Back to basketball "X's and O's" today, and away from talking about personnel, salary caps, summer league, free agents, and all the other summer time filler. Today I put my coaching hat back on, and discuss some details of the Jim O'Brien offense I suspect we will see us install in the upcoming weeks and months.
First of all, let's talk formation. This is a topic I've discussed before, but it needs explanation again to set up the rest of the topic. Since Larry Brown took over, the Pacers have had a string of coaches who believed in a 1 guard front. (Isiah was somewhat more flexible, but basically continued to play that way). What this means from a coaching perspective is that you have 1 true guard setting up your offense from the top of the floor, 2 wings, and 2 post players. This was partly the coaches personal preference I believe, but also a good use of our talent, since we had for many years a non handling 2 guard (Reggie), paired with a top notch handler and decision maker (Mark Jackson). This has continued through the Rick Carlisle era while Tinsley has taken over the role as primary ballhandler.
Some, like myself and Jay to name a couple, have wanted more variety in our offensive scheme by playing some form of a "2 guard" front, which to me means 2 guards up top sharing ballhandling duties, 2 wings spread on each side of the floor, and one "post" player posting up on the block/midpost/high post areas. This post player wouldnt be asked to do much in terms of screening or recieving screens, his job theoretically is just to post up strong and be an offensive force, using strength to obtain and keep position.
In Jim O'Brien, we will now see a significant shift toward a "4 out, 1 in" offensive scheme. While I think many of you have read that, and have read about our coaches philosophy on taking the three point shot, I thought it might be educational and fun to talk about some of the little things that will be involved in playing this way, and maybe talk a bit about how well we think our current personnel fits into this way of play. This thread will talk only about offense, and not any defensive issues (those will come in a later thread sometime soon).
When you are a coach who believes in the "4 out, 1 in" scheme, you must look for and teach some basic principles, and concern yourself with some of the following questions. Those with thoughts or questions please share them with the rest of us, and hopefully we can all learn from this examination of our new system.
1. Can our post player establish and keep low post position, and get open without a screen? This is JO we are talking about, and Ike most likely when JO isnt in the game. I was a big proponent last offseason of getting the ball to JO on the move, after screens, and playing him facing the basket some, especially in a high/low game with Harrington. (That didn't last long, much to my chagrin....we gave up way too soon on that, but thats another topic). Those days are over here in Indiana....JO will now be asked to fight for position, maintain it,and score effectively against single coverage. How will this effect the great debate of whether JO needs to lose or gain weight? How will this effect the great proclamation of JO that he doesnt want to play the 5 spot?
2. Can our post player(s) accurately and willingly throw the ball to all 4 points on the perimeter and hit shooters in rhythm with an accurate pass?
3.Will our post player(s) run the floor hard to establish position before the full defense is set, or will he walk up the floor too often?
4. Can our guards penetrate into the lane and finish the play by themselves, if help never comes?
5. Can our guards penetrate, draw the defense, and make an accurate pass to shooters on the perimeter, behind the three point line? Here is something to watch for fans, and this is a major reason why I believe O'Brien is being truthful when he claims to really like Tinsley's game: Tinsley can make this pass with either hand, and he can do it by passing the ball parallel to his body or even behind himself at an angle somewhat. This is key because in this system, shooters will often "fill" areas BEHIND a penetrating guard to balance the floor and get back defensively, so the passer needs to be able to not just pass the ball ahead of himself (to the corner in some cases, or lower wing area), but somewhat behind him to the top of the right/left wings. This is a difficult pass that some guards cannot make, and make accurately.
6. Can our shooters take and make a high enough percentage of open, standstill 3 point shots? On these open three point standing shots (O'Brien will classify them as good shots he wants taken), we will be expected to hit about 39% of these, which I know seems high, but it will be what is expected on THESE TYPE OF THREES ONLY.
7. Will we get good "backside" movement out of this set? This is super important when you play "4 out, 1 in" offense. What I mean is player movement on the opposite side of the floor, away from the ball. A HUGE tendency of teams playing this at the beginning is for the 2 players opposite the ball to stand and start spotting up way too soon, and to become too stationary, making it easy for their men to help and recover back to them (if they don't move, it makes them easy to find in a recovery situation for the defensive man guarding them). Trust me, this is a big coaching challenge you have to drill on alot.
8. What will our guards do after making the first pass to start our set? I'm interested in this quite a bit actually, as nerdy as that sounds. I want to know things like if they will screen away, or cut to the ballside corner, or if they'll cut shallower than that and go to the opposite side, or whatever. Will O'Brien help JO a bit and send a guard down to screen for JO, so he doesnt have to fight as hard for position? ( A likely adjustment we will see alot I predict).
9. Will our free throw attempts increase or decrease? I believe strongly in getting to the line and even making more free throws than your opponent attempts. I don't know if playing this way full time will help or hurt that goal. My guess is we will slash more and hopefully be in more free flowing situations, so I hope they go up, but the jury is still out. I definitley believe we will shoot alot more three point attempts than we are used to.
10. Who will feed the post? This will be key to us, as we will need someone to get the ball to our post player, who will be being leaned on and pushed out by a heavier and bigger defender most nights. Do we have anyone who will excel at this? I'm guessing that our 2 best post feeders will actually be Shawn Williams and Troy Murphy, believe it or not, since they each have size and can see over the defense better to make a quality pass. I suspect almost all of our post feeds will be from the wing areas, instead of the high post or short corners, which I hoped for last season.
11. Will we play small ball alot, and how does that effect Jeff Foster? I suspect our lineups will include JO or Ike as our post player, with Daniels, Rush, Tinsley, Granger, Williams, Dunleavy, Murphy, and whomever backs up Jamal playing outside as the "4 out". I have no idea how Jeff can play in this system, and because of that I suspect Jeff will be moved prior to the season, for better or for worse. I also suspect this will be the year David Harrison gets a chance to play, and we will find out once and for all if he can be an NBA player or not.
12. Is this the single most effective way we can play to utilize our current personnel? If not, do we change how we play, or do we get new players?
13. Do we have any guards who can play the post, if we choose to play that way? I'm thinking of a lineup without JO, Ike, or Harrison in it for some reason. Can Tinsley play that role? I don't know, but I suspect he can, and I think O'Brien will use him that way much more than we suspect.
14. Can we consistently get ball reversal once or twice a possession? This is key too, and is one reason Coach O wants to push it up quickly. You have to be able in this scheme to get the ball inside, back out, reverse the ball, drive it, and kick it out to open shooters.....everything takes time to attack this way. Our guards can't get hung up outside, our post guy has to get open on his own and recieve a pass without too much trouble from a post feeder, our post guy either has to score or get it back outside and reverse the ball, and our perimeter guys need to either spot up and make it or drive it and attack. None of this happens if you can't reverse the ball, so how well we do that will be critical.
Lots of questions to be answered, Pacers fans. If nothing else, this new offensive scheme will be good for those of us "armchair coaches" who at least will get something different to watch. Will it work? Time only will tell.
As always, this is just my opinion.