often stagnant and too often guys seem to overload the strong side and not space the floor to create driving lanes. When they cut it seems to be going through the motions, not with a purpose. The Spurs in particular also did not really respect the three point shooting of the Pacers and packed the lane at points.

• The Pacer really miss C.J. Watson — the solid, veteran point guard has played just 8 minutes since March 4 due to a combination of elbow and hamstring issues. With him leading the way the Pacers bench had been a strong suit early in the season (or at least not the black hole it had been last season) and Watson was a key reason. He could be back within the next week and if so that would be a big boost — he can provide some of the ball handling they need, help stabalize the offense. He could also lead a bench where Luis Scola and Evan Turner have not looked good of late.

• The Pacers screen setting and use of screens has been unimpressive. The number of screens set where the guy setting the pick doesn’t make contact with the defender (because he rolls out too early or because the ball handler leaves space to get through) is entirely too high.

• Their slow pace of play lets the defense get set, so they get no easy baskets in transition.

• When Roy Hibbert talks about selfish players, he is talking about Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner. As Tom Haberstroh of ESPN pointed out on twitter, in the 149 minutes Turner and Hibbert had played together since the trade deadline move to bring Turner to Indiana, he has gotten one assist passing to Hibbert. One.

• Turner has not been a fit, he played less than 7 minutes against the Spurs. Meanwhile, Danny Granger has thrived in Los Angeles given more freedom in an offense and as he got his legs back under him (although he is out injured, and you have to wonder if he can stay healthy).

• The Pacers are not working inside out with Hibbert, not getting him the rock when he does establish position. That said, he’s grown frustrated and is now part of the problem, not the solution.

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Indiana had made their offense work thanks to Paul George playing at an elite level, Lance Stephenson not being selfish (is it just me that thinks after the All-Star Game, and in a contract year, he has looked out for his numbers a lot more?) and some solid bench play. No more.

It’s not that they can’t get back to sharing the ball, spacing the floor, to hitting some of the jumpers they are missing now (which is an issue). They can. But can they do those things at a level that would lift them past the Miami Heat over the course of seven games? I picked the Pacers to do that (to win it all, actually) before the season but I’m no longer sold. I’m not sure they can fully pull out of this skid.

The good news is they have not only the next 16 days to figure it out, but also they have the first round of the playoffs (which in the East will essentially be a tune-up round against an inferior opponent, a team like Charlotte will fight but can’t beat even these Pacers).

However, if they can get back to a Game 7 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, now that game will likely be in Miami (a team that has won 10 of their last 11 when Dwyane Wade sits and rests). The Pacers have surrendered their home court.

Not that it will matter if they keep playing like this.

  1. aboogy123456 - Apr 1, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    Good points by Kurt on why the pacers are stagnant. I’ve been saying for a while that they need a solid point guard who knows how to take care of the ball and run the offense and get the ball to the right guy. They have so much talent on their team, but they don’t play smart. If I were them I would target a trade for tyler ennis, someone who’s not necessarily a star, just a smart point guard to run the show. I think they’ll end up losing to miami again because of miami’s pressure defense.

  2. aboogy123456 - Apr 1, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    I’ve been saying for a while that they need a solid point guard who knows how to take care of the ball and run the offense and get the ball to the right guy. They have so much talent on their team, but they don’t play smart. If I were them I would target a trade for tyler ennis, someone who’s not necessarily a star, just a smart point guard to run the show.

    • pbtunpaidwriter - Apr 1, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      This team needs to win NOW though.

      Ennis can’t run the show right away. No one was saying anything about Hill before and Lance can also play PG. Tony Parker isn’t areal PG either.

      • gostlcards5 - Apr 1, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        Yes, there had been comments about George Hill early in the year (and in the offseason). Most of that was silenced by the Pacers’ hot start.

      • redbaronx - Apr 1, 2014 at 3:17 PM

        @pbtunpaidwriter – Tony Parker isn’t a real PG??? Seriously? Just because he takes more than his fair share of penetration dribbles? That doesn’t mean he doesn’t run the offense. Tony is one of the best in the NBA at organizing and directing an offense. Exhibit A if you need proof of that….go back and watch last years Finals. That’s TP directing the offense!

  3. nard100 - Apr 1, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    WHAT! But, but, but wait, the Pacers are going to win it all still right?! It doesn’t matter because the champ this year will probably come from the west. That being said, the Pacers chances of getting to the EC finals are still quite good because the east is weak overall. Still rooting for Miami who is now in first place!

  4. time4complaints - Apr 1, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    Paul George has fallen in love with the 3-point shot. He needs to stop taking so many jumpers and attack the rim instead.

    • bougin89 - Apr 1, 2014 at 4:31 PM

      He really has. Not even just 3 pointers but just contested jumpers when he’s not in rhythm.

      If he gets out of the slump he’s in the Pacers offense is pretty much back to what it was before. Far from great but good enough to win a bunch of games if they’re locking up on defense like they can.

  5. sixerstrong - Apr 1, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    Hinkie the genius does it again!

    The Pacers would give up another 2nd rounder, just to give Turner back to the Sixers!

  6. rjmarrella - Apr 1, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Dear Indiana
    Sorry for making you suck
    Love
    Philly

  7. frank35sox - Apr 1, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    He’s talking about Paul George and Evan Tuner. Lance does most of his shooting while playing on the second unit. Indiana needs his energy. He is definitely not the problem. Paul George shooting 3s and trying to cut through 3 and 4 defenders in the problem.

  8. antistratfordian - Apr 1, 2014 at 1:18 PM

    …and people attacked me when I said Turner was going to make their offense worse. You could’ve seen this coming from a mile away too if you looked at it as objectively as I did. Instead, most here analyzed the trade from a “I really want the Pacers to beat the Heat” perspective. Overly optimistic, in other words.

    As I said on February 20:

    “Wow. Scoring is going to get even tougher for Indiana. At least Granger could hit some threes.”

    And

    “Indiana doesn’t really need someone who can create their own shot. They need a better offense in general (movement and shooters). Plugging Turner into their offense might make it look worse, potentially. Try throwing in a guy who can’t shoot and scores at 42% into an offense that is already struggling…”

    Just because I criticize a move doesn’t mean I’m biased – I do it when it’s deserved. Next time any of you want to jump on what I say consider the possibility that I might be right, because I usually am.

  9. nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Apr 1, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    Who thought the Granger trade would end up hurting them. They sure could use him now

  10. redbaronx - Apr 1, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Pacers have been making one bad move after another lately! Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner are exhibit A and B. I know, I know….Bynum has only played two games and costs nothing. And I also bet he’s a cancer with the other players!

  11. laclove - Apr 1, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    I’m a huge PG fan but I think his game has gone south since his personal off the court issues surfaced. The trade for Turner hasn’t helped, felt like they should have kept Granger at least until end of season.I hope they can get it figured out if not their pictures will appear on the inside the nba’s GONE FISHING boat first round.

  12. jimeejohnson - Apr 1, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    Who didn’t want the Pacers to challenge the Heat for supremacy back east? Does it matter: the way the Spurs are going nobody will beat them in a seven game series. The Heat’s reign is definitely in jeopardy.

  13. progress2011 - Apr 2, 2014 at 2:53 AM

    Chemistry in any relationship/ marriage or in this case bball team, truly can determine the success and longevity of the relationship.

    Ex: The Boston Celtics were a championship team. They traded Perk, who is not an offensive threat or a defensive stopper. He is a slightly above average player. BUT the chemistry he had with Pierce, Garnett, Allen & Rondo made them a team to be reckoned with. After the trade, the team was never the same.

    Danny Granger has been limited by injuries but his on-court toughness and his overall influence on the teams attitude and unity was apparent, even though he was a cheerleader on the side-line. He was apparently the glue that kept Indy together. Now that his presence is gone, there seems to be a void among the players that a coach cannot fill. It has to be filled by another player that is the on-court leader.

    Unfortunately, it is very apparent Paul George is not ready to take that step. Granger considered himself as LBJ’s rival/ equal and challenged him as such.
    Paul wants LBJ to mentor him and take him under his wing to hold and mold………..BIG DIFFERENCE!

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