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Indiana's Awful Offense: Bad Screening

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As we move towards the playoffs, we will continue to detail the many woes that plague the Pacers’ Awful Offense. From turnovers and poor rebounding to bad screens and too much isolation, we’ll try to explain it all. This is the latest break down.

One of Indiana’s biggest problems is one of the sport’s smallest things. Well, not really. Setting screens is in no way a small detail. Picks are to great basketball offense as grease is to a car engine; without them, the gears grind to a halt and the system seizes up.

Or something. I’m not a mechanic.

I am someone who knows that nobody ever talks about the quality of screens a team sets. There is no metric that isolates it, and nobody is going to sit in front of a television camera and teach the public about picks. They’re boring, and most teams have plenty of professionals who do that job just fine. Unless we’re discussing Stockton and Malone, the presumption is just that screens happen without incident as they should.

The Pacers, however, appear to be an exception. At least of late.

Mike Prada of SB Nation hit the nail on the head in a post he wrote not long ago.

The team’s bigs are not settling good screens and the wings are struggling to use even good screens properly to get open. Paul George spoke on this after the Pacers lost to the Spurs, as reported by Mark Montieth of Pacers.com.

“We’re not catching the ball where we want to catch the ball, we’re not screening, we’re not getting open from screens,” said George, who hit 5-of-13 shots. “You play against any defense without setting a screen … you look at [the Spurs], they were hitting us all night. It’s tough. Especially for me, coming off screens and the whole defense is there. I don’t have an advantage because we’re not screening. Teams are locked in on me and what we do. We’re not screening to get guys open.”

When guys are talking to newspaper reporters about screening, you know it’s bad.

This play against the Grizzlies epitomizes the problem.

As George Hill stands at the top of the key, neither Paul George (right wing) nor Lance Stephenson (left) are able to burst open on the wing. Forget trying to catch a pass in a position to do something effective with it — they can’t even get open enough for Hill to swing the ball. Sure, Memphis is pressuring these guys well, but the screens by West and Hibbert are so lazy and neither wing player does much to separate from his man. We’re talking about fundamental, junior varsity-level techniques to initiate offense.

After Hill is forced to keep the rock, with the shot clock ticking away, nothing much happens. There is some on-ball screen action that the savvy Grizzlies easily dismantle and then we get a last-ditch long-two taken by David West.

Here’s another instance of simultaneous bad picks on the wings, highlighted expertly in GIF form by Prada for SB Nation.

bad_screens

With no advantage gained on the wing, Stephenson gets the ball back in the same position from which the set began. Hibbert then came up for a secondary action, attempting a pick and roll with Lance, but it wasn’t effective either, so against a dwindling shot clock, Stephenson ends up taking a bad shot.

It’s really that simple.

One or two less-than-optimal screens that don’t allow the set to progress, and you’re now up against the shot clock, and someone has to force something. It makes the ballhandler look bad, and that guy gets blamed for too much isolation, but really the fault in this set doesn’t reside with Stephenson. He’s arguably the only one who does anything useful during the whole possession. But fans just see him take a bad shot, so this is written off as Bad Lance when it’s really Bad Screen(s).

And it has happened over and over and over.

Here’s another example that, again, features two bad screens.

First off, the Pacers don’t seem to be on the same page here as Donald Sloan has to redirect Luis Scola, who then heads to the left corner to set a pick on Mike Dunleavy, Jr. He isn’t screened at all, and Chris Copeland doesn’t get free whatsoever. Then Cope comes over to set an on-ball pick for Sloan. Both guys involved here execute poorly; Copeland doesn’t get big and angle himself properly and Sloan doesn’t wait for the pick to be set.

It takes both players to make this work. So it’s always stunning when both mess it up so badly.

The result is Evan Turner, probably rightfully so, realizing this set is dead in the water and just going into scorer mode. He isn’t able to get anything on his own either and it’s another wasted possession.

Add the possessions ruined by bad screens to those lost to turnovers and those plagued by bad isolation, and it’s easy to see how a team that can usually muster 22 to 23 points per quarter often ends up down around 18. Do that a few quarters in a game, and that’s how a middle-of-the-road offense becomes the Bucks.

Here is another example

Look at Scola and Paul George screw up this simple pin-down screen twice on the right wing. Somehow Scola and PG both run into Jimmy Butler when the whole goal here is to free George to curl to the middle to catch a pass in a position to score. But if at first you don’t succeed — George heads back down into the paint — try, try again. Note that the shot clock has ticked down to 13 and PG is standing in the restricted area. Scola attempts a phantom pick, sorta rolling his back towards Butler, and PG can’t run him off the Argentine’s large frame.

On the weak side, nobody even moves. They seem to just be staring at their teammates and scratching their heads at the collective incompetence.

The result, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, is Evan Turner giving up on the action and trying to make something happen. He had been standing there dribbling beyond the arc for nearly 10 seconds with Mike Dunleavy in front of him looking like a porkchop to a cartoon hungry person.

So, sure, Turner could have waited a bit longer, but does anyone actually think the team would have gotten a better look in the next 7 seconds? It seems unlikely, so we again wind up with a finish that looks like Turner overdribbling and calling his own number. But the downfall of this set was the awful fundamentals displayed by PG and Scola.

Turner is just the fall guy. 

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