After a brief writing hiatus, this series gets back on track today with a look at the Pacers likely starting power forward, Troy Murphy.
Murphy had an excellent last part of the season a year ago statistically, and would seemingly be a player who fits well within the basic offensive scheme of Jim O'Brien. As usual, what this thread will attempt to do is to give some basic ideas on how both Murphy can improve his game, and how the staff can utilize Murphy to get the maximum return on the team's investment in him.
While on the subject, let me first tackle the topic of the team's investment financially in Murphy. By all accounts, with almost no one in dispute, everyone feels Troy Murphy is overpaid based upon what talents and skills he actually brings to the table. Certainly, I wouldn't disagree with that assessment either.
But, what Murphy or any other player is getting paid is, at this point, a "sunk cost". In other words, Murphy's contract is set in stone, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Regardless of how much Murphy is cashing in on the vastly gargantuan contract Chris Mullin signed him to years ago, it is important I think for all of us to put that out of our minds as something none of us can control. It is easy for evaluators, fans, and coaches to factor a players contract in to your opinion of the individual talents of man, but that is a temptation that you must as overcome in order to evaluate fairly.
This thread will try and analyze Murphy the player, and not factor in his numerical finanical value. Once you come on the hardwood, it simply doesnt matter what your salary is, you have to produce.
Now, on to Troy Murphy the basketball player. Lets talk first about his best end of the floor, which is clearly the offensive end.
Murphy is a face the basket power forward, in many of the same ways that Austin Croshere could be for us a few years ago. He has a smooth jumpshot that he is reliable and consistent with for the most part, and when allowed to go to his left he can go off the dribble some, and occasionally get all the way to the rim. He is a good foul shooter as well, although he is such a finesse player that he doesnt get to the line nearly enough.
In an ideally built team, Murphy would be a player who saw spot minutes for you, when the matchups clearly favored him, or when you wanted to play 4 perimeter guys and only 1 inside player. In an ideal world, Murphy would be a pretty good 4th big man in a 5 man big guy system. However, both based on our own team weaknesses and Jim O'Briens preferred way to play, Murphy most likely begins the season as a starter for us.
Murphy has many useful traits as on offensive player, some of which are somewhat hidden. I particularly like Murphy as a "post feeder", as he has the requisite size to make the entry pass, and the ability to make open shots from the perimeter, really creating space by forcing his man to have to play him honestly. Projecting ahead, I think Murphy will be a somewhat nice fit (offensively, not on defense) playing alongside Roy Hibbert, as long as Hibbert is a good enough offensive player to be able to post up and be a scoring threat inside himself.
One thing I think Murphy needs to be better at is to MOVE AND CUT after he makes a post entry pass. Sometimes, the effectiveness of using Murphy as a post feeder can be negated by Murphy himself being a spectator instead of a basketball player once he passes the ball. Being a superior passer like Hibbert will be I think, Murphy will create some high quality scoring chances for himself simply by moving well without the ball. Most bigs struggle on the perimeter anyway defensively, so Murphy can reeally hurt teams by learning to move well after he is passed the basketball inside.
When Troy Murphy moves, cuts, fakes, and cuts again, he really is a pretty tough cover for most players assigned to him. Instead however, Murphy often falls in the trap of watching the game instead of playing it. Maybe it is conditioning, laziness, lack of focus, play design.....I dont know, but if Jim O'Brien can get Troy Murphy to be a consistent and persistent cutter, he can be a very good offensive force, better even than he played the last part of the year.
Murphy is an almost ideal "trailer" on a fast break, if you are a coach who likes to use a big man near the top of the circle to reverse the basketball. I could go in to an entire very long article about whether teams should in fact used a "controlled numbered break" or not, but if you have Troy Murphy on your roster, he fits that very well.
Interestingly however, and this is anecdotal instead of statistical, but I dont have the impression of Murphy making that trailing, top of the key 3 point shot all that much for us. I would love to have the in depth breakdown the franchise no doubt has done on that situation (and many others) to see if I am right. That is a shot that Murphy SHOULD be able to make over 40-45% of the time, considering it would be in rhythm and wide open when he takes it.
Ill be very interested to see if the Paces do indeed run a numbered break this year, and if Murphy is encouraged to be the trailer like I have described, and if he will take and make that shot. Running a numbered break is like being married, it takes a committment to be able to live with him taking that shot for richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health.
The Pacers staff needs to devise plays and schemes that force Murphy to raise his activity level. Left to his own devices, he will just stand and be a spot up shooter. I like Murphy as a "flex cutter/screener", as someone who is screened for, and as someone who is set up to score. He seems to me to be intelligent, but not natural, as an offensive player. I also like him on a high, flat ballscreen near the top with TJ Ford, popping back for a perimeter shot.
Murphy needs to, like all the Pacers bigs, make the two handed overhead outlet pass. After a rebound, Murphy needs to find TJ Ford as fast as possible, and fire the ball ahead to him accurately and with force. Then, he needs to be forced to run the floor, either to the numbered break spot he is assigned or to the rim or somewhere at least. Murphy lumbers up the floor too slowly for my taste as the soft player he is.....it isnt like he is Dale Davis or Shaquille O'Neal or something. Coach O'Brien needs to push him and be hard on him, and raise the expectations for him.
If Murphy works hard and becomes the type of player offensively his skills possibly allow him to be, teams will counter the Pacers perhaps by putting a smaller man on Murphy, to crowd him on the perimeter and take away his outside game. Because of that likelihood, and because Murphy is a liability defensively (more on that later) it is crucial that Murphy at least develop a few different inside big man skills. He isnt a true big man, but Murphy has the ability to become good I think at a couple of helpful skills.
The first of which is to become a good screener, so good that, when being guarded by a smaller player, that Murphy can set big on big screens four our other bigs, and make teams pay inside by having to "switch", leaving their smaller player (originally assigned to Murphy) to be faced with defending Hibbert or Rasho.
The second of which is learn at least one really good post move you can rely on to score over a weaker smaller defender. Murphy doesnt need multiple moves, he just needs one or two. In his case, I'd prefer a "jump hook" with his left hand, over his right shoulder, as his base go to move.
Off of that, he can develop a "drop step" going the other direction. If I were the Pacers, I'd eliminate the option for Troy to learn any fadeaway moves, as I dont want him doing that. In fact, Id prohibit it! His counter moves off the "jump hook" would either be the drop step or a fake jump hook, step through up and under kind of move.
These are easy basic moves, and Id game plan all of that if I were the Pacers. If a team plays a small against Troy, he has got to be able to score on the block, otherwise he becomes almost useless to me as a coach.
Defensively, lets face it, Troy is a sieve. But, for him to be able to help and be on the floor for any team good enough to make the playoffs, he has to get better. I'd try and make him better on the defensive end a few different ways. You have to look at Murphy as two separate players defensively....on the perimeter and on the inside.
As a post defender, I'd emphasize to Murphy really only a few basic principles. One, his job is fight for position on the block, and to not let a player post him too deep under the rim. Don't go for steals, dont try and "front" anyone, just fight for position with your lower body BEFORE your man gets the ball. Secondly, dont try and block anything, just make a player shoot over your outstretched arms and make a shot.
In reality, if I were coaching the Pacers last year, Murphy wouldnt be in the league anymore and I'd be in jail probably, because I would have attempted to kill him as many times as players took shots right over the top of him with Murphy having his hands at his sides. If nothing else, MURPHY MUST CONTEST SHOTS with his hands high.
Lastly, I'd tell Murphy that I dont care if he blocks a shot or not, and I dont care if he fouls out in 5 minutes. But NO ONE he is near had better ever dunk the ball against my defense, or against him. I'm not advocating doing anything dirty, but the days of having Murphy get dominated and dunked on while he shrugs his shoulders and runs up court have got to end.
On the perimeter defensively, there is only so much Murphy can be asked to do. He can't really pressure the ball, and he cant really recover if he backs off quick enough to pressure a shot well. The Pacers need to structure their game plan and give Murphy either one of those jobs or the other, but not both.
I think if it were me that I'd go against my own usual philosophy (based on the personnel we have altogether, not just Murphy) and tell Murphy and Dunleavy and the others that I want them to force players on the wings TOWARD THE MIDDLE, instead of to the baseline like I normally would do. This will give the Pacers sagging defense less space to have to cover and recover to, and put the helpers closer to the ball.
This should be something a slower perimeter defender should be able to do, and it is what the Pacers did when we had Chris Mullin, and what the Celtics did to protect Larry Bird. Have a player like Murphy or Dunleavy play "half a man", forcing him in a chosen direction, in this case toward the center of the floor, into traffic and help.
This strategy has weaknesses too of course, but I think it is the most common sense way to help slower perimeter defenders, which we have in abundance, Murphy perhaps being the main culprit.
We might as well face the fact that Troy Murphy is going to be on our roster for many more years. He isn't my ideal prototype for a power forward who starts, but he likely will start for us, so it is time for me and all of us to get on board.
What are some other strategic ways you all think the staff can utilize Murphy better? Should he play less minutes? More minutes? Who does he play well with, and who does he struggle when paired with? These are likely some of the questions the staff spent all summer trying to figure out about Troy Murphy.
Ill be curious to see if any of my suggestions/coaching points become reality, and if any of you have any other good points I left out.
As always, the above is just my opinion.