The Pacers Offense Against the Zone

Great stuff from Tom Lewis on Indy Cornrows setting up tonight’s Pacers game vs. the Warriors, which, as you should know, are now coached by Pacers legend Mark Jackson. If you didn’t see Mark in an Indiana uniform, you missed out. He was the definition of “floor general” and is arguably the best combination of pure point guarding and flashy passing this side of Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd.

In previewing he game, Lewis discusses the 800-lb gorilla now in the room: the Pacers offense against the zone. He links to this piece from Sactown Royalty’s Tom Ziller that breaks down every Indy possession against the Kings zone. And he notes that Golden State, as of three days ago, plays more zone than any other NBA team, implementing it on 10.3% of their defensive possessions, according to MySynergySports.

To recap: the team that plays the most zone tonight faces a team that just looked like the worst offense in history against a zone two days ago. I think we can go ahead and slot this in as a “Ruby Tuesday Hanes Her Way Key to the Game.”

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star asked some of the team members why the Pacers played so poorly against the Kings’ zone.

“We just have to work on (our zone offense) more,” Pacers point guard Darren Collison said. “I think we were caught off guard. Still, no excuse. We were up pretty much the whole entire game. We know how to work against a zone.”

The team’s new power forward offered the following.

“It was kind of their last-ditch effort to try and junk the game up,” Pacers power forward David West said. “. . . They’re not a good defensive team. I don’t think they did anything overwhelmingly well. We just played into their hands.”

It will be interesting to see if the team handles it any better. Wells, among others, criticized Coach Frank Vogel for going small since it was presumably done to match the personnel the Kings put on the floor. It’s a fair criticism but, to me, it ignores the fact that Roy was a disaster against the zone during the 4:51 he did play in the fourth quarter.

Here are the possession breakdowns from Ziller directly involving Hibbert.

7. [Jason Thompson] stops Roy Hibbert in the post, but the loose ball squirts to Granger for an open jumper. MAKE. Thompson defended the ball beautifully, but bad bounces happen.

Going to the film, we can see that this was a rushed post move. Roy took a near-airball hook shot that missed the rim and hit only the opposite backboard. He gets no credit for the subsequent fracas that led to a Granger jumper amid chaos.

8. Cousins blocks Hibbert’s shot in the post; after an offensive rebound, Granger gets a quick but contested three. MISS. This was similar to the previous possession, except the Kings recovered well, balanced up and contested the shot. The Kings earned this empty possession twice.

Looking at the video, we see that this was Roy, who after three nice Pacers swing passes around the perimeter, catching the ball very open in the middle of the paint on a nice entry by Darren Collison. He could do nothing useful with it, despite having the undersized Cousins on his back, and did some drop-step, over-dribble, reverse layup thing that took long enough for a double to come over and bother his weak shot attempt.

9. Evans doubles down on Hibbert, who is backing down Cousins in the post, and forces a turnover. TURNOVER. Hibbert began the game schooling Cousins in the paint. Things turned all the way around in the fourth, and help down from the guards/wings certainly made a difference.

Again, if we watch the video, we see that the Pacers perimeter guys again did a decent job forcing the zone to move and react by swinging it to George on the wing. He tosses a nice entry to Roy with Cousins on his back deep in the post and the Indy lead now down to four (84-80 with 5:50 to play). Roy takes one dribble into the paint the spins back baseline with his head down. The outside defender hedges down, executes a simple dig and strips the ball from an apparently-not-paying-attention Hibbert. It bounces off his leg out of bounds. Kings ball.

The first two bad possessions from Hibbert there were bad moves. The third reflected what was more problematic: his seeming inability to know where the other defenders on the floor were. This time led directly to a turnover but he got a few other touches that looked similar. This isn’t a condemnation of the guy. He just hasn’t played against a zone much and his instincts aren’t well-formed enough for him to anticipate how the defenders will rotate. He was caught off guard.

Hopefully, the Pacers spent some time yesterday and in shootaround today discussing this stuff. It’s a forgivable sin to be caught off guard by something you didn’t expect and haven’t prepared for.

But if it happens again …

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Tags: Golden State Warriors Mark Jackson Roy Hibbert

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