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.
Basketball is a team game, and as a general rule, I believe that the unit is more important than the individual match ups. However, the individual contests are the contact points for the units. Each affects how the group – and the game – flows. For that reason, it’s worth looking at the key head-to-head pairings. It’s on these that that the success or failure of the whole can pivot.
This one is going to be less about detailed statistics and more about story lines. Feel.
Derrick Rose vs. Darren Collison
It’s really grossly unfair to Collison to single him out against Derrick Rose. Rose will beat Collison – and anybody else the Pacers throw at him – in an individual showdown. Rose doesn’t so much put moves on guys as he materializes three feet to the right or left of where you’d swear he was a nano-second ago. No shame is acknowledging just how good Rose is.
Collison will need help – lots of it – trying to keep the likely MVP out of the lane. Rose is the “tip of the spear,” and when he enters the paint, the Pacers will bleed.
But…if Darren can go back at him without getting in a pissing match…If Collison can be decisive with the ball, push the tempo at every opportunity, and consistently hit his jumpers, then he might minimize the gap. If DC can’t slow Rose down, he’ll have to try to keep up.
Roy Hibbert vs. Joakim Noah
In Part 3 of this series, I said this about the importance of the post play to the Pacers:
…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.
In effect, Roy Hibbert is the post game for the Indiana Pacers. According to Synergy, the 7’2″ Georgetown product accounted for over 60% of the Pacers’ post offense. He wasn’t particularly effective – scoring only 42% of the time and averaging about 0.82 PPP – but he’s still something that the Bulls Defense has to honor.
Joakim Noah isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s quick and active. If Roy can get him pinned on the block, then the Pacers will have an advantage. However, Hibbert will have to be decisive. If not, the Bulls D will swarm, making Hibbert a turnover machine.
Danny Granger vs. Luol Deng
In my mind, Danny Granger and Luol Deng are always somewhat tied together. As Granger was emerging, Deng was one of the young, talented wings – along with guys like Andre Iguodala – that I used as benchmarks for Danny’s progress. They were comparable in talent and production, and I had used these players to try to gauge what Granger’s first contract might end up being.
In 2009, after Granger had earned an All Star berth and averaged almost 26 point a game, it looked like Deng was no longer an apt comparison. Danny had clearly passed him. That may no longer be the case.
Looking at the chart showing each Player’s PER by year in the league, you see some similarities. Deng does not have the peak that Granger has, but the arc of progress is similar.
The last two seasons have been hard on Granger, and his star is no longer seen as rising in NBA circles. Some of it is due to injuries, some of it is due to attitude, and some of it has to driven by the amount of time he’s spent on franchise that has been stuck in neutral waiting for bad pennies and bad contracts to go away.
Luol Deng had rough spots and injuries, but appears to be settling into (what I think is) his ideal role with the Bulls – third scoring option and strong defensive wing. For him, this series is less important than the playoffs as a whole. He’ll be expected to play good defense and fill in the gaps offensively left by Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer.
For Danny, it’s a different story. In my opinion, he’s at a tipping point. How he plays in this series – and what impact it has on his team’s performance – will say a lot about whether Danny is a #1 or #2 option in this league or if he’ll be better served being in a role similar to Deng’s.
Tyler Hansbrough vs. Carlos Boozer
Somebody asked me about this match up last week, when I chatting on Daily Dime Live. I don’t recall what my answer was, but I’m sure it was insightful, witty, and complete cow-floppies.
You see, it couldn’t have been anything other than complete cow-floppies, because I have absolutely no clue what to make of this head-to-head battle. However, I’m certain it should be in this discussion, because it just feels like fun.
Doesn’t it feel like fun to you?
In all seriousness, these two are crucial to each of their teams’ hopes. Boozer has to stay healthy and come through as the #2 option if the Bulls want to contend for a title. Hansbrough will be vital at the offensive end as both a scorer and a force on the offensive glass. Plus, you know… Duke…North Carolina.
Yeah, feels like fun.
Frank Vogel vs. Tom Thibodeau
Both are rookie head coaches. Neither has coached a single NBA playoff game before. Two young coaches seemingly in the same place, but really are worlds apart.
Tom Thibodeau is skyrocketing towards the top of the coaching profession. A year ago, he was a coveted assistant, deemed the architect of Boston’s stifling defense. Now, he’s the head coach of the team with the best regular season record and a leading Coach of the Year candidate. I’d love to say I called it, but I didn’t. When his hire was announced, I tweeted something to the effect that I could see him failing spectacularly. I was concerned that he was merely a specialist – a high functioning assistant. Turns out he’s simply a high-functioning head coach. He’s in a position to establish his reputation as one of the best coaches in the league.
Frank Vogel is merely in a position to secure his job. A year ago, he was just one of O’Brien’s assistants. Then he was elevated to lead assistant when Lester Conner left the organization. On January 30th, he replaced Jim O’Brien as head coach. The team has gone 20-18 under him and earned it’s first playoff berth in five years. He is well-liked by players and fans alike, and Bird has spoken of him favorably and guaranteed an interview. But not a job.
It’s difficult to say what, exactly, success will look like for Vogel in this series. An upset would obviously qualify, but that hurdle is way too high to be considered fair. If the Pacers are thoroughly uncompetitive, then he’ll probably be thanked and sent on his way. Anything in between – your guess is as good as mine.
Who Are You?
These are the subplots that seem worth watching to me. Specific pressure points that could either change the course of the series, or simply make for interesting side diversions. More specifically for the Pacers mentioned above, they represent the real underlying them for the entire franchise.
Though I’m sure the players, coaches, front office, and fans all want the Pacers to win, the next week or so isn’t really about winning or losing. This is really about finding out who these players are. What does this team have? How far away from being good are they? Who can be counted on, and who can’t?
Larry Bird told Colin Cowherd today that these players would probably learn more in the next week than they had all year long. That’s probably true, but I’ll say one thing. We really don’t know who these players are, but we’re going to find out quite a bit in the next few games.