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Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

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  • Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

    Last fall I did a series on how the returning players could improve their games as individuals, and withing the new schemes of our freshly hired head coach, Jim O'Brien. This year I want to bring that series back, focusing on our main core of players we expect to see major minutes from this season. I'm starting this in depth review with our new point guard, T.J. Ford.

    Most of us know the basic scouting report on Ford. He is small, extremely quick, and very athletic. Offensively he is an adept ballhandler who isnt bothered by ball pressure, but whose lack of height occasionally presents him problems when being trapped. He isn't a great perimeter shooter, but is a fairly intelligent judge of when to take perimeter shots for himself, within the context of the game plan and situation. Defensively he has the ability to pressure the ball better than anyone we've had at that position since Travis Best, but he can be exploited by bigger more physical guards who can post him up.

    What I want to do with this thread, and with the ones that follow in this series, is examine the nuances of his game and style within our team concept, and try and find the little discussed pros and cons that havent been discussed or noticed yet. While no one can really see how he will play and fit in until we actually see him on the floor, I think there are good discussion points and questions that can be had about our individual players over the course of the next few weeks. With that in mind, I wanted to discuss TJ and his game in depth.

    One of the things I like about Ford the best is his ability to run an offense to either side of the floor, without having to turn his back to the defender in order to protect the basketball. When you really think about it, we havent had a point guard who truly consistently had this ability for an extremely long time. Mark Jackson sometimes liked to turn his back and look over his shoulder against big time pressure, Travis Best dribbled too much with no purpose and was too "left hand" oriented, and Jamal Tinsley even while having adept handles lacked the consistentcy in effort and judgment and athleticism to be able to truly be able to do this.

    What this means to me from a coaching perspective is that I dont have to worry about teams pressuring TJ up the floor.....it will be too dangerous for them to do so with his blow by speed with the basketball. It also means that I as a coach can communicate with my point guard easier during the flow of the game, as Ford has the ability to handle the ball and listen at the same time. TJ Ford will control where the ball goes to initiate offesne, and the defense will react to him, not the other way around.

    This ability to truly be a premier ballhandler and threat to drive with a purpose will enable the Pacers to more effectively play a true 1 guard front offense. The Pacers personnel dictates this anyway, as neither Granger or Dunleavy are at their most effective handling the ball on the high perimeter, above the key on either side. Instead the can concentrate on staying in the wing areas, trusting Ford will not be forced to pick up his dribble early and out of passing position.

    Coach O'Brien is a somewhat "unconventional" coach when it comes to offensive philosophy, but now he has been given a point guard who fits in better to a more traditional personnel grouping and style. How the more traditional Pacers personnel as a whole fits in with the different philosophy of our staff bears watching as the season goes along.

    Another thing that interests me about TJ Ford is how our offensive wings have to space the floor with him in the game a bit differently. TJ's skills change the "geometry" of the game somewhat. Because Ford can beat his man off the dribble in the center of the floor much easier than our past players, he will be a couple of steps into the paint further than our wings are accumstomed to. Early on, you may see some awkward plays as Ford drives in so deep that our wings are open for spot up 3 opportunities, but are BEHIND the ball and sight line of Ford, thereby being unable to be seen by our dimunitive point guard.

    I want to see how our wings and coaching staff handle this situation, because it is going to happen. Will Granger and Dunleavy be asked to "spot up" lower on the floor to make it easier for Ford to find them, or will Ford be coached to not drive the ball as deep as he seems to want to do? I don't really think Ford is that adept at a little 10 foot "floater", instead he tends to get deeper than that into the paint. How will the Pacers spacing adjust?

    His ability and willingness to drive the ball deeper into the paint should result in less passes to the wing perimeter areas, and more dump offs to our bigs for dunks, or to the deep corners for three point shots. In your minds eye, think of Shawn Marion drifting to the corners for three point attempts off Steve Nash penetration, vs Reggie Miller spotting up on the wing getting a pass from Mark Jackson, who would pull up much shorter and earlier than TJ Ford will likely do. Either TJ or the rest of the team will need to adjust....I wonder which it will be?

    I want to see what happens with Ford when teams are faced with the choice of helping cut off his drives by coming off of Dunleavy, Granger, and Rush, or with letting Ford attempt to finish shots in the paint himself. If I'm coaching against Indiana, I think Im trying to make Ford a finisher in traffic instead of being a passer.

    The high and flat "ballscreen" is one of the most commonly used offensive weapons used in basketball these days. However, some coaches are starting to talk about re-thinking this trend of the last few years, as they are finding that to bring a screen to a point guard/ballhandler who doesnt need it is a waste of time, and only brings more traffic in the area of the ballhandler. I think if I'm Jim O'Brien that I do NOT want to use Ford in this high ballscreen area much, instead I want my players to give TJ space and time to beat his man without the benefit of a screen. Others think the Pacers should run a high ballscreen with TJ Ford almost every trip, as he is so adept at going in either direction they believe it will be harder to guard than just leaving Ford "solo" up top with the ball.

    This will be interesting to me, particularly at the end of quarters and in big moments. I dont think I personally would hardly ever ballscreen for Ford, but I want to know what the prevailing opinion is on this board. To me, if Im coaching against Indiana and the Pacers try this manuever with Ford and someone else, I think Im instructing my defender to go "under" the ballscreen, and make Ford have to make the wide open jump shot from near the top of the circle. If the Pacers are smart, they are having TJ work on this shot a bunch in the offseason.

    Defensively, I want to see how much the Pacers choose to push Ford into picking up the opponent earlier in the possession. I would do that almost each possession all season long, but it is a long year and that type of defensive pressure can take a toll on your own defender over the course of time. Will the Pacers conserve Ford by limiting his pressuring, will they ask him to do it but limit his overall minutes to about 28 or so per night, or will they play a more traditional, "softer and conservative" defense?

    I want to see if Fords ability to stay in front of his man helps our wing defenders deny better the first pass of the opponents offense. I want to see if Dunleavy and particularly Granger become better defenders because of TJ's effect, or if they stay mediocre or worse.

    I want to see how the Pacers counteract a team who chooses to post up Ford alot on the low block. Do they leave Ford ot fend for himself? Do they "dig" from the ball side, or do they choose to let Ford stay behind his man and then run an exotic doubleteam? We know for a fact some teams will post up TJ, how will we react to it?

    I could go on and on about the need for a point guard on a winning team to become a leader, to be vocal, to set the tone, to be a coach on the floor, etc etc. TJ seems to have these qualities, and compared to what we've had in the past anything he does in these areas will be a giant improvement. But Ford has been traded twice already at a young age, and he does have injury concerns along with being somewhat of a malcontent in Toronto. It is not a given that, if Ford struggles early and is outplayed by Jarrett Jack and loses minutes to him, that Ford will be a happy camper in Indianapolis. How will Jim O'Brien and Ford interact when TJ struggles, or is injured, or the team is on a 4 game skid, or whatever maladies come up in a long NBA season?

    These are just some of the questions/concerns I have about TJ Ford, but admittedly I havent broken down any film or anything like that like I have in the past at times. Looking at Ford with a critical eye, we know he isnt a perfect player, because no one is. What do you feel he needs to improve on to become one of the top 8-10 point guards in the league, and what does TJ need to provide for us to help us win as many games as possible? Where does he need to improve, and what does the staff need to adjust to help play at maximum efficiency? How do we get the most out of TJ Ford?


    As always, the above is just my opinion.

    Tbird

  • #2
    Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

    Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post
    Coach O'Brien is a somewhat "unconventional" coach when it comes to offensive philosophy,
    That's one way to put it.

    Originally posted by thunderbird1245
    What do you feel he needs to improve on to become one of the top 8-10 point guards in the league
    To use a Jay Bilasism, his basketballability. Or genetics. He's just not a Top 8 guy.

    That said, I agree that his penetration and blowbyability will be tremendous for this offense. When J'OB's Pierce/Toine team overachieved its way to the ECF, Kenny Anderson's ability to drive and kick was paramount to their success. Much like us with Danny, Mike, Troy and, presumably, Rush, they had a litany of guys from the corner to the wing to the top of the key that would rotate into the passing lanes for Kenny to kick it out for a wide-open three. The spacing this creates in the middle makes it incredibly easy for able penetrators like Kenny and TJ to get into the paint and we're going to get TONS of threes off this.

    Defensively, I still don't see why people think TJ is anything above adequate. Everyone harps on his ability to ballhawk and, sure, he is quick enough to not get taken to the cleaners off the bounce too often. But he is historically lacksidasical and rarely focuses intently on doing either of these things. Worse, he has poor off the ball positioning. He rotates poorly and "ball watches" a lot, both of which lead to his assignment "floating" and getting good looks.

    Hopefully he can fix all this stuff as it's all mental and/or poor technique/coaching. If he has the right mentality and dedication, he can certainly do it...but from what I've seen of his defense to this point I'm not expecting much aside from a token upgrade from the garbage we saw from Tinsley/Diener last year, which is by no means worth celebrating.
    Read my Pacers blog:
    8points9seconds.com

    Follow my twitter:

    @8pts9secs

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    • #3
      Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

      Not a prediction by any means, but Jack could be the starter by the midpoint of the season. One thing working against that could be Jack's apparent selflessness. Don't know that TJ could handle being the backup psychologically. Jack I think can accept that role based on what I know of him. Jack may not give us that much more than Ford, but he could end up being more consistently stable, possibly from the leadership standpoint. Should be interesting.
      I'd rather die standing up than live on my knees.

      -Emiliano Zapata

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      • #4
        Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

        I really honestly think that TJ , in his mind, has something to prove ... and will play with a chip on his shoulder... (not the bad kind, but the kind of chip that makes a player strive to be great)

        That being said... I think TJ will have a breakout year... much as Dunleavy did last year.. and make Toronto wish they would have traded Calderon instead .. lol..

        GO PACERS !!!
        "They want to be famous. We want to be champions. They want to be rappers and backup dancers. We want to play football." - T.J. Ward, Denver Broncos

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        • #5
          Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

          TBird, I'm not sure if you mentioned it....but what is the best way to defend against teams that heavily post up your player?
          Ash from Army of Darkness: Good...Bad...I'm the guy with the gun.

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          • #6
            Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

            Will Granger and Dunleavy be asked to "spot up" lower on the floor to make it easier for Ford to find them(?)
            Surely not! It is the point guard's responsibility to read the floor, not the other players' responsibility to stay in the point guard's field of vision.

            The Pacers need spacing to create open shots. That will keep the middle clear for Ford to drive into (assisted by Roy Hibbert's immense presence in the middle). But Ford is going to have to read the floor before he commits to driving into the middle.
            And I won't be here to see the day
            It all dries up and blows away
            I'd hang around just to see
            But they never had much use for me
            In Levelland. (James McMurtry)

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            • #7
              Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

              I think Granger is such a good one on one driver I think he should start out from beyond the perimeter with Ford having the ball. I think giving Dunleavy's heighth they might see if they can create a mismatch with his heighth down low. This may mean that granger would draw the opposing teams 2 guard out to the perimeter and Dunleavy would get the SF from the other team. Granger hopefully could drive past his defender from the perimeter, spot up for the three or set up a pick and roll with Dunleavy down low.
              JOB is a silly man

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                Originally posted by Putnam View Post
                Surely not! It is the point guard's responsibility to read the floor, not the other players' responsibility to stay in the point guard's field of vision.
                Disagree.

                It's the shooter's responsibility to maintain passing lanes as much as it is the passer's to create/find them.
                Read my Pacers blog:
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                Follow my twitter:

                @8pts9secs

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                • #9
                  Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                  While Ford may know that shooters are spotting up at the wings, it is hard to turn around full speed and hit them in their hands while you blazing momentum forces you towards the bucket.

                  It would require TJ to slow down.

                  If memory serves, Rush is a decent corner three shooter. Daniels might be better too. I think if anyone has a problem it would be Granger. I have never seen him have to do anything but shoot from the wing (excuse my absolute).

                  Murphy may struggle too.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                    Thank you Jayredd. Took the words right out of my mouth.

                    This team can shoot. TJ can draw and distribute. We will lead the league in three's next year if phoenix doesn't. I think TJ is perfect for our lineup.

                    Defensively we will get to watch Billups back him down, but that's when we will probably see Jack or granger guarding billups. Tj will probably guard rip or stuckey, and on the other end of the floor there is NO WAY billups will keep up with TJ. So let it happen.
                    "Your course, your path, is not going to be like mine," West says. "Everybody is not called to be a multimillionaire. Everybody's not called to be the president. Whatever your best work is, you do it. Do it well. You cease your own greatness when you aspire to be someone else."

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                    • #11
                      Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                      Others think the Pacers should run a high ballscreen with TJ Ford almost every trip, as he is so adept at going in either direction they believe it will be harder to guard than just leaving Ford "solo" up top with the ball.
                      With Hibbert and Murphy at the bigs this seems like a likely mainstay I think. You might like to avoid the traffic, but if your big curls off or pops up far enough off the PnR/Pop to draw away the other defender you might still see a wing forced to help leaving the corner open even more than without the high PnR.

                      I expect to see the high PnR quite a bit. Honestly to me JOB's scheme involves a majority of 1-2 on-ball screens and that's about it, at least to my limited knowledge. After those screens you're into a shot basically.

                      I'm not a fan of that but I have to admit that the adjusted FG% for the team was decent last year and more so considering the lack of complex off-ball movement.

                      It might end up being more a battle of JOB wanting Ford to shoot and Ford wanting to pass. I'm not sure Ford wants to be a 17 FGA PG.


                      While Ford may know that shooters are spotting up at the wings, it is hard to turn around full speed and hit them in their hands while you blazing momentum forces you towards the bucket.
                      But if the weakside big comes to the rim on the penetration and gets a dump off from Ford it's possible that he can then skip pass back to the corner that was behind Ford's sightline. Or dunk if they don't do something to stop him.

                      You shouldn't have a pure stand and watch 4 playing with Ford. A dump out to the side he can see followed by a good rotation around the arc can find it's way to an open man.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                        Originally posted by JayRedd View Post
                        Disagree.

                        It's the shooter's responsibility to maintain passing lanes as much as it is the passer's to create/find them.
                        Rush = good
                        Dun = off and on
                        Danny = poor

                        This is one of Danny's weakspots, holding the defense honest and not ball watching on offense too much. But BRush excels at working the floor, at least at Kansas he did. Dun's odd about it, when he's in synch he's strong with this but he does drift into bad habits too. I think this is where you see him massively disappear in games and I don't mean missing shots.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                          Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post

                          This ability to truly be a premier ballhandler and threat to drive with a purpose will enable the Pacers to more effectively play a true 1 guard front offense. The Pacers personnel dictates this anyway, as neither Granger or Dunleavy are at their most effective handling the ball on the high perimeter, above the key on either side. Instead the can concentrate on staying in the wing areas, trusting Ford will not be forced to pick up his dribble early and out of passing position.
                          One thing I noticed last year was that the Pacers offense was much better when there was a second ballhandler/facilitator on the floor. Most of the time this was Dunleavy. He even seemed to be the primary initiator when he was on the floor with Diener. The other side of the coin was that they struggled when Dunleavy or Daniels wasn't on the floor in this secondary role. I've been wondering (and hoping) if Ford is good enough to not need a secondary creator. This would give JOB much more flexibility with his lineup and hopefully allow Dunleavy to get a little more rest. It makes a Ford/Rush/Granger lineup much more playable if TJ can run the show by himself. My gut feeling and prediction is that, while Dunleavy will be able to play with either PG, we'll see the Ford-Rush combo working well together and the Jack-Dunleavy combo working well together, while the Jack-Rush combo (though incredibly strong defensively) might struggle a bit.

                          Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post
                          In your minds eye, think of Shawn Marion drifting to the corners for three point attempts off Steve Nash penetration, vs Reggie Miller spotting up on the wing getting a pass from Mark Jackson, who would pull up much shorter and earlier than TJ Ford will likely do.
                          I picture Bruce Bowen in the corner getting a feed from Parker. Granger and Dunleavy will probably have to drife more to the corners, but I think that TJ will also do a fair bit of Nash-style driving under the basket and then turning back around to throw it up to the wing.

                          Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post
                          I want to see what happens with Ford when teams are faced with the choice of helping cut off his drives by coming off of Dunleavy, Granger, and Rush, or with letting Ford attempt to finish shots in the paint himself. If I'm coaching against Indiana, I think Im trying to make Ford a finisher in traffic instead of being a passer.
                          Were I defending the Pacers, I'd make the same choice. One thing that is working in our favor, however, is that leaving your man to help on a guy that's just blown by your PG is very instinctual. You can preach "make him finish" all day long, but only the most disciplined teams and players are going to be able to execute that consistently.

                          Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post
                          The high and flat "ballscreen" is one of the most commonly used offensive weapons used in basketball these days. However, some coaches are starting to talk about re-thinking this trend of the last few years, as they are finding that to bring a screen to a point guard/ballhandler who doesnt need it is a waste of time, and only brings more traffic in the area of the ballhandler. I think if I'm Jim O'Brien that I do NOT want to use Ford in this high ballscreen area much, instead I want my players to give TJ space and time to beat his man without the benefit of a screen. Others think the Pacers should run a high ballscreen with TJ Ford almost every trip, as he is so adept at going in either direction they believe it will be harder to guard than just leaving Ford "solo" up top with the ball.

                          This will be interesting to me, particularly at the end of quarters and in big moments. I dont think I personally would hardly ever ballscreen for Ford, but I want to know what the prevailing opinion is on this board. To me, if Im coaching against Indiana and the Pacers try this manuever with Ford and someone else, I think Im instructing my defender to go "under" the ballscreen, and make Ford have to make the wide open jump shot from near the top of the circle. If the Pacers are smart, they are having TJ work on this shot a bunch in the offseason.
                          For a good example of this, watch the Hornets playoff series against the Spurs. They kept running ballscreens for Paul when he obviously didn't need them and they actually seemed to make him less effective.

                          My guess is that O'Brien has already talked to Ford about improving his 3-point shot.

                          Originally posted by thunderbird1245 View Post
                          I could go on and on about the need for a point guard on a winning team to become a leader, to be vocal, to set the tone, to be a coach on the floor, etc etc. TJ seems to have these qualities, and compared to what we've had in the past anything he does in these areas will be a giant improvement. But Ford has been traded twice already at a young age, and he does have injury concerns along with being somewhat of a malcontent in Toronto. It is not a given that, if Ford struggles early and is outplayed by Jarrett Jack and loses minutes to him, that Ford will be a happy camper in Indianapolis. How will Jim O'Brien and Ford interact when TJ struggles, or is injured, or the team is on a 4 game skid, or whatever maladies come up in a long NBA season?

                          What do you feel he needs to improve on to become one of the top 8-10 point guards in the league, and what does TJ need to provide for us to help us win as many games as possible?
                          I think these 2 things are tied very closely together. TJ is a very confident player. Much of the time he plays with a reckless abandon akin to Iverson or Wade. Consequently, he takes a beating that his body cannot always handle. This is why coaches try to limit his minutes. I don't think that TJ has accepted this limitation for himself. He doesn't see that by sitting on the bench for 18 minutes a game when he's in great shape and feeling good as being a sign that the coach wants him around for 82 games rather than 62.

                          I think that Ford will have his best season as a pro this year. I could easily see him as a 16pt, 8ast, 2 stl, 30 mpg kind of player. To take the next step and become a franchise type point guard, he needs to do three things: Develop a consistent outside (3 point) shot, accept that he can be a leader and valued player at 30 mpg, and pay as much attention to defense as he does to offense.
                          "A man with no belly has no appetite for life."

                          - Salman Rushdie

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                          • #14
                            Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                            Originally posted by JayRedd View Post
                            It's the shooter's responsibility to maintain passing lanes as much as it is the passer's to create/find them.
                            Maybe I'm missing the finer points of this. But I thought thunderbird was musing about where TJ Ford is going to initiate the offense from, and how that would affect where the other players start from and move to.

                            Originally posted by thunderbird1245, paraphrased
                            Ford can beat his man off the dribble into the center of the floor. He will be a couple of steps into the paint further than our wings are accumstomed to. You may see Ford drive in so deep that our wings are open, but are BEHIND the ball and out of Ford's vision.

                            Will Granger and Dunleavy be asked to spot up lower on the floor to make it easier for Ford to find them, or will Ford be coached to not drive the ball as deep as he seems to want to do?

                            Tbird asks whether the 2, 3 and 4 are going to be required to collapse into the center in order to stay in Ford's field of vision and maintain those passing lanes, which you rightly insist is their duty.

                            I for one don't like the idea of 5 Pacers moving into the paint in order to stay in Ford's field of vision anytime he starts to drive the lane. I think TJ is going to have to stay high enough to get the whole halfcourt in view before he initiates the play. When he zips into the paint he's going to lose sight of 1 or 2 wings. So the team better learn how to work with that. Seems to me that a lot of Pete Maravich, no-look, over-the-shoulder passes are called for.
                            And I won't be here to see the day
                            It all dries up and blows away
                            I'd hang around just to see
                            But they never had much use for me
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                            • #15
                              Re: Coach 'em up, season 2: TJ Ford

                              Okay. Maybe a miscommunication.

                              I was taking "lower on the floor" to mean flatter to the baseline, i.e., floating from a 45-degree angle 3-pointer towards a corner 3-pointer. By no means can I envision players coming into the paint...not in this offense.

                              Either way...my only real point was that it takes two players to make a passing lane and proper floor spacing is not a PG's responsibility. TJ should get as far into the paint as he can. If he can finish there, cool. If not and his own man stops him or a helpside defender impedes his progress, he needs to find a teammate. The teammate, however, must of course be in a decent position to be found.
                              Last edited by JayRedd; 08-28-2008, 03:46 PM.
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