Indiana’s Awful Offense: Too Much Bad Isolation

(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports) /

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.

(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports) /

Since The Struggle began, a popular criticism of the Pacers offense has been a lack of ball movement. Roy Hibbert famously said the team had “some selfish dudes.” The insinuation is that certain people are prioritizing stats, glory, and money over the all-for-one, one-for-all style that helped make this team greater than the sum of its parts.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call anyone selfish, Hibbert’s claims do hold a bit of water in an on-court sense. Increasingly since the Pacers really started to slide around the beginning of March, we have seen some of the perimeter players be too willing to break off the offense and call their own number.

It’s one thing when you’re doing such things and scoring or setting up teammates to do so. It’s altogether another, however, when you use those opportunities to take horrible, head-scratching shots.

Paul George has been the biggest offender. And his sins started before the slide even.

Some have pointed to Indiana’s awful loss in Orlando as the beginning of the fall. At the time, it was an awful collapse that seemed like an anomaly. Now, it stands out a bit more as a possible microcosm for, at least a part, of what ails the offense.

The Pacers had a 17-lead in the fourth quarter before forgetting how to score and letting the Magic, and in particular Victor Oladipo, run roughshod over them on the way to a big-time comeback victory. Despite Indiana falling apart, it still had a decent chance to win late.

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That’s when Paul George went into full-on hero mode.

He had reason to think he could be the savior that would salvage the win. Because at first, he kind of was. George started out by drilling a 3-pointer after a mad scramble for multiple rebounds that cut Orlando’s lead (which had reached as high as 7) to 3. Two minutes later, he stuck another triple, this one in complete isolation after a step-back move. But time was running down (37 second to go) and Indiana was down by 5, so it’s hard to judge.

His decision making that led to his next two shots was harder to swallow, however.

With 15 on the shot clock and his team down 2, George chucked a 25-foot 3-pointer. It missed. The basketball gods gave Indiana one last chance, though, when Lance Stephenson stole an inbounds pass with 9 seconds to play and the Pacers down just 1.

Paul George got the ball, raced up court — and opted for a pull-up midrange jumper while surrounded by three defenders rather than passing to two wide-open teammates (George Hill on the wing and C.J. Watson in the corner).

It was a big-time “YIKES” moment, and here are Paul’s final four shots of that game shown in the clip below.

After the game, this is what our own Ben Gibson wrote while assessing PG’s play.

"People are going to over analyze that last play and ignore him pulling up for a 3-pointer earlier when the lane looked open. PG did fine on the night as he had 27 points on while shooting above 50 percent from the field and beyond the arc."

It was clear that those two decisions were not ideal, but the guy was the team’s rock all season to that point and he had used similar heroics earlier to get fouled by Iman Shumpert on a 3-point attempt to force overtime (where Indiana won) and nearly beat the Blazers in miraculous fashion.

I recall defending the decision (or at least the instinct behind it) on Twitter, essentially using the Portland game as a precedent as well as what I consider the “missing a putback after an offensive rebound defense.” Essentially, if you do the work to get that board and you then take an ill-advised shot that misses, how mad can people really be with you? It was only because of your effort that the scenario existed. Here, the Pacers would have likely lost by 8 if Paul George hadn’t hit the two earlier 3s so while he overplayed his hand later, he was playing with house money.

It’s a flawed theory, of course. But Indiana was the best team in the NBA at the time and George was halfway up in his ascension to basketball heaven.

That was then.

This is now.

And it’s now easy to pick this game as when an isolation, “I’m just gonna throw something up here, OK?” mentality started to disrupt the offense’s flow.

Still, I hesitate to call this selfish behavior. To me, the term “selfish” connotates something very negative about a person’s character. I really don’t think that applies here. Sure, Lance clearly had one eye on his stats a bit early in the year, and I’m sure George enjoyed being listed near the top of the NBA’s points per game leader board.

But I don’t think the tendency to freelance outside of the offense was about selfishness or greed. I think it was more about two other things:

(1) It often worked. Paul George created so much offense early in the year by creating space in the midrange and hitting shots. And Lance’s freelancing outside of set plays was arguably even more helpful since so many of his dribbling clinics led to him blowing by his man only to dish off to a wide-open teammate.

(2) The general lack of respect Indiana has for possessions. Their carelessness is in my eyes a product of this, and all the early wins this season only reinforced the mentality. What’s a possession here or there when you know you’ll just lock things down on defense over a 5-minute stretch in the third quarter and end up winning by 12 points?

So let’s not confuse the increasing acceptance of isolation and freelancing as selfishness. I’d argue it is more laziness or a misguided belief that it’s a good method to help the team score.

All that said, there are plenty of egregious examples.

In the above clip, we see Paul George get a rebound, dribble the ball up the court, run a high pick-and-roll action with Roy Hibbert and then abandon everything just to meander around the midrange and launch a horrible shot.

Here are two possessions where George commits similar, yet even uglier versions of the same sin.  Why somebody would continue to try to score after clearly making no headway in gaining an advantage over their defender is hard to fathom. It’s like Paul George is trying to recreate a Worst of Kobe Bryant montage.

Of course, it’s unfair to pick on only George.

Everyone likes to harp on “Bad Lance,” and we’ve seen examples of late for sure.

Often, “Bad Lance” is a guy over-dribbling and trying way to hard to get into the teeth of the defense. Sometimes it ends with him forcing an off-kilter layup or making a horrible, flashy pass, but there is usually at least a decent ideal behind his motivation.

The worst part of late, highlighting in these two clips above, is that we are seeing Lance looking less for high-percentage shots near the rim or highlight-reel assists, but instead for jumpers for himself.

In these videos, he actually makes both shots, too, and stuff like this only reinforces bad behavior. Look at the play against the Warriors (on top). Just stunningly bad basketball.

Then there is Evan Turner, who seems to think him shooting is the solution to all possessions.

Just look at this nonsense. Spin dribbles. Back downs. Fadeaways. Never once looking at a teammate. You often get the full toolkit of isolation with Turner.

Here is another. More of the same.

If you had to list which Pacers abuse isolation the most often, my rankings would go Turner, George, and then Stephenson.

Though George Hill also enters the fray from time to time.

Like here. Quite gross.

I suppose that is enough clips. You get the point.

Of course, every team has some players that chew up shot clock and force shots on occasion. And I wouldn’t even say this is the worst of the Pacers problems. The lack of ball movement has, in some ways, been a red herring to the larger offensive woes, and moreover the lack of ball movement isn’t solely a byproduct of isolation.

Still, the Pacers do go into over-dribble mode more often now than they did early in the year, and the possessions they waste just add to the multitude of reasons they can no longer score at a respectable rate.