Unclebuck, thunderbird, et al, we get our first taste of the changes in the defense this year.
October 1, 2008
Defend the paint
That's the rallying cry for Indiana's defense
By Jeff Rabjohns
Early Tuesday afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse, Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien stopped the action and walked near the free throw line.
"The entire point of the drill," he emphasized, "is keeping the basketball out of the paint."
It was only the first training camp practice, but the Pacers were at work on what they feel is a key component behind their offseason overhaul.
After a year in which their inability to stop dribble penetration led to a variety of defensive breakdowns, the Pacers acquired point guards T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack in trades, drafted a defensive center in Roy Hibbert and a forward in Brandon Rush who often guarded the opponent's best wing player in college.
While O'Brien is tweaking the defensive system, he has emphasized better defensive play at the point will be a key.
Ford is the likely starter, with Jack the backup and Travis Diener the third point guard.
"It all starts with the ability to keep your man in front of you. We couldn't do that last year," O'Brien said. "T.J. is pretty good at doing that. Jarrett Jack is just a tough-minded guy who keeps the ball in front, will hit people, take charges, get on the ground for loose balls, is the type of individual that will help our team own our defense.
"I thought Travis got much, much better defensively and grew as a defensive player in a number of areas. We're just significantly better just if you start at the point of attack."
The Pacers allowed the fifth-most points per game last year (105.4) and tied with Washington as the worst team against the 3-pointer, allowing teams to shoot 38.6 percent.
With a fast-break offense, O'Brien expects the Pacers to be among the league's top five teams in scoring. The difference in wins and losses -- or making the playoffs and watching from home -- likely will come down to stops. O'Brien reminded the Pacers that they allowed 1.5 more points than they scored last season, and each possession is worth potentially six points.
"All the good teams keep the ball out of the middle and contest shots," said Ford, acquired from Toronto in the Jermaine O'Neal trade. "In order for us to be a good team, those are two areas we have to master."
The most significant change in approach is on pick-and-rolls. Instead of pushing the player with the ball toward the free throw line, the Pacers will try to steer the player toward the baseline.
The intent is to shorten the distance in defensive rotations, which could help Hibbert, a 7-2 rookie from Georgetown.
"As any 7-footer, you have to block up the middle," Hibbert said. "I have to do my part and own the paint and make sure if any guys get beat from the middle of the baseline to the paint, I'm there to help out as much as possible.
"These guys are going to have to rely on me as the second line of defense, so I'm going to have to do my part."
Hibbert has been blocking shots but is working on staying on his feet so he doesn't get pump-faked into foul trouble. Tuesday's first practice revealed glimpses of the potential and the problems. He'll also be facing more physical post players than in college, but he said he's looking forward to that.
"I like it a lot, actually," he said. "They let you bang in the post here. In college, I go up against 6-8 centers most of the time. Just to get a chance to be physical and bang in there is enticing."
Hibbert will battle Jeff Foster and Rasho Nesterovic for minutes. O'Brien made it clear Monday during media day and again in practice Tuesday that whoever wins the starting position will be a physical presence, particularly on defense.
"I want there to be daily wars at that position," O'Brien said. "I want to see people getting their lips cut and their noses bloodied because then whoever earns the majority of the playing time will be toughened by his teammates. I think it will evolve just like every other position."
Defensive details: Rookie Roy Hibbert defends the lane after Pacers defenders force Danny Granger (33) to the baseline in practice Tuesday. A change from last year is that the Pacers want to force opposing players to the baseline instead of the free throw line. - MATT DIAL / The Star
Listen up: Pacers coach Jim O'Brien offers instructions. O'Brien wants better defensive play at point guard this season.
I think this is a good move. It should also mean less of what appeared in '08 to be, "force them down the lane and pray to draw a charge."