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The Art of Defense: Keys to solving our defensive problems
The Art of Defense: Keys to solving our defensive problems
Our new additions clearly add some new offensive dynamics to our roster. Most of us can see the growth potential and the emerging chemistry that comes about when you have guys who play offense within the system given, and who make smart basketball plays. However, being better on one end of the floor does you no good if you give that advantage back on the other end. The Pacers clearly have to play much much better defense than theyve played the last 2 nights, we all see that. However the question remains, what do we need to do to achieve that goal? We dont have a naturally talented lockdown individual defender in our rotation at this time, even the JO is above average and Granger and Foster when the matchups favor them are plus defenders. But this thread isnt going to be about personnel so much as it is an overall emphasis on what we need to do to become better defensively, so we can win games instead of losing them. The margin of error in professional sports is THIS close, and its doing the little things well, and consistently, that creates winning situations. Let me tell you what I think we can do right now, with our current personnel, to get better, and hopefully get your comments and a good discussion going.
To improve our defense and win games, we have to do the following:
1. CONTEST SHOTS IN THE AIR, AND WITH "HANDS HIGH.". There are various levels of contesting shots: Giving up a wide open jumper or dunk, giving up a jumper with a man running at you but late, giving up a guarded jumper but not leaping into the air to contest the shot, and finally making the opponent shot over your outstretched hand to make the shot. Pat Riley made the most famous study of breaking down the shooting percentage difference of the various levels of shooting accuracy vs how you are guarded. Now, almsot every team in the league, and in lower levels as well, charts this out every game. Too many times the Pacers, both pre trade and now, are in front of their man in good position to contest their jump shot, but dont rise up with hands high and truly challenge the shot. It is this very fundamental flaw in individual defense that is killing the Pacers way more than any other thing. For those of you who tape or Tivo games, go back and chart out the 4 levels of contesting shots for the Pacers games you have available, and you'll see a big issue continue to develop. This simply must get better, or teams will continually shoot a high percentage against us.
2. We've got to communicate better with one another. This will come in time, but the Pacers have to solve it quickly if they want to get on a winning streak. Our talking has to become better defensively so we can better orchestrate our 5 man team defense. We cant get caught in mismatches so often, we can't let the opponent run the same stuff over and avoer to beat us, and we cant get faked out so easily.
3. Somehow, someway, no matter what we need to do or who we need to play, we've GOT TO GET BETTER DEFENSIVE PLAY FROM OUR POINT GUARD. There is no question that we play better defensively with Armstrong in the game, but playing him in my view is worthless in the big picture, because by the time we become championship worthy he won't be here. Our lack of pressure on the opponents lead guard lets the offense run any set play they want, with no shot clock pressure, and they can run any play they run all the way through. We simply dont take away anything from the opponent, we make the game easy to play for their backcourt. This a gigantic huge blaring hole of a weakness in our team, and one that causes me the most pain as I watch us play. Im not talking about steals or creating turnovers, Im talking about intense hounding ball pressure, making it difficult for the opponent's point guard to communicate with his bench and the rest of his teammates.
Think about how playing Haywoode Workman helped turn around Larry Brown's first season here in Indiana, and think about Travis Best playing the 4th quarter in tight games in the Bird era because of his defense on the ball. Think about what a huge advantage it is to have a point guard who can cause the opposite ballhandler to have to turn his back to the defense just to protect the ball, and how much easier that makes it to play for the other 4 guys.
4. Defending the ballscreen. We have a different roster now, and Isiah's Knicks did a great job last night putting us in positions where our slower players couldnt recover to shooters after rotating. We clearly have to rethink and strategize how we want to defend this situation. Right now we are hedging the screen very hard but not switching or trapping. We are rotating a third player to the original screener, who is generally against us "fading" to the perimeter. That original screener is then swinging the ball to open people, and our defense is too slow and spread out to recover to "contest" the shot.
Now, Ive written an entire thread about this entire topic a few months ago, but instead of rehashing the same ground as that thread let me just discuss the Pacers current strategy of defending the play.
If we had a harder trap on the ball by the ballhandlers man and our big (think of Tinsley and Foster for instance), or if the ballhandlers man had to struggle to even get to position to accept the screen, or if the ballhandlers man was bigger and able to make it harder for the ballhandler to make the very first pass, then this method of play would be better than it looks. The first pass would be harder to make, by the time it was made the defender would have already rotated to the ball and the second line of defense would be on its way to the potential open shooter. It isnt so much what we are doing, its how we are doing it.
However, without a training camp or extended practice time, its going to be hard to integrate new people to recognize situations as easily, and even if the did Murphy, Dunleavy, and Diogu arent exactly fleet of foot, so it is definitely time to simplify how we play that situation I think. We either have to not play Tinsley, or play the situation differently. Since Tinsley isnt going to be benched, here is how I think Id adjust our screen/roll defense to help us:
A. Have our big not step out as hard or as far, but instead have him step more laterally between the ballhandler and the goal. In other words, dont necessarily try and turn the ballhandler back into the defense, but instead just emphasize staying "flat" to the ball and on balance, with hands high to help contest a pull up jumper by the ballhandler. In conjunction with that have your screened defender go "under" the screen, and try and pick up his man quicker so you dont have to switch.
B. If the ballhandler turns the corner on you (and he will sometimes when you guard it this way) and he gets to the rim, we need our bigs to punish him for doing so. JO obviously is a shotblocker, so a ballhandler driving to the rim obviously has to consider that. If JO isnt in, then we have to emphasize the "no layup" rule to our other bigs, and if they have to take a hard foul, then so be it. We have a deep bench of bigs, this is one way we can use it.
C. If a perimeter player doesnt get "split" and is able to sink in and cause the ballhandler to pitch it out, then this player has to bust his butt and recover to the shooter to "contest" the shot with high hands, and not just give up on the play. This has to be a clear coaching emphasis to our guys to not let that happen. Youll give up some jumpers, but at least theyll be long shots with hopefully a fundamentally well coached defender coming at him to leap in the air and make him shoot over him or rush the shot.
D. If all that works like it should, and the ballhandler makes a pass to a shooter who takes a long shot and misses, youve got to both REBOUND AND OUTLET THE BALL. This is where Murphy comes in, and how you can run teams out of running screen/roll guarding it this way. if you at least make them take a guarded shot, you have to rebound and push it back at them. You have most teams out of position, as their ballhandler drove he isnt in retreat position. With a long rebound you have a ready made break. Your rebounders must obtain the ball and outlet it, leading to 2 easy points on the other end. if this happens alot, the opponents coach will quit running the screen/roll, and you wont have to guard it so much the rest of the night and season.
5. Next season, we need a defensive coach added to our staff who is proven and can get it done better than the guys we have now. I even have a couple of names for you, one of which you have heard of, and another from the college game that you havent: Dick Harter (our ex assistant, and many other teams ex too), and Mike Heineman, who is widely known as a defensive guru from University of Wisconsin (and who is an Indiana guy by birth) Both these guys are proven defensive minds with familarity with our franchise, and who specialize in suffocating team defensive schemes. Heineman particularly is great at teaching positioning, hand position to keep balance and contest shots optimally, and where and how to force guys to help.
6. Speaking of forcing guys to help, we need to all rethink how we want our wing players to defend the dribble so everyone is on the same page. Did any of you notice Dunleavy intentionally steering the Knicks toward the middle of the floor on the drive the other night? Thats a sound technique many teams use, but it isnt necessarily how many of you were taught to watch and see the game. You do that so you can recieve help sooner, and keep the ball out of the paint.....its a zone type technique teams can use to protect less athletic players. (The Bird era Celtics played it that way) However, it only works when the help is prepared and waiting for that to happen, so they can "jump to the ball" and get in position. Generally, it causes a cross court pass to an open player, which then the defense has to recover well to, again, "contest" the shot with high hands.
Now, when I wrote about this arcane topic earlier in the summer, I seem to recall the few that replied all liking the idea of forcing wing driver to the baseline instead of the middle. After all its the way most of us were taught to play, and the way most lower levels of basketball play it. Where Ive coached most recently it was a cardinal sin to allow your man to "go middle". However, we werent guarding Dwayne Wade either.....so which way is correct? With this team, I dont know yet, but clearly Dunleavy was playing it that way the other night, which is fine as long as our entire team can sing from the same songbook and get in harmony with one another. Right now, we look like 5 individual guys trying to stop 5 guys playing as one, and that wont ever be effective.
So in summary, we can get better defensively right away if we can emphasize and make the following things happen: Contest shots with hands high, and get in the air to harrass the shot every time. Weve got to talk better. Tinsley's got to step up his defense or go the hell away. Rethink and simplify the screen/roll defense. Figure out where we want our wings to force the ball to. Take a few hard fouls and emphasize the no layup rule, taking advantage of our depth. And next year we need to hire a defensive veteran coach to help RC so he can focus on the offense.
Thanks for reading this long post, which as always is just my opinion.
Re: The Art of Defense: Keys to solving our defensive problems
I will try and chart our shots contested in the next full game I get to watch, just to see if we improve any at all in this area. For those of you who are good at exploring things on the net, see if 82games.com or one of the other sites has any data on which teams actually contest shots the best, both as individuals and by team.
We've talked this to death already as well, but I suspect that Dunleavy and Murphy could be pretty decent zone defenders, Dunleavy in particular with his wingspan and height could be very effective at the top of a zone. We may have to play some more zone so we can play different combinations of players.
However, man to man defense is still going to be the main defense we play, and the stuff Ive listed above is what I see as the keys to improvement in that area.
Re: The Art of Defense: Keys to solving our defensive problems
Another good post. I wish I had more insight to provide, but I don't.
One thing I am looking forward to, is Murph and Foster staying fresh by spelling each other. I anticipate, late in close games, for them to be substituted liberally. (Foster in on defensive possessions, Murphy in on second free throw)
Q - who do you consider as the best defensive 5 we can put on the floor right now? Would you consider playing it?
It's hard to say, I guess it might depend on who the opponent has in against us, but in general I think it might be this group:
PG Armstrong or Greene
C Foster, or maybe Baston.
I think its clear that Daniels, Granger, JO are the top 3. Then you might have to vary depending on who the opponent has in the game. You might have those 3 with Baston and Foster in certain circumstances. You might even include Harrison if we were playing another Eddy Curry type center. If you wanted to go supersmall you might go with Greene and Armstrong, with Daniels, Granger and Oneal.