In the below video, coach Jim O’Brien, Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. discuss the Pacers playoff chances at the midway point of the season. Obviously they are all still optimistic and think they can make the postseason. We knew they would say that.
The interesting part starts at the 2:34 mark when coach Jim O’Brien starts talking about how demoting TJ Ford may hurt the team’s defense. Even though I know it’s true, it’s still weird to hear; TJ has been the team’s best defender at the point guard position this season.
And he is is now out of the rotation.
Now, I don’t think TJ is a terrible defender — he’s just an undersized guy with flaws — but his status as best PG defender on the team is less about him being really good and more about Darren Collison being really bad.
Particularly in the pick-and-roll, DC has just been out to lunch all season. He fails to fight through the screens and takes way too long to recover. When he goes under the screen, the ball-handler all too often has a good look at a mid-range jumper. When he goes over the screen, he is usually way too slow and can’t prevent the ball-handler from penetrating into the thick of the defense or otherwise causing havoc by dishing it around the perimeter. And no matter whether he goes under or over, he is almost always so slow to recover that it leaves the guy guarding the screener exposed, forcing him to hedge at the dribbler to mitigate the quick play while at the same time keeping track of his own man, who is either rolling to the hoop for a layup or popping to open space for a jumpshot. Aside from Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in their primes (neither of which are on the 2010-11 Indiana Pacers, FYI), there aren’t many players in the history of this sport that can contain both players in a pick-and-roll for as long as Darren’s lackluster recovery demands.
In addition to the hours of game film illustrating these failings, there are some numbers that show just how bad he has been, both in pick-and-roll situations and just overall.
In Darren Collison’s 1,028 minutes on the court this season, the Pacers have given up 107.8 points per 100 possessions — more than three points per 100 worse than the team’s overall 104.5 per 100.
Worse still, in the 801 minutes the team has played with Collison off the floor, the Pacers only give up 100.1 points per 100 possessions. For reference, only one NBA team has a stingier defense than the Pacers units have posted when Collison sits. (The Bulls only give up 99.4 points per 100 possessions.) As is always the case in a game that requires teams to play 5 on 5, there are definitely other rotation-based factors involved in addition to simply whether or not DC is in the game. But a swing of nearly 8 points is pretty damning circumstantial evidence.
With TJ now out of the rotation and AJ Price not exactly a defensive stopper himself, it seems obvious that Darren is going to have to improve if the team hopes to maintain its top ten defensive ranking. And for Indiana to make the playoffs, that seems a prerequisite. I believe that the team’s offense (currently the 7th worst in the league) will improve. But it certainly won’t improve to the degree that it can become a staple for winning this year.
Ultimately, the road to the playoffs is paved with defense.
And Darren Collison must improve his.