I can’t articulate the Pacer performance in Friday night’s win over the Mavericks as succinctly as George Hill did after the game. “It felt like a different Pacer team out there … I’m sure if you were watching the game, I’m sure it didn’t look like the same Pacer team that’s been playing the last nine games,” said Hill. “Different energy. Different pace.”
Paul George outlines the hopes of the Pacer players, coaches, and fans pretty clearly in this quote. “The other night [against the Bucks], we were just a standstill team,” said George. “Now there’s a lot more movement, and we’re shifting the defense. It’s hard for them to load up on us, because we’re constantly moving. That change right there should be the change for the season.”
It’s just one game, so nothing has been completely resolved. Still, it was their most complete offensive performance of the season, and it came coupled with another good defensive performance. It was really the first time the Pacers looked like the Pacers everyone was expecting.
Before the game, Pacer coach Frank Vogel spoke to the media about the changes Indiana was implementing. As with the comments from Hill and George above, Vogel’s own words are the best way to present what those changes were.
Here is a transcript of his conversation with the media on the offensive changes we saw in the win over Dallas (edited for clarity and with certain non-relevant comments omitted).
Vogel: When you’re struggling the way we’re struggling, you have a choice of two things: Stay the course and just get better at what you do, or implement change. And we’re gonna do both.
The challenge is you don’t have a lot of time to implement change. So, we are getting back to some of the fundamentals and foundations of our system that we’ve gotten away from in terms of our post offense and our player movement. We’re going to implement a change that can happen immediately in terms of introducing more flow into our offense. Less play calling. More pushing the tempo, and just getting into ball movement and player movement without thinking about, ‘What are we running, and who’s supposed to be in what spots?’
That can happen right away. It will happen right away. We all know we have play with more speed and more force and more physicality on the offensive end.
Mike Wells (Indy Star): How much is trying to implement more speed into the offense is due to the fact that Roy is struggling in the low post?
Vogel: Part of the reason he’s (Roy) struggling in the low post is because we’re all standing around and letting the whole defense load up on him. If we start moving the way we’re supposed to move, and start flowing into our offense rather than walking it up and initiating our offense with 15 seconds on the clock then Roy Hibbert will be more successful in the low post.
Conrad Brunner (1070 the Fan): Does this put more into George’s [Hill] hands then?
Vogel: Not really. It puts more in his hands to initiate sooner and push the tempo more. Not walk it up.
Tom Lewis (Indy Cornrows): Coach, I’m sensing you’re fired up about this game.
Vogel: I am. I am.
Lewis: You feel that your team has that same fire?
Vogel: I do. We had a great shootaround. Guys were cutting and moving harder than any shootaround we’ve had all year. They understand that change is necessary in how we play. I think they feel the subtle change we’re putting in can happen immediately. I think we’ll see a different team. We know the execution is still gonna take time. It’s not gonna overnight just be a perfectly executed offense, but how we play, the force and speed with which we play, and the movement with which we should exhibit should happen right away.
Mark Montieth (Pacers.com): Are you going back to what you did last year?
Vogel: Not really. We’re growing from where we started to getting into some action last year towards the end of last year, that helps us flow into our offense. We had that in our system, we haven’t been utilizing it enough, but we took that and added basically one counter to that to get five players moving better without the basketball and get the ball reversed.
Tim Donahue (8 Points, 9 Seconds): Last year, you gave me quote during the playoffs about, ‘When ball movement is your friend, and you move the ball side-to-side anybody can affect the game and be the man.’ Has that kinda gone away this year, because David is being asked to score more than he did last year, as opposed to the facilitation he did a lot?
Vogel: I don’t know. I think we had that [ball reversal] last year, but we were also able to really isolate matchups last year. We’re struggling to do that this year, because they’re loading up and packing it in on our post game, and our post players are struggling as a result. We’ve gotta get more movement.
Montieth: The changes in the offense, you called it a tweak. Is it not that drastic?
Vogel: It’s more of a philosophical change than adding 10 new plays or anything like that. It’s playing with more speed, more player movement, more ball movement, more ball reversal, and getting back to some of the foundations of our system that we’ve gotten away from.
The other day, I wrote extensively on the Pacer offensive woes, and how I expected Vogel to respond to them. That piece was based on the thought that Vogel’s philosophies manifested in a certain way in the team’s metrics. Vogel’s post-game comments give further insight into those philosophies.
Vogel on contributions from supporting players like Lance Stephenson and Sam Young …
“When the ball moves, and you have constant player movement, anybody can step up, because everybody’s in attack mode. Everybody’s involved. Everybody’s touching it. All of our guys can play. All of our guys have been struggling, because we haven’t moved the ball and had player movement well enough.”
Vogel on trusting each other …
“We talk about re-establishing a belief in ourselves as a basketball team, a belief in ourselves individually – that we’re capable of doing great things, and then continuing to believe in teammates that are struggling. That’s an important element in getting yourself out of a rut or getting a team out of rut is to continue to trust that we have good players on this team. When the ball’s moving, and we’re sharing it, and we’re playing for each other, we’re gonna be pretty good.”
Vogel on the team’s season-low 8 turnovers against Dalla …
“Our turnovers have come down in the last four or five games. I don’t think we’ve had more than 14 turnovers -(note: 12, actually)- in five games. The early turnover issues have gotten under control from where they were at the start. We were a low turnover team. Playing faster, playing with more speed and more force helps everything with your offense. Turnovers was just one of the many benefits we saw tonight.”
The performance against Dallas doesn’t mean they’re over the hump. They should still be considered sizable underdogs on Sunday, when they visit the Knicks. However, Paul George was right when he said constant movement should be the change for this team for this season.
Taken as a whole, Vogel’s comments don’t really reflect a foundational change in his overall offensive strategies. If there was an overhaul of the offense, it was primarily in attitude. Over and over again, Pacer players and coaches emphasized tempo, ball movement, and player movement as the keys to their success. I think we’ll see this prove out time and time again this season – both in the good performances, and the bad. It’s unlikely this offense will ever be “pretty,” but it can be effective. Maintaining focus on those keys – and minimizing slippage – will allow this team to do what they did well last year.