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View Full Version : (TrueHoop) Killer Lineup: The Pacers' stingy starters (Excellent article)



Kid Minneapolis
02-25-2013, 03:34 PM
http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/55072/killer-lineup-the-pacers-stingy-starters

How it works offensively
Pacers coach Frank Vogel is a man who appreciates uniformity. Last season, his teamís primary lineup logged 1,000 minutes. No other unit in the NBA topped 750 minutes. This season, the Pacersí starters once again lead all five-man units in minutes played -- only this time itís George Hill and Lance Stephenson in place of Darren Collison (traded during the offseason) and Danny Granger (made his debut Saturday after missing the first 55 games of the season because of patellar tendinosis).

When newly assembled units struggle to find themselves offensively, coaches often will preach patience and time. In the case of the Pacers this season, that largely has worked. With each passing month in Grangerís absence, Indianaís starting five have grown more comfortable as an offense, and theyíve been impressively efficient in the past 20 games or so.

For one, they get into their stuff more quickly. That swing sequence at the top of the floor that opens many of their half-court possessions -- wing-to-big-to-wing -- happens promptly and crisply. From here, the Pacers generally go one of a few different ways.

First, thereís George, whoís the unitís most effective (and only true) creator off the bounce. The Pacers might isolate him inside the arc on the left side and let him work over a smaller defender. Theyíll also use Hibbert to pin down for George to pop out to the perimeter. With enough separation, George will take the shot, but if his defender is close, heíll put the ball on the floor.

Comparatively few of Georgeís possessions originate from high pick-and-rolls. Every once in a while in early offense, West will set a little step-up screen, but George clearly prefers to rub his guy off West or Hibbert at the foul-line extended area about 15 feet from the basket. Overall, George is a player who likes a layer of space around him while heís working on offense (itís not unusual to see George politely wave off a pick). Given that tendency, itís an interesting exercise to imagine him playing alongside some guys who can actually shoot the ball from distance.

With West and Hibbert on the floor, the Pacers look inside a fair amount. Thereís a certain obligation to feed Hibbert if his defender ends up on the high side. Heíll also see the ball if the matchup advantage is wildly in his favor. Despite Hibbertís struggles to find his hook shot, thereís been no detectable fall-off in his touches.

West at the elbow is a higher-grade option. Big men with the ability to control a possession from the high post are becoming a less common breed. From that spot, West can turn around and fire a jumper, but more often than not he surveys the scene. As West watches the defense, heís patient, scanning the perimeter. Whoís cheating? Whoís inclined to cheat if I get into my move? If West finds something, heíll kick the ball out. If not, he might unleash a ball fake or just return it to the top of the floor.

The Pacers do a nice job of using West on the weakside elbow as a sensible release option. When teams load up on George on one side of the floor, the Pacers have increasingly looked Westís way as the logical counter. George is getting better and better at reading the court for his next best option, in large part because heís learned that looking to West at that spot is generally the answer.

The ball doesnít spend a great amount of time in the hands of Hill, whoís far more of a cutter than an initiator in the half court. Defenses have universally run under any ball screen set for Hill, and heís become considerably more willing to shoot the 3-ball if given sufficient space. A couple of times a game, Hill will dribble left of one of those picks, then launch a shot from distance. Overall, heís 36.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The unit generally plays together in six-, eight-, sometimes even 10-minute stints, and at some point, Stephenson will get a chance to initiate in the half court. Stephenson probably will never be a guy with whom you can create beautiful basketball, but playing with this unit has refined him as a player. Itís not just the shooting percentages, which are way up. Stephenson is a better decision-maker, a better mover and still a beast on the break. Sometimes when a player goes from a bench mob to the junior member of a five-man unit, all of the manual labor and errand-running that come with that job make him value his time with the ball more.

How it works defensively
Exceptionally well, which is an affirmation of some traditional truths about basketball. Even as the NBA undergoes a radical sea change with respect to size and position, being big is still an asset. Virtually every single night they take the floor, the Pacersí starters have an enormous advantage -- literally. With the 6-foot-2 Hill replacing the 6-0 Collison in the first unit, the Pacers have legitimate length at all five positions and tower over opponents. Logically enough, this group works its strength.

Itís tough to move downhill against the Pacers in the half court because everywhere an offensive player turns, there are limbs blocking his path. For similar reasons, itís also difficult to shoot over the top, move off the ball and more generally, find open parking spots anywhere on the floor. As a result, defenses have to work hard to get clean looks against the Pacersí first unit.

Strong defenses tend to rotate well, but the elite ones donít have to rotate at all. We can confidently place the Pacersí starters in that group. Individually, each perimeter player contains his man at the point of attack, while West and Hibbert can handle just about any one-on-one matchup theyíre assigned. Hill, Stephenson and George donít have to worry about finding shooters because theyíre already on top of them anytime theyíre within a couple of feet. Opponents get fewer than 15 3-point attempts per 48 minutes against this unit (among the most frequently used lineups, only Chicagoís top two units do better), and converting only 31.3 percent of them.

George is a useful case study in why opponents canít access normally reliable second and third options after the Pacers stop the ball on the first. Itís fun to watch George defend on the weakside. When heís off the ball covering a stationary player on the perimeter, George will confidently run through a sequence of motions -- move toward the action on the ball side, dance back a couple of steps when a passing lane to his man opens up, cheat again once that window closes but not without a quick look back to make sure his guy hasnít moved to a different spot where he could hurt the Pacers.

Thereís no science to measure off-ball defense, but when you observe a player make every step toward and away from the action with so much purpose, when bad gambles and iffy decision occur so rarely, it becomes easy to understand how a unit is surrendering only 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Now, is this a case of a wing player like George having the luxury of playing alongside two big men who can handle the pick-and-roll? Or do the big guys excel because they play with a point guard like Hill who can corral opposing point guards and fight over screens when necessary, and wings like George (6-8) and Stephenson (6-5) who can hold their own against attackers who might post up or drive against lesser defenders?

In the case of Indianaís featured lineup, the answer is both. Thereís a mutual benefit between big and small that carries over from the perimeter to the basket area. Guys remain in their area, but Hibbert has a lot to do with that. He rarely leaves the paint, and why should he, because at 7-2 heís far more effective playing goalie than he would be commuting from the top of the floor off a hard show or jamming a screener.

If a guard is able to beat Hill or Stephenson, Hibbert lies in wait and can contain him with his outstretched arms, all the while shading his man, which allows West or a weakside defender to stay at home. With few open targets surrounding him, the guard now has to find a way to magically deliver the ball to the hoop against a deceptively quick-footed, lurching giant -- and if he gets close enough, probably a second long-armed defender.

West might be even be a worse candidate for exploitation in the pick-and-roll for an offense. West meets the ball handler way up at the top of the floor, then chases down his original matchup (or other big man if Hibbert picks up Westís guy, sometimes the case when itís a power forward with some skills). This is an exhausting anaerobic workout for a big guy, but the 6-9 West never stops moving for a second. His gift is knowing how to time his departures and arrivals. West can launch an all-out blitz on a point guard if Jason Maxiell is his man. But if heís guarding someone who could potentially cause some trouble, especially as a popper, West will temper his attack.

There sometimes come a point when a frustrated offense will all but abandon a pick-and-roll attack against the Pacers, which is why you see teams stagnate against them. If you canít get anything against the pick-and-roll, canít capably penetrate by isolating your perimeter guys, and if Hibbert is going to confront anyone who gets within 8 feet of the basket, then what do you have?

Finally, with Granger active again, does Vogel take minutes away from this unit to accommodate Granger's return? The more difficult question to answer for Vogel is whether he can afford to.

CableKC
02-25-2013, 03:55 PM
I am curious as to how the defense last year with GH/PG/Granger/West/Hibbert compares ( on a statistical POV ) to this years lineup of GH/Lance/PG/West/Hibbert.

Speed
02-25-2013, 04:37 PM
Great read!

Exactly my #1 concern with Danny coming back and replacing Lance. This unit is symbiotic defensively. Lance doesn't have to save himself defensively. I've never considered Danny a great team defensive player. He'll get the weak side block and in isolation against bigger small forwards, he's very good. When it comes to all out instinctive team defense, I've never thought he was above average. I feel like the current group is the best in the league. Maybe Shaw/Vogel can integrate him without concern, but its really a big deal to me. The theory that Lance has to appreciate his touches and fit in with the first team makes sense to me too. I'd be an advocate of Danny with the 2nd group for the entire year, but I doubt they'll do that. We'll see hopefully my concerns are invalid.

Trader Joe
02-25-2013, 04:39 PM
You guys all need to remember that Hill, PG, Danny, West, Hibbert was a great lineup last year too.

Lance's improvement is great because it gives us more awesome lineup combos. And hopefully DJ and Ian continuing to improve as they have can give us even more flexibility.

AesopRockOn
02-25-2013, 04:44 PM
If you could move Truehoop over to Grantland, you could pretty much knock out the NBA section of ESPN.com. And everyone would be better for it.

gummy
02-25-2013, 05:17 PM
Also, check out this other ESPN piece from today:

http://www.pacersdigest.com/showthread.php?81411-Pacers-4-in-power-ranks&p=1595190&viewfull=1#post1595190

Unclebuck
02-25-2013, 05:19 PM
This article makes a strong point for the way Frank plays "two units" it is obvious to me that Frank likes to play his starters as a unit as much as possible. Most coach or at least a lot of coaches don't do this, they often will keep a bench player in the game with the starters (Carlisle did this a lot). I see strong evidence that Frank's approach works extremely well.

Coopdog23
02-25-2013, 06:56 PM
This article makes a strong point for the way Frank plays "two units" it is obvious to me that Frank likes to play his starters as a unit as much as possible. Most coach or at least a lot of coaches don't do this, they often will keep a bench player in the game with the starters (Carlisle did this a lot). I see strong evidence that Frank's approach works extremely well.

That's why Frank is coach of the year. He emphasizes defense and toughness with both units. Most coaches only preach offense to their starters. This Pacers defines the phrase defense wins championships.

CableKC
02-25-2013, 07:13 PM
You guys all need to remember that Hill, PG, Danny, West, Hibbert was a great lineup last year too.

Lance's improvement is great because it gives us more awesome lineup combos. And hopefully DJ and Ian continuing to improve as they have can give us even more flexibility.
I think that having Granger in with Lance ( or vice versa ) creates different matchup problems for the other Team on both the offensive and defensive end.

It's like the difference between driving with a car that race car that can handle a tight turn but can't accelerate as fast....as opposed to a race car that can accelerate fast but can't handle tight turns as well.

This doesn't mean that Granger is better than Lance in the lineup....I'm just saying that both bring a different skillset to the floor when combined with GH/PG/West/Hibbert and the lineup that we use should be dependant on the matchups.

mattie
02-25-2013, 07:17 PM
This article makes a strong point for the way Frank plays "two units" it is obvious to me that Frank likes to play his starters as a unit as much as possible. Most coach or at least a lot of coaches don't do this, they often will keep a bench player in the game with the starters (Carlisle did this a lot). I see strong evidence that Frank's approach works extremely well.

You can still give heavy minutes to your starting five together without platooning with two different units.

Vogel does this. Heavy minutes to his starting five, while keeping PG or West with the second unit..

gummy
02-25-2013, 07:29 PM
That's why Frank is coach of the year. He emphasizes defense and toughness with both units. Most coaches only preach offense to their starters. This Pacers defines the phrase defense wins championships.

They won't be an example of that phrase until they are holding up the hardware at center court.

But we definitely hope this Pacers team will come to define the phrase "defense wins championships!"

For now we're at "defense wins games." :)

D-BONE
02-25-2013, 09:41 PM
Great read!

Exactly my #1 concern with Danny coming back and replacing Lance. This unit is symbiotic defensively. Lance doesn't have to save himself defensively. I've never considered Danny a great team defensive player. He'll get the weak side block and in isolation against bigger small forwards, he's very good. When it comes to all out instinctive team defense, I've never thought he was above average. I feel like the current group is the best in the league. Maybe Shaw/Vogel can integrate him without concern, but its really a big deal to me. The theory that Lance has to appreciate his touches and fit in with the first team makes sense to me too. I'd be an advocate of Danny with the 2nd group for the entire year, but I doubt they'll do that. We'll see hopefully my concerns are invalid.

The #1 legit concern about Granger's eventual return to strating five - defensive impact. Stephenson has become an absolute terror on D. Granger is not a bad defender (assuming good health), but LS has taken it to a whole different level, IMO. Way more than I would have expected. And it obviously works with the other four starters.

I think the issue of Granger being reinserted with the starters is not a given. I think it should be handled based on the combination of DG's performance and conditioning. But the performance piece must include how his performance fits with the starters compared to what's developed in his absence. I would think at minimum, even if DG does go back to starting, it will be a good three weeks before there's enough data to justify it.

wintermute
02-26-2013, 03:21 AM
I am curious as to how the defense last year with GH/PG/Granger/West/Hibbert compares ( on a statistical POV ) to this years lineup of GH/Lance/PG/West/Hibbert.

According to 82games, last year

DC/PG/DG/West/Hib played 1000.1 minutes with an ORtg of 109, DRtg of 100, for a net +9 pts per possession
GH/PG/DG/West/Hib played 229.3 minutes with an ORtg of 112, DRtg of 97, for a net +15 pts per possession

This year

GH/LS/PG/West/Hib has played 877.7 minutes with an ORtg of 110, DRtg of 96, for a net +14 pts per possession

(TrueHoop's numbers are slightly different: ORtg 108, DRtg 94, not sure why. But the net points is the same. Maybe they took them from a different point in time?)

So to answer your question, the defense is slightly better, but still very comparable to last year's lineup.

The big difference this year is that we have effective defensive bench units, and I think a big part of the credit should go to Ian Mahinmi here. I'll admit I wasn't too happy with the contract he received at the time, but dang has he done a great job. It also helps that Vogel has been mixing Paul G in with the backup units a lot.

naptownmenace
02-26-2013, 12:12 PM
This was a great article. Another factor to the Pacers defense is that they don't gamble for steals which leaves them in great position to contest shots and rebound them when they miss the mark. One thing that I didn't see him mention, is how well the Pacers rebound the ball. They average 13 offensive rebounds per game and are #1 in the league in total Rebounds per game.

Like Pat Riley famously said, "No Rebounds, No Rings!". If you were wondering, the Miami Heat are dead last in the league in rebounds per game.

Coopdog23
02-26-2013, 12:13 PM
This was a great article. Another factor to the Pacers defense is that they don't gamble for steals which leaves them in great position to contest shots and rebound them when they miss the mark. One thing that I didn't see him mention, is how well the Pacers rebound the ball. They average 13 offensive rebounds per game and are #1 in the league in total Rebounds per game.

Like Pat Riley famously said, "No Rebounds, No Rings!". If you were wondering, the Miami Heat are dead last in the league in rebounds per game.

This article completely and in-depth shows why our unit is so effective

Unclebuck
02-26-2013, 04:01 PM
From the the article




Strong defenses tend to rotate well, but the elite ones don’t have to rotate at all. We can confidently place the Pacers’ starters in that group. Individually, each perimeter player contains his man at the point of attack, while West and Hibbert can handle just about any one-on-one matchup they’re assigned. Hill, Stephenson and George don’t have to worry about finding shooters because they’re already on top of them anytime they’re within a couple of feet. Opponents get fewer than 15 3-point attempts per 48 minutes against this unit (among the most frequently used lineups, only Chicago’s top two units do better), and converting only 31.3 percent of them

That IMo more than any other single reason is why the pacers defense is so good.