Hello again everyone! Let's get right to the topics that are on my mind today, starting with our team defensive structure.
There have been many things posted, said, and analyzed about the Pacers defensive team concept. There have been lots of things said about players being good "team" defenders while not being good individually, and there has been lots of talk from Jim O'Brien about our players defensive rotations and the errors they are making. I wanted to talk about some of that in this thread.
In my opinion, the concept of a good "team" defender does exist, but it is somewhat overblown. In any teams defense, the staff gives the players "rules" and concepts about how they want to defend a certain player or a specific situation. Obviously, there is such a value in having a player who recognizes and follows the rules set up by the staff on a consistent basis. I agree completely.
However, it appears to me that with our team so far the "Harter" effect we were all hoping for simply isn't happening quite yet. Regardless of the team concept of all 5 men moving in conjunction with one another, we still are a mediocre defensive unit, and one I feel with little potential to get very much better. The reason is we simply have bad individual defenders guarding key spots, and many times in the fourth quarters, with the game on the line, we are much too easy to score on.
I read and hear sometimes that the Pacers defense "isn't on the same page.". Ok, fair enough....so what exact page are we supposed to be on? I hear it said that the Pacers play defense essentially the same way against all opponents with few minor tweaks each game....ok, I agree that's what should be done. But what are we really trying to accomplish, and are we doing it effectively?
The Pacers defense on the perimeter is flawed, based on what I see thru 15 games. I say that because while this consistent approach is what is supposed to eventually be saving us, in reality we aren't consistent at all in our approach or execution.
Let's talk about some specific defensive situations and our problems:
1. Defending the ball on the wings one on one. Ok, imagine us set up with the opponent's 3 man with the ball, and our wings guarding them (Dunleavy, Granger, Marquis, Williams, or whomever). Part of having a consistent concept is where to force this man to go with the ball if possible......Do you guard him straight up, and react to his dribble? Do you force him consistently to the middle towards your help, but also to where he might be more creative with a pass? Or do you force him baseline, essentially giving up the pull up jumper but also keeping the ball on one side of the floor predominantly?
Really any of those is ok, as long as it's consistently done, so your help knows where to be in relation to the ball and their own men.
But the Pacers struggle regardless of which way they try to defend the wing in many cases, and they aren't doing the same things consistently enough for the other 4 players to have a real clue on what to do.
Now, maybe some of you can decipher what we are trying to do in this situation, but I can't. It is wildly random to me.
The best way to guard a wing driver, if you actually had a really good individual defender (still my biggest pet peeve about our team) would be to APPEAR to guard him straight up, but in reality have it in the defender's mind to not get beat in one particular direction or the other....this way, the defensive help has to be aware of potential help, but doesnt have to overhelp or help too quickly, since it is at least somewhat likely that the dribbler won't beat our defender one on one of the dribble from this spot anyway.
Maybe I am spoiled, but we've had some great wing defenders in the past here, namely Derrick McKey and Ron Artest. I miss watching that alot.
And no, I don't see a potential lockdown perimeter defender on our roster. Granger isn't going to be one, Williams isn't, and Daniels isn't. This is a big hole on our roster that will need to be filled to eventually bring a championship to Conseco.
2. Recovering to shooters. Because the Pacers are forced to help more than most teams, our opponents have had some success in spacing the floor and making the perimeter shot. We mostly all knew this would happen going in to the season, since the Pacers are built that way.
And I will say this: The Pacers are putting forth more effort in their closeouts than they did last season, especially since they have more ground to have to cover. I have to applaud our staff for getting effort from this team on this technical point.
However, our technique on closing out to shooters is pretty poor still, and the coaches have to take some blame here too. The Pacers defenders fly at shooters with either both hands down, or just one hand up, and often the one hand that is up is either too late, too low, or the wrong hand entirely to influence the shot at all. Teams rise up and shoot over the Pacers with entirely too much ease for my liking.
You are supposed to close out on shooters with your butt low to the ground, and with both hands high..."high hands" is a fundamental you would hear defensive coaches yell alot in practices. The Pacers have no one on their team who has this concept down.
Last night's game gave us a good example of this, even though most of you, and even Clark Kellogg on the telecast, said this was good defense. When J.R. Smith hit his 3 point shot over Granger late, Danny (who has a height advantage over Smith) was in position to defend the shot. He was near enough, and had position when Smith began to rise up....EXCEPT that Granger had both of his hands down. Only when Smith was above Granger in his release did Granger's single hand rise up, and even then it didn't effect Smith's release at all, and he made it. You may have all thought J.R. Smith was defended well, but from my coaches perspective, he had a clean look he's made thousands of times before. It was good Granger effort, but poor Granger execution.
Tinsley struggles with this too. I commend Jamal for playing much harder defensively than ever before, and I do think he is improved. But, there is a long way to go, especially when JT's man shoots over him, or he is recovering from help to an open spot up guy.
3. Defending the screen/roll. I haven't seen the Pacers as much as I'd like all season I admit. I also admit that I don't recall us having many issues with this last night, but I think thats more an issue of our opponents not taking advantage of us as easy as they should in this matter. By and large, I think when faced with the ballscreen, our bigs have done ok in stopping the ball and forcing the dribbler to pass. But again, our recovery and help is so slow and stiff that we are very vulnerable to ballscreens in "pick and pop" situations, where the big doesn't roll but instead drifts out for a jumper.
This hasn't been as much of an issue without JO in the game, but in the games he has played his inability to move has really hurt us on this regard. I should've posted this at the time, but there was one home game (I can't remember which one for sure, I think it might have been Toronto) that really hurt us with this bad. And it wouldn't necessarily need to be the defender who is involved in the screen/roll recovering, at times the spacing is such where one of our 3 help defenders has to rotate to the shooter, and we've been extraordinarily slow in doing that.
I'm going to be really interested to see if we get significantly better in these areas or not, without personnel changes. I know we aren't going to change our philosophies, because Jim O'Brien is a true believer in his own system. But our defensive execution needs to get remarkably better, or we are doomed to be a team that is reliant on our offense to win, which is a recipe for inconsistency.
I still believe we need an elite wing defender more than anything else we could get, followed by a point guard who can pressure the ball....although like I said, I do see some improvement by Jamal defensively.
Ok, on to the end of game situations now, and the curious strategies I see us employ. Let's discuss this and see what we think.
One of our best 4th quarters was the home game early against Miami, the one where Kareem Rush saved us, remember?
What made that game unique to a degree for me watching it is that in the last few minutes of that game, Coach O'Brien went away from his motion tendencies somewhat and began calling almost every play from the bench....we ran lots of organized sets the last 4 minutes of that game. That night it worked, because Rush got hot and made shots, and Coach O'Brien recognized his hot hand and made sure he got the ball.
Now, most nights, Coach doesn't call very much, instead choosing to rely on his motion game and the quick, free flowing nature of how we are playing. I'm ok with that.
But what is curious to me is when we face a situation where playing quick and up tempo has gotten us the lead, but now we have the lead late, and it might be more prudent to run more sets, get more organized, and make sure we use clock and get a high quality shot.
You can argue that both ways I know....playing quicker and more open is what got you the lead in the firts place, so stay with it.......or you can say taking a quick 3 with a lead late in the game is foolish, for example.
Let's move on, as Bryant Gumbel would say.
Let me throw out a few other curious moves that have to make you wonder some:
1. What do we think about Coach O'Brien calling timeout with the pacers up 3 points, IN THE MIDDLE of 2 Shawne Williams free throws? In effect, he iced his own player, and Shawne did miss the second shot, which ended up putting us in danger. I'm sure there was a rationale behind that timeout, I'm just not sure what it was.
2. Foul or not foul up 3 late? We are clearly not in the foul mode as a staff, as Coach O'Brien explained in his press conference after the Washington game at home that we won in OT, the one where Arenas hit the tying 3 pointer (where JT didn't rise up strong to defend the shot, by the way). Last night we didnt intend to foul, but were called for one anyway during the act of shooting and got away with it.
Clearly, fouling a 3 point shooter is dumb and not recommended. But fouling before then to make it be just 2 shots is clearly something we should discuss. Really, in my view, Dunleavy should've fouled upon the CATCH last night, really giving Denver no way to tie the game (down 3, only shooting 2 free throws).
I used to be like Coach O'Brien, a strict believer in not fouling and taking my chances on making them make a tough 3 pointer, but I've seen too many games lost because a team made a 3 late to tie the game that was unnecessary to allow to happen. I clearly am in the foul on purpose bandwagon now.
Ok, so lot's of issues there to get off my chest....I feel better now.
What do any of you think?
The above is, as always, just my opinion....