Like all decent NBA teams in 2013, the Pacers need to run a complex offense to get good looks at the hoop. It is something Zach Lowe of Grantland detailed exceptionally well not long ago (and I wrote about much less expertly around the same time): The NBA is beginning to look more like the NFL than it does any other form of basketball.
The short of it is that defenses in this league have become incredible. The defensive rule changes in the early part of last decade allowed the Tom Thibodeau revolution (for lack of a better term) to take over. It is now just tremendously difficult to score with simple sets because teams pack the paint and rotate like crazy. Good luck doing anything slow and obvious.
This is part of the reason that only a few teams in the NBA rely a lot of traditional post ups. It is one of the easiest plays to defend. If you just toss the ball into a stationary target, the defense has so many ways to take that away.
Shaquille O’Neal, on TNT’s Inside the NBA show, routinely says that guys like Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez just need to get their asses to the rim, seal their man, demand the ball and “jump hook ‘em to death.” He isn’t wrong. I concur to some degree. But, that is just a much more difficult proposition than it was when O’Neal was in his prime.
Now, the sets need to be more dynamic. They need some misdirection. They need some subterfuge.
Especially for Hibbert.
He has regained the ability to “jump hook ‘em to death” that vanished earlier this season. But just given his physique (he has a top-heavy frame and struggles to maintain balance), he has trouble establishing deep post position. Always has. Always will.
Since he has again become a useful offensive weapon, however, the Pacers are smart to feed the beast. He has a size advantage against almost everyone, but it is glaring against the Hawks’ agile, quick, small bigs.
In Game 2 of of the series, Hibbert scored 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting. This is in large part to Indiana using clever, tricky ways of getting him good looks near the hoop. This isn’t new. As noted above, the Pacers run a lot of complex action. But in a seven-game series, when the opposition has days to break down exactly what it is you run — rather than having just flown in from Seattle at 4 a.m. the night before, as happens in the regular season — you need to step it up.
Jared Dubin of Hoop Chalk did a great job breaking down a few ways that Indiana did exactly that in Game 2. By moving Hibbert around and disguising their intentions to get him the ball until the last second, they have been able to get him deep position at times with his defender relatively helpless on his back and no easy double-team options for Atlanta.
Check this one out.
Dubin calls it the tic-tac-toe play and explains how it works.
On each of these three plays, the man who eventually throws the entry pass to Hibbert started the play on the same block where Hibbert eventually catches the ball for his post-up. But when Hibbert screens for Hill at the top of the key, that man slides up behind the pick-and-roll to the wing to catch the outlet pass and then hit Hibbert with a post entry. Hibbert gets two baskets and a foul on these three plays, and West got a basket when the Pacers ran action like this as well.
This one is also worked out nicely, and it is something the Pacers ran on a few occasions.
The misdirection here lies in a handoff on the strong side (right wing) that begins the process of moving the ball to the other side of the court. Then the handoff recipient completes the swing with a pass to Tyler Hansbrough. They add some subterfuge that this is in an attempt to run a two-man game for Tyler as the passer runs off his shoulder, faking a second dribble handoff. That is pure decoy to clear out the passer’s defender. Meanwhile, the other three players all rush to the opposite block in a cluster, moving all the potential help defenders out of the open space in the middle of the paint. Hibbert is then free to fill that void, receive an easy pass and go to work in space.
There is one other thing of note in the second clip featured in the above video.
Look at Gerald Green.
He has hit shots thus far in the postseason. I honestly couldn’t believe that he was ahead of Orlando Johnson in the rotation when he checked into Game 1 for the first time. I also didn’t like what I saw from him. Mostly on the defensive end, but also in off-ball action.
If he continues to make shots, he’ll continue to be useful.
But the clip here shows a key problem: He just has no idea where to be at times. Look at how Paul George has to wave him over to join Hibbert and George hill on the right block so that the team can continue with the set. It’s stuff like that that makes you just shake your head.
A lot of the more-complex sets are based upon proper timing. Action one may lead to action two that turns into action three, which is a decoy to open up action four. That’s a lot of things to happen within the roughly 18 seconds that a team can practically expect to have to get a good shot up. It all needs to be very precise to work well. Again, the NFL comparison: this isn’t so different from the rise of short passes to wide-outs running timing routes that are replacing much of the ground game.
NFL plays are much shorter than NBA possessions, but it still can be very detrimental to have one of your five cogs in the action dilly-dallying around while the other four are doing their jobs.
Fortunately, the starters don’t have this problem as much anymore. It’s a talented group. The defense is stout. So, if they can use crafty deception like the plays above to get Hibbert (and David West) good shots while also remembering to get a few easy-strike points in transition every game, we’re talking about adding 12-15 points to the final total.
People love to discuss “clutch” play. The Pacers, lacking a go-to scorer, are seen as a lesser team for this fact. But the truth of the modern NBA is that, while there is no ignoring the fact that elite, creative scorers are the best asset in the league, if you do the subtle stuff well for all 48 minutes, you’ll win the game by eight points and never have a need for a hero-ball maestro.