Note to readers: I had originally posted the following commentary in the Pacers/Blazers post-game thread, but realized my post didn't fit there. So, I started this thread to better discuss the issues I've addressed. After reviewing the numbers, I think I understand what's happened with this team and why they're losing. Still, bear with me, folks. As you'll have to get through the "preamble" before getting to the heart of the matter. So, without further delay...
The more I watch this team - the starters in particular - the more I'm convinced they need to address multiple problems starting w/TJ Ford, Troy Murphy and the reserves.
TJ Ford. He's just not a pass-first PG. He doesn't read the defense very well at all, but instead reacts solely to the one player he's guarding. He gets beat off the dribble so bad because he never places himself in the best defensive position to stop the PnR which is to say he should be forcing his man into the heart of the defense. But instead, he either lines up directly in front of the ballhandler or with his back to the defense (strong-side defense) instead of away from it (weak-side defense).
The key to defending the PnR is to know it's coming. It's such a basic play; every team uses it to some degree. And while it's difficult to defend depending on where it's initiated from, your PG can disrupt it if he positions himself opposite the defense. More often than not, this will force the ballhandler to either dribble toward the defense OR pass the ball. But the way TJ positions himself, he leaves large driving lanes open for easy penetration. In contrast, if you watch how Watson positions himself defensively, rarely does he get scored on by dribble penetration. Why? Because he reads the defense so much better instead of merely reacting to the ballhandler and he positions himself in such a way that the ballhandlers has little choice but to either dribble into the heart of the defense, attempt to drive around his primary defender or pass the ball.
Troy Murphy. Another problem I've witnessed as I'm sure most of you have observed as well is Murphy isn't attempting to drive the lanes nearly enough. Instead, he seems to take alot more FGAs (3PAs) which is having the opposite affect than what JOB wants. There's a reason defenses are collapsing the middle and forcing us to take jump shots; we're not scoring from the field! What makes their FG shooting exhibition look worse is the Pacers have had some wide open looks at the basket, but for whatever reason their shots just aren't falling.
Too many shooters/penetrators. Another thing I've noticed is JOB has far too many shooters and penetrators on the floor than bangers. He prefers to go small. Don't be fooled by the perceived necessity to "go small". Not true.
We've played Hibbert because he's been our primary Center who has produced on both sides of the ball. We've played Hansborough because he provides hustle and toughness around the basket unlike any other player out there who's name isn't Jeff Foster. We've played Murphy because he's suppose to be able to "space the floor" (and he's not a bad defensive rebounder). And we've played Jeff Foster who may not give you much offense, but you just can't discount his hustle and rebounding skills. But whenever JOB talks about going small I ask myself, "Why?" He's got enough big bodies to put out there. Where's Soloman Jones? I can understand not going with McRoberts. As energetic as he is, McRob still suffers from "youthful exuberance". He has to yet learn how to slow his motor down while in games so that he plays more under control. Solo doesn't seem to have that problem. He's long and lean like McRob and hustles like Foster, yet where are his minutes?
Aggressiveness/FTAs. And now to the heart of the matter as I see it. I've tried to identify one solid trend, something different from the the way the team played during the 5-game winning streak compared to what's happening right now and the one thing that sticks out besides Murphy not playing during that period was the Pacers started four players and used four reserves who were all very energetic players: Granger, Dahntay, BRush, Ford, Head, Watson, Solo, Hansborough and McRoberts. Not one of these nine players can be said to be slow or lacking in energy, quickness or hustle, or any combination thereof. But the moment JOB went away from youth and speed to a more slower veteran group anchored by or involving Murphy starting at PF, that's when things began to unravel. Not saying it's Murphy's fault. Just saying I think JOB is forcing this team to play towards its weaknesses instead of its strengths. And one of the weakness as most have of you have already pointed out is JOB's insistance on using Murphy to space the floor and take 3PAs instead of changing things up and instilling in Murphy to attack the basket more.
In pointing out that JOB is using more shooters and penetrators, I didn't mean it as a negative necessarily. I think the Pacers's biggest problem has been their lack of attacking the basket since Murphy's return. Again, I'm not saying it's Murphy's fault. However, I am saying that Murphy's return coincided with JOB reverting to quick 3-pt shots instead of allowing and/or emphasizing to his players to attack the basket first AND THEN take the game out to the perimeter. Basically, using what Zeke called "The Quick". The Pacers won those five consecutive games because THEY were the aggressors and THEY more or less dictated the tempo and style of the game. And they did it with speed, quickness, hustle, strong defense AND aggressiveness. Here are the free throw numbers for each game..
During the 5-game winning streak:
BOLD = Pacers stats
FTA = Free Throw Attempts
PF = Personal Fouls committed
Vs Knicks: FTA - 20-28/14-18; PF - 20/23
Vs Wizards: FTA - 27-36/15-26; PF - 23/23
Vs Warriors: FTA - 25-34/16-24; PF - 23/26
Vs Celtics: FTA - 25-31/23-31; PF - 23/24
Vs Nets: FTA - 25-31/24-27; PF - 22/23
After the 5-game winning streak:
Vs Knicks: FTA - 27-39/30-41; PF - 31-29
Vs Cavs: FTA - 15-21/27-34; PF - 22-17
Vs Bobcats: FTA - 19-24/21-28; PF - 22-21
Vs Raptors: FTA - 22-26/28-37; PF - 24-23
Vs Mavs: FTA - 19-28/22-28; 22-23*
Vs Warriors: FTA - 28-34/28/34; PF - 23/22*
Vs Kings: FTA - 18-25/19-25; PF - 26-23**
Vs Jazz: FTA - 25-34/17-27; PF - 27-26*
Vs Clippers: FTA - 13-19/26-31; PF - 27-21
Vs Blazers: FTA - 12-17/18-27; PF - 23-22**
*The difference these games were FGAs (Pacers vs Mavs: 33-76/41-92; Pacers vs Warriors: 38-86/45-80)
**The difference this game was 3PAs (Pacers vs Kings: 7-22/9-18; Pacers loss, 105-110; Pacers vs Blazers: 3-19/6-16; Pacers loss, 91-102)
With few exceptions, it is clear that the smaller starting lineup JOB used along with the the four more aggressive reserves - Head, Watson, Hansborough and Solo - worked extremely well to put pressure on the defense. This group of nine players (the starters being Granger, Danhtay, Ford, Hibbert and BRush) all continued to attack, attack and attack!! They forced the defense to react to them instead of sitting back and taking what came their way. As such, they got to the FT line more and committed equal or fewer fouls. But since JOB has gone to a nine-man rotation using the vets more (Murphy and Foster) and less of Head and Solo, the offense hasn't attacked nearly as much. So, what's the solution?
1. Reduce TJ Fords minutes OR start Watson over TJ. Ideally, I'd like to see JOB go back to playing TJ in much the same way he did when TJ returned after suffering from back spasms - to breach the 2nd and 3rd qrts and close the 4th. I think reducing TJ's minutes and letting Watson play for longer stretches would bring more stability and consistency to the offense. I doubt that will happen, but it's one to help turn things around. Another is to just start Watson. He's defends better and is the more sturdier hand...not by much, but it's enough IMO to warrant taking a closer look at making the switch. (Watson/Ford: Asst, 3.2/3.1; TOG, 1.50/1.89; Asst/TO ratio: Watson - 2.15; Ford - 1.61)
2. Get Murphy to drive the lanes more and reduce his minutes; give some to Solo! I don't think we need to go into this area again. Reducing Murphy's minutes would allow Solo to get on the floor. And considering that Hansborough's minutes are still limited, it just makes sense to do this once you realize the aggressiveness at PF has diminished since Murphy's return.
3. Lay off the 3-Point Shots!! Let's face it, going 3-19...7-22 3PAs doesn't instill fear in many teams. Heck, I don't blame opposing teams for shagging off our Wings and doubling down on our post-players. When you're shooting .298 from the perimeter as a team, you're not much of a perimeter threat. So, why keep shooting them with such frequency? Switch your game plan; go back to attacking the basket more.
I think if JOB were honest about the numbers, he'd make the necessary adjustments akin to what I've outlined herein.
Let's discuss it.