Rookie Mistakes

Rookie mistakes aren’t committed only by players.  Coaches can commit them, too.  The difference is, a player’s rookie mistake can cost you a couple of points, or at worst, a ballgame.  A coach’s rookie mistake can cost you the season.

Prior to Frank Vogel taking over the head coaching position of the Pacers, the team had developed a fairly stable starting lineup in Collison, Granger, Dunleavy, Hibbert and McRoberts.  That group didn’t start every game, but compared to the changes that Jim O’Brien put the starting roster through in years past, it was the most stable grouping the Pacers have seen in a while.

When Vogel took over, he didn’t mess with that, but he did put together a stable second unit, featuring AJ Price, Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Foster, and Paul George.  That was not the rookie mistake.  That was a good move.  Resurrecting Dahntay from the DNP section, and letting the second unit settle in, he helped create ‘the Goon Squad,’ a name the players bestowed on themselves…an indicator of strong morale.

It seemed we had a good solid ten-man rotation.

Those two units played together for the first 11 games under Vogel, and went 8-3.  Then Dunleavy was gone for the season, while the schedule entered a much more difficult phase.  There’s nothing Coach Vogel could do about either one of those unfortunate turns, except to react.  He moved Brandon Rush back into a starting role after Rush’s return from an injury, putting a one-time starter back into a group pretty familiar with his presence, and leaving the Goon Squad intact.  To my way of thinking, that’s the best he could do under the circumstances.

That lineup worked as a ten man rotation for two games…beating Detroit, losing to Utah.  Then the same group, with just four minutes of Lance Stephenson added, lost in OT to Phoenix.  With 14 minutes of Stephenson added in the next game, we beat Golden State.

At that point is where I feel Vogel started making his rookie mistake.  Facing a tough 3-game road trip with Dunleavy out for the season, facing a home return to face the 76ers, (the team we were chasing in the playoff hunt), and then seven of the next nine games coming on the road…at that very crucial point in a young team’s development, he decided to keep screwing about with the roster.

Based on bad feelings about going .500 in the previous four games, or faced with an obligation (?) to get Lance some serious development minutes…he proceeded to make significant changes in the Goon Squad’s rotations, bringing Price in only after Lance’s minutes.

So.  We got stomped by OKC, failed to catch Dallas napping, and lost convincingly at Houston.  And many observed that we were most likely always going to lose those games.  There was no real meaning there, was there?

The home loss that came next, to Philly, apparently did seem significant to everyone, including Vogel.  Never mind that we were without Foster, or that Philly has been beating the top teams in the league lately.  The loss to the 76ers, with the minutes given to Lance disrupting an already disrupted rotation, meant CHANGES MUST BE MADE.

So Tyler and Paul George move to the starters, and Lance moves back (mostly) to the bench.  The result?  We were absolutely made to look bad by the only team in the league with a younger roster than ours, losing 101-75 to the T’Wolves.  People were astounded.  How could that happen?  We’ve followed that up with another never-a-doubt loss in Toronto.  Tyler and Paul George start.  Lance never leaves the pine.

Now we’re heading into a back-to-back with NYC, and I am asking the basketball spirits to move Coach Frank Vogel to restore the 10-man rotation from the beginning of March.  Fill his dreams, spirits.  Move his imagination.  Make him forget working Lance in, at least for now.  Make him restore Tyler and George to the Goon Squad, and pray the chemistry will restabilize.

Maybe it’s too late.  Maybe a restored chemistry wouldn’t be enough to get us through this continuing rough patch with some wins anyway. Maybe griping about the lineup is lame.  Maybe Tyler and PG would just be more discombobulated by leaving the starters.   Maybe some fans will say the heck with it…Tyler and Paul deserve to start and who needs the playoffs anyway?  I don’t feel that way, myself.  And I believe Bird and Vogel when they say they still want the playoffs.

So how about going backwards?  Back to a lineup that’s more familiar to our young roster.  Some mistakes can be fixed before they ruin things, and some can’t.  But I think a return to normalcy (or as close as we can get) is a step backwards in the right direction.

Tags: Frank Vogel

  • Steve Olson

    I think there is a better alternative. Since the creation of the “Goon Squad” they have been the benchmark of the team. They set the tempo and intensity. Unfortunately, by the time they have entered the game, the team was down double digits.

    START THE GOON SQUAD!!!!!! 3 Minutes of in your face, I’ll knock you on your butt, play will get the team fired up. Then start bringing in the “starters” one or two at a time, so they can feed off the energy.

    Another thought is shorten players stay on the floor. If they are playing hard, “Smash Mouth” basketball, they can’t play 9 minutes. The average shift for a professional hockey player is 45 seconds, and they are incredibly well conditioned athletes. While basketball has much more standing around, 6 minutes would seem borderline for over the top muscle fatigue.

    Players are rationing their energy by slowing down, or conserving energy on the defensive end, and at times on the offensive end. I am watching on TV and I can see this. Why can’t the coaches and trainers???

  • Terry Donahue

    Good article. I think you are right. Unfortunately I think that the change you are talking about is unlikely to occur. Tyler Hansborough and Paul George are seen by most fans as the two most worthy, and by many as the only members of this team worthy of keeping around. Sending them back to the bench would be seen by a lot of people as a demotion, and unfair. But if we can`t keep up with the other team with them on the floor the experiment is a failure, and the bench players coming in are less capable of changing things. I`ve heard it said that we are a deep team without enough at the top. But regardless of the talent of this “depth”, if they can`t translate that talent into points on the floor the talent is useless. It appears at times that the only people on this team who can score are Granger and Hansborough.

  • Matt teague

    I disagree with this article. Everything changed when Dunleavy went down because Rush & George don’t know how to move without the ball. When people aren’t moving point guard play suffers, hence darren Collison has been playing the worst basketball of his life. Lastly, when Lance is on the court he makes things happen and he’s one of the few Pacers that do. The idea that its ok to start Rush is because he is “familar” is ridiculous.
    You threw out some nice stats, I’d like to see Rush’s plus minus since in the starting line up. I’d also like to see the Pacers’ record since Dunleavy went down. I never really understood JOB’s rotations but Vogels are almost worse. You don’t want to mess with the “goon squad’s” minutes? Are You Kidding me!? clearly Dahntay Jones should be starting. Lance can back up the 2 and then Paul at the 3. Rush should collect dust on the bench while we keep Solo activated for when Roy & Josh get into foul trouble.

  • Manfred James

    Hansbrough should go back to the bench, and George should continue to start. Without Tyler — the leader of the Goon Squad — in the second unit, there is no real scoring ability, and George is just better than Rush.

    Rush should continue to play in the rotation, however, in order that we may showcase what skills he has for trade in the offseason. Lance is too disruptive a presence and should remain on the inactive list until he grows up a little.

  • Terry Donahue

    Matt, I both agree and disagree with your comment. My earlier comment was concerned mostly with moving Tyler to the starting lineup. I think his offense there replaces rather than compliments that of Hibbert and Collison, to the detriment of the bench. I wrote something last week on this board suggesting moving Dahntay Jones to the starting lineup, and I am as frustrated as anyone by the lack of production from Brandon Rush. Although I think that in the offense we run you could change the name of the position from shooting guard to lead spectator. Where I disagree with you is over Lance Stephenson. I think he should have sat and watched this season and got his head straight and come back next year with a clean slate and full training camp and competed for minutes. I just think his inexperience will outweigh any gain his abilities might bring us.

  • kester

    I agree that Brandon isn’t what we are looking for, really. But Dunleavy’s out, period. My main concern here is chemistry…call it familiarity, and that’s fine. If the core of our starters were KG, Pierce, Rondo and Allen, we could plug anyone we wanted in and out of the starting roster. With the guys we actually have, however, that chemistry seems to me both vital and fragile. Each of our guys has a limited bag of tricks (compared to a really veteran lineup), and the guys on the floor with them need to know when and where to feed them, and when not to.

    Put Tyler back in the second unit, and include Brandon there…leaving George in the starters…I could live with that. Granger and George have some history and seem to feed off each other at times.

  • Matt Teague

    I fealt that way too unitl ive seen him play this year (about lance). I don’t know, he’s such a head case thers no telling how anything will effect him.