Pacers vs. Bulls Playoff Preview, Part 3: Synergy Breakdowns

The Pacers are in the playoffs for the first time in five years, but — more importantly — this will be the first time for 8p9s covering Indiana in the postseason. We’re going to jump in with both feet. Read all about it in our multi-part Pacers vs Bulls Playoff Preview series in the hours and days to come.

In the next part of our detailed analysis of the upcoming Pacers/Bulls 1st round playoff series, we’re going to take a look at some Synergy breakdowns. is a fantastic site that tracks a team’s results by play types — isos, pick-and-rolls, post ups, etc. — and provides film on each of these plays.  It’s a great way to look at how a team approaches its offense, and where a team is strong or weak at both ends of the floor.

Once again, we’re going to start at the top of the house, with a comparisons at each end.  The tables you’ll see below will show each team’s ranking in a specific play category based on points per play (PPP).  They are color coded with the same green/yellow/red methodology as used in Part Two of this series – Stoplight Analysis.  They also include the percentage of time each play was used/defended by that team.

Pacers Offense vs. Bulls Defense

One limitation Synergy has is that all information is year-to-date (YTD).  This makes it difficult to break out the Pacers under Vogel vs. under O’Brien.  I do have some analysis that approximates this relatively well, and we’ll discuss it later, but for the big picture, we’ll just use the YTD numbers.

You may want to avert your eyes.

Looking at this chart, I can’t help but hear the old Irving Berlin classic, “Anything you can do, I can do better.  I can do anything better than you.”  (What can I say?  I have seven sisters.)  In this case, however, it’s more like, “Anything you can stop, I can stop better.”

Chicago’s D is 99 different kinds of nasty.

The only thing they’re “bad” at stopping is “hand offs”, and that’s pretty survivable, considering they only allow the opponent to run those about twice a game.  The Pacers are decent at them, but most of theirs came out of O’Brien’s motion offense, not Vogel’s.  Regardless, nobody’s getting anywhere against anyone trying to curl Danny off Roy in the high post for a handoff 50 times a game.

No, the Pacers are going to have to go into Chicago’s strong points and defeat them.  I’ll get more into this later, but my sense is that Indy’s best chance is with PnR Screener, post up, and transition plays.  And, as I mention in the Stoplight Analysis, control the offensive boards.

Bulls’ Offense vs. Pacers’ Defense

The green at the top of the Bulls column underscores Derrick Rose’s impact on the Bulls’ offense.  Danny was largely correct when he said:

“Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance to beat them.”

Though, I’d qualify it to say that Chicago’s offense goes as Derrick Rose goes.  His 32.3% usage rate is second only to Kobe’s 35.0% in the Association. According to BasketballValue, the Bulls score 110.6 points for every 100 possessions with Derrick Rose on the floor, but only 101.9 without him.

Though only about 23% of Chicago’s plays finish as Isos or PnRs, that doesn’t mean they don’t go to it often.  Another limitation of Synergy is that it charts plays based on how they finish. Therefore, other plays, like spot ups and cuts can actually come out of a set that was begun with either iso or PnR action.

And that’s where Derrick Rose lives and breathes.  Just short of 60% of his plays and shots come out of isos and PnRs.  The Pacers are OK at defending the ball-handler in the PnR, but they’re one of the worst in the league in PPP given up in iso situations.  More disconcertingly for the upcoming match-up is that Rose’s counterpart, Darren Collison, gives up 1.13 PPP when iso’d.

But it’s really much simpler than that.  Rose is the guy that can get inside the Pacer defense, and once he’s there, he does a lot of damage.  He scores, he creates, he draws fouls.  In 93 minutes against Chicago this year, Roy Hibbert has committed 11 fouls.  Five of them have been shooting fouls on Derrick Rose.

Collison will have to step up as much as he can, but Rose will get by him.  Rose will get by pretty much anybody Indiana will throw at him.  Pacer rotations will have to be quick and strong, because if he gets in the lane, it’s all over but the shouting.

Different Approach

Frank Vogel has moved away from the motion and passing offensive system in favor of the very simple approach of isolations, PnRs and post ups.

The yellow overlay shows the current distribution.  As noted in Part II of this series, the offense has improved by 3.5 points per 100 since the end of January.  Some of this was personnel changes, but some of this has to do with scrapping an offensive system that the players either couldn’t or wouldn’t understand.

Since this was done in the middle of the season, compromises had to be made.  In this case, the Pacers sacrificed coherence, for lack of a better word.  In the half-court, they run very simple one-option sets.  These primarily consist of iso’s & mid posts for Danny, Post action for Hibbert, and pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop action for Collison, generally paired with Hansbrough.

Given a training camp, Vogel or his replacement may be able to tie these things together into a coherent offense.  For this series, however, they’re just going to have to execute the plays they call will brutal precision.  It will be no mean feat against the Bulls Defense.

One thing to be encouraged by is the Pacer win over the Bulls on March 18th.  In it, the Pacers posted an offensive efficiency of over 116.  The Bulls have only allowed more than that five times this season.

The offensive play distribution for that game looked like this:

So, it worked once.


I mentioned earlier that I thought the keys to success lied in PnRs to the screener, post action, and transition.  Taking the last first, transition is crucial because they’ll need easy baskets.  Indiana won’t be able to fight a war of attrition in the half-court over a seven-game series.  They’ll need to push tempo, because Chicago is just too good otherwise.  This may be the toughest thing they’ll have to do, because the pace of play in the playoffs historically has dropped 3 to 4 possessions per game from regular season levels.

The post action will be vital, because it should serve as an anchor to the offense.  The Pacers have used the post more under Vogel (12.6% vs. 9.5%).  Unfortunately, they have been less effective.  The points per possession has dropped from 0.88 to 0.83, and they’re only scoring 42.6% of the time, down from 46.4%.  However, the post can best be compared to the running game in football.  Even if it’s weak, you have to call the play to keep the defense honest.

The most important weapon — the one most likely to be potent — is going to be the PnR action.  We’ll get into this more in the rest of this series, but what really hurt the Bulls on that Friday night was Tyler Hansbrough in the PnP.

Deconstructing the Bulls

We’ve looked in detail at the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, and we’ve talked about how the teams approach the game.  In the next part of this series, we’ll break down in further detail the Pacers win over the Bulls on March 18.  We’ll also take a look at the other Chicago losses in hopes of finding a common theme.

Tags: 2011 NBA Playoffs Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose Frank Vogel Indiana Pacers Vs. Chicago Bulls 2011 Playoff Preview Jim O'Brien

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