Over the past few weeks, after several gut wrenching losses where our Pacers were particularly exposed on the defensive end of the floor, I took it upon myself to do a completely thorough and sometimes mind numbing examination of what I felt like our team defensive plan needed to be in order for us to improve into the future. As I stated in my last thread on the topic, this has been a difficult task to do it so in depth, and I've missed out on posting on other topics that have come up. But I wanted to be singularly focused until this project I gave myself was finished, so I could cover as much defensive ground as I could.
I heard Mark Boyle on the radio be asked by a caller the other day when he was subbing on 1070 why our defense was so bad. Mark said something to the effect that he knew the fact that our defense was struggling, but that he didn't really know WHY it was struggling. This series of threads was designed to hopefully help us as a board answer that question, and to look at the game hopefully in a deeper way. I hope it has been successful, because it hasn't necessarily been a particular fun and exciting thing to write about. As a coach I love watching a great defense play, but I have found out that it isn't all that exciting to write about and do an in depth series of articles on!
In case you missed them and wanted to catch up, here were the 6 ways I broke down the fundamentals of team defense individually. Like Count did in the last thread, hopefully someone will come along and provide a link to the articles....I've tried to but can't get it to work for some reason.
The articles/topics were:
I. "Defense at the point of attack"
II. " Wing Defense"
III. "Defending the low post"
IV." Help side defense"
V. "Defending the ball screen" (pick and roll)
VI "Fighting over screens away from the ball"
I'll summarize my findings here in this thread, and add some thoughts about our personnel, both current and future, on how they might fit into the adjustments I'm recommending.
(I) Defense at the point of attack was my first topic. This basically was about TJ Ford and Jarrett Jack and their lack of ball pressure. I was deeply disappointed in these 2 players from a defensive standpoint, and have taken to really studying them in the time since I wrote the first article about them in this series.
I wrote extensively about why applying ball pressure in an intense fashion can help you in all sorts of ways as a defensive team. It takes time off the shot clock, it sets a defensive mindset and tone, it wears your opponent down in the 4th quarter, hurts our opponents communication abilities, etc etc.
It's obvious that we don't do these things, in fact, our staff emphasizes the opposite : retreat, play conservatively, over help, don't get beat off the dribble, keep your man in front of you at all costs, etc etc. So the question is WHY? Is it lack of talent that the staff is trying to coverup, or is it the system?
This is an open question, and I have come to believe that the correct answer is in fact BOTH. Hours of watching tape have confirmed to me what I didn't know last summer: Jarrett Jack is slow laterally, and doesn't move his feet well. In fact, even though he is asked to back off people and give cushion, he still gets beat way too often off the dribble by quickness, and he lacks the athleticism to catch up and recover. I thought he was a tough, physical defender who could guard bigger point guards, but in reality he is an average to slightly below defensively smallish 2 guard.
I think the staff fully believes that instead of creating a team to play 2 different ways depending on who was in the game at the point, that they instead decided to plan around Jack's shortcomings, and have Ford also play conservatively in the same way they want Jack to play. I understand that decision, but it goes against my own philosophy of teaching and coaching. I would have turned TJ Ford loose and forced Jack to improve in order to keep up and earn time, rather than plan around the worse of the two in this aspect.
Whether Ford can be a big time pressure defensive point guard like I want still remains to be seen. He would seem to have the ABILITY, YOUTH, AND SKILLS to be able to do this, but it hasn't been demanded of him. Whether he has the toughness or the mentality to play a radically different way from a defensive perspective is the big question.
I look for the Pacers to make this change next year, and I hope TJ is the defensive ace playing in a pressuring style that I still believe he could be. I don't believe Jarrett Jack will or should be re-signed due to his defensive limitations, although I know most of you disagree due to his somewhat blossoming offensive game.
In summary, we can and must pressure the ball out front much more than we do already, I believe that failing to do so was a coaching error by Jim O'Brien trying to compensate for his (correct) awareness of Jack's shortcomings going into the season, and I believe will figure that out over the summer when he has time and energy to evaluate where he went wrong this season.
II. From a wing defensive perspective, We discussed a bunch of things. I went over our lack of wing denial, and I analyzed our decision to try and force drivers to the baseline instead of to the middle.
This was essentially meant to be a discussion of how our Pacers defend teams after the first pass is made early in the shot clock, and it was meant to tie in to the first topic above.
I think we can conclude that, while forcing drivers to the baseline made some sense in a vacuum, that it was forcing other adjustments to compensate for too many weaknesses, such as our dreadfully slow bigs. Forcing teams to drive baseline made us overhelp in both effort, attention, and try to cover too much ground, which our slow guys can't do well.
Next season, we will either need to get much more athletic bigger guys (not easy, but in comparison to what we have now upgrades should be pretty easy) or we need to force teams to drive to the middle, where the help is closer and easier to rotate and plan for.
The obvious solutions are we need to do BOTH those things, and we also could big time use someone on the perimeter who could force a player to the middle and THEN CUT HIM OFF HIMSELF, OR PLAY HIM STRAIGHT UP BY HIMSELF WITH LITTLE HELP NEEDED!
Actually, I think we have some hope on our roster and in our thinking. Larry Bird drafted a good to great (potentially) defender last season in Brandon Rush, and his teams in Boston while playing and while coaching the Pacers forced teams to the middle from the wings primarily. Again, I think this is an adjustment JOB sees he needs to make, and will make next season I believe.
We have pretty good personnel defensively in place in this spot. Brandon Rush as I said above has potential to be extremely good, and Granger when focused and coached up better can be reasonably good at this method of defending the wings. Marquis Daniels is an underrated defender as well, although he is unreliable and too expensive in my judgment. Only Dunleavy would be considered weak in my judgment, and playing fewer minutes and being asked to defend in this new system instead of our current one would help him be better I believe.
My idea, still, would be to let Jarrett Jack and Marquis Daniels move on, and to sign the Lakers Trevor Ariza to a contract and make him a starter alongside Granger. Since we will probably have to keep Dunleavy instead of move him on (as I would prefer), I'd let him play off the bench next to Rush, so in effect Dunleavy would play some minutes against a team's bench wings, which should mitigate his defensive shortcomings and save some wear and tear on his knees.
Signing a big time and young athletic wing like Ariza would also let you play Granger slightly fewer minutes if you wanted, and would essentially solve your wing positions for the next few years. The way I see it, you have 96 minutes combined for the two wing positions, and you could divide them something like :Granger (32), Ariza (28), Dunleavy (24), Rush (12), with plenty of depth built in in case of injuries. If his addiction to small ball can't be overcome, JOB could play 3 of these players together, as long as one of them was Danny Granger, who might be able to get away with playing the 4 on a rare occasion.....very rare in my book, but you get the drift.
III. Defending the low post was a nice topic. We are weak in this area, and basically just need an upgrade in personnel here. I value post defense in my "4 man" like most of you do, so that in my judgment makes it critical that we, if we ever seriously want to be a team with a tough defensive mindset, need to move Murphy along, or at least reduce his role. Murphy isn't a bad player at all, he is just limited and doesn't fit with how I would like to build a team. If he does stay (which is likely), I think he will require double team help in our scheme when he is forced to guard the low post. Of course, theoretically we've made our team defense much better on the perimeter now with the above moves, so attacking Murphy isn't quite as easy as it is now.
I believe Bird, like me, values bigs who can play their man in the low post on the block with no help. Hibbert has proven to me he will be able to do that on most nights. However, Hibbert has never been and likely will never be a high minute volume guy, so we will need at least one more (maybe two of them) athletic big man who can do the same things Hibbert can do defensively to share time with big Roy. In other words, we need someone to play BEHIND Hibbert, and someone to play ALONGSIDE Hibbert. Not going to be easy to do in just one off season without some major lotto luck.
But at least this season has proven I think that Roy can be a very nice backup center, and probably even better than that. In fact, I think he projects to be our long term starting center solution.
IV. My favorite article in this series was the one on help side defense. It took a bunch of film work, and some high quality study and research and discussion with people I trust.
In short, I theorized that the Pacers help both too far OVER and 1 step TOO LOW on the floor. I am completely and totally positive that I am right, and wrote a long and boring manifesto on the subject, and how we should align our players defensively much differently when they are in help position. Again, this can't be judged in a vacuum, you need to marry it up with all the other suggestions.
Coach K at Duke is a big proponent this year of doing the things I recommend in this thread. His teams are playing one step above the help line, and aren't overhelping all that often. Occasionally, Duke gets beaten off the dribble when trying to apply big time ball pressure (as I also suggested), but that is offset by all the positives that playing this scheme gives you. Duke pressure takes you out of your offense, you can't run plays against them! You struggle to reverse the ball, you get turned over, and fatigue becomes an issue. They have a tough defensive mindset, and take it personally when you score on them.
The only thing I might change to what Duke does is to be slightly more sensitive to who my opponent was. Sometimes, they'd be better served in some instances to back off the pressure slightly and play safer, but by and large they do things the right way. The inability of teams to reverse the ball against Duke is a direct reflection of playing help defense the EXACT way I recommended in this thread. Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals are also I believe are playing one step or so above the help line, but I need to see more film of them to make sure.
It is in this article that I do not believe that JOB will change or adopt what I am writing about. I think he is committed to his "sinking" and overhelping philosophy, and while he may tweak it slightly I doubt he will adopt playing one step above the help line like I recommend.
This "sinking" really hurts us on defending cutters flashing in front of us, and I called out Murphy pretty harshly on this topic. We have to get our guys to play defense before their man gets the ball, not afterwards. Defending cutters in front of our face is a big weakness, and it is part mental, part schematic, and part physical lack of talent and toughness.
Above, I wrote about me wanting us to sign Trevor Ariza. I know the financial limitations, so let's say that doesn't happen. Preliminarily, I can tell you that I would not at all be surprised or disappointed if the Pacers select Duke's Gerald Henderson, who has a spark, intelligence, character, and defensive prowess that would help replace Marquis Daniels for half the cost. I'll have in depth draft profiles after the lottery, but early on I think Henderson makes alot of sense for us, considering the landscape might change a bunch before late June.
V. Defending the ball/screen was a nice topic too, although I had written about it before a year or so ago. I expressed my deep desire to have us TRAP THE BALLSCREEN EVERYTIME, HARD AND WITH FORCE.
Of course, this years team cannot do that, not even close. I don't think we have a single big man on our roster who can do that, although I have confidence than even big Roy Hibbert can do it if he is coached up and taught well. Getting more athletic bigs is an absolute must, no matter what we do in the future with our perimeter guys or with our scheme. Luckily, while all of them have question marks and flaws, there are alot of bigger athletic skinny guys (tweeners) in the draft this year who if they pan out can give you bigs who can trap the screen/roll.
As it is, JOB is fairly conventional in how we play the screen/roll, and that is appropriate for who we have to work with. I do believe he will incorporate some screen/roll trapping next year depending on who we add to the roster. I also think next year he will play the situation differently depending on who the personnel is, rather than having every combination of players play it the same way. That potential decision would actually be a neat thing to discuss with him if I ever had the chance.
VI. Fighting over screens away from the ball was one thing I thought we did fairly well, although like I said, I believe playing one step above the help line instead of one step below it would make us more difficult to screen to start with. As was talked about, our help side defense is so bad most teams just space the floor, and have NO NEED to screen us much.
Overall, those were the topics and the conclusions I reached in the articles about them. Dry as a topic as it turned out to be at times, I actually felt like I learned alot as I wrote them, and I hope you guys did too.
Now, I get to post on things a little more topical and less dull and time consuming, and I have plenty of things saved up to write about now that I have the "defense examinations" all completed. I'm looking forward to doing that on what is still in my mind a great board full of intelligent fans, great debate and intelligent and funny discussion of the game and the team we all hold so dear.
As always, the above is just my opinion.