How the Pacers Can Spread the Court and Let Their Talent Overwhelm the Hawks


The Pacers lost Game 3 by 13 points, but I thought they generally played better than they did in Game 1, in which the margin of defeat was just 8. There was a horrific offensive second quarter in Game 3, when the Pacers were unbelievably outscored 15-14, but the defense was obviously satisfactory for those 12 minutes and massive scoring droughts have, unfortunately, become expected.

Moreover, I generally enjoyed the team’s approach to offense after the half.

By and large, coach Frank Vogel spread the floor and used his most dynamic playmakers in pick-and-rolls. He did away with much of the motion offense that has, thus far, just been clogging up the lane and making it more difficult for players like Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and David West to attack.

I was advocating it heavily for this — shooters in the corners and turning the offense into a two-man game — during halftime in Game 2, pleading for Vogel to abandon the sets that leave two people clogging the paint.

Here are a few tweets from the time.

Ultimately, the offensive sets that Indiana ran in the third quarter in Game 2 worked. But more so, the Pacers played such suffocating defense they blitzed the Hawks out of the building, holding them to 5-for-20 shooting in the third quarter and using all the misses to exploit the Atlanta defense before it could really get set. This prompted the blowout and my strategy suggestions, like most of the thoughts I have, became irrelevant.

But last night, once the third quarter started, with his team down 1 and looking incapable of getting off a good shot, Vogel did what I had been waiting to see.

He simplified everything.

The offense largely turned into Space Everything And Get Your Scorers The Ball.

David West is the best “point guard” on the team. So when struggling as they have been to score, just getting him the ball near the free-throw line and giving him room to operate is better than almost anything else they can run.

It didn’t always work. The Pacers missed too many makable shots — Roy Hibbert went 0-for-3, George Hill was 0-for-5 — but the ball was often getting to places it should be. And while I don’t enjoy walking around saying ‘Told ya so,” I saw enough to think that Indiana can demolish the Hawks if they just keep running these simple sets. There were a lot of, for Indiana, very good shots created.

Mostly this is because David West is the best “point guard” on the team. So when struggling as they have been to score, just getting him the ball near the free-throw line and giving him room to operate is better than almost anything else they can run.

Here’s one key reason why.

After West sets a ball screen for Paul George, he gets the ball in a pitch back. The defense is immediately concerned about him passing the ball, and Kyle Korver drops too far to deter an entry pass to Roy Hibbert, who gets great position here. West, unlike many other Pacers, reads the defense very well and quickly, accurately delivers the ball to an open Stephenson in the corner.

Three points.

It’s that simple sometimes.

Here is another one.

More of the same. By puttin West in a high screen roll with Stephenson, he ends up getting matched up against Jeff Teague in “his office.” Now, in a vacuum, you probably want West to go at Jeff here. But the ball hadn’t been moving enough, so West didn’t force the issue. He made enough of a move to draw Mike Scott off of Lance, and kicked it out. Just his little action was enough for Born Ready to exploit the lane to the hoop.

He missed the shot, but it’s a good look. Better than they had gotten, by and large, in the first half.

As mentioned, West could have easily just leaned back and got his shot off over Teague. That’s the other reason why getting him the ball in this position, surrounded by shooters is rarely a bad option.

Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland did a piece on the best shooters from each region of the court. West was the best on the right elbow/short wing area, where he hit 53% of shots. And he just generally shoots very well from everywhere in the midrange.

West /

In Goldsberry’s four-quadrant midrange breakdown, West shot (from right to left, when he is facing the rim), 48%, 53%, 44%, and 42%. Only that last number is significantly lower than the Pacers regular season team shooting percentage of 49.5%.

So essentially, when Indiana gets West the ball they have a dual-pronged threat: He can pop a good shot (for him) at anytime or use his point forward skills to survey the court and make the right decision. There is also what I refer to as his Power Dirk game.

The Mavericks famously won a title by riding on the back of Dirk Nowitzki, who for one postseason became absolutely unstoppable in the midrange. He would back down his foes just enough, they coolly lean back and one-legged fadeaway after one-legged fadeaway.

West operates similarly in “his office” at times, except he pushes forward with a bit more bulk and ferocity before taking his shot, which may be a lean-back jumper or a final surge forward into enemy lines that almost resembles a power floater.

In short, giving West the ball in the middle of the floor is a mini offense unto itself. And particularly against a team like Atlanta — which has few defensive answers in a talent sense for West, Paul George, and Stephenson — it is one that should continually create an advantage. Since West is shooting 53.6% so far in the playoffs and Lance (at 47.5%) is the only other starter north of 41.0%, it’s probably better than most alternatives.

Let’s look at more film from the second half of Game 3.

Here is another version, though this uses a Hill/George pick and roll to initiate a set that gets West the ball on the right wing.

Here they turn a George/West screen roll on the right wing into a two-man game that gets PG a triple in the corner. West is patient, so George becomes the best pass recipient, but had he wanted to move more quickly, he could have easily swung it to Hill on the opposite wing once Teague cheated too far over.

This next clip shows something closer to that second option and makes you realize how well the ball can move.

You couldn’t start an offense simpler than clearing out and giving the ball to a big target on the right elbow. Through some unselfish passing, the Pacers get a good driving lane for Hill on the baseline. Hill is making all sorts of bad decisions lately so it wasn’t shocking to see him attempt a rough layup here. But Lance is there to finish.

Moreover, the point is that the Pacers are moving the ball around using West as an offensive catalyst. How many times have we seen Indiana get three reasonable shot options within a single shot clock?

In other instances, West can be more aggressive.

These two clips are both misses (late in the quarter … perhaps his legs are a bit tired), but they resemble the same shots that West makes time and time again.

It isn’t just about West though.

Indiana continued to stay spread out in the fourth after Luis Scola started the period. And due to some nice play by Scola and just better shot making in general, the process yielded a higher rate of scoring.

Look at this beauty with Scola slipping the screen.

Or how about this gem? With all the spaced out shooters, the lane remains wide open for Luis to make a simple shot fake and walk all the way to the hoop.

I’m not trying to kill Atlanta here — they simply lack a deep reservoir of talent — but it’s so simple to exploit them if you just spread them out and let your talent overwhelm theirs. It’s when everything is bogged down in the paint that Indiana’s young, inexperienced wing creators make the worst decisions. By creating space through having shooters in the corners, there is just so much more room for everyone else to operate.

Look how easily C.J. Watson is able to toss this over to Scola for the open J in the midst of Atlanta’s defenders just scrambling around lost.

In this instance, Watson keeps it and takes an open midrange jumper. He misses, but that’s not the important part. What stands out is how open he is and how easy it is for him to decide what to do in space.

This next clip is probably the best example of why this makes everything so easy.

Paul George and David West just operate at the top of the key while everyone else stands aside, ensuring that their defenders cannot come attack George or West. When George finally decides to attack Kyle Korver, who actually plays this really well, it takes only a simple spin move to draw the attention of another defender, Lou Williams. This is a breakdown by Atlanta. Korver had George contained, but Williams expected that he wouldn’t and helped over preemptively. He leaves Lance wide open and Indiana gets an easy 3.

Here is the same concept but even better.

This time it’s a George/Watson pick and roll (which I would like to see more), and it leads to the most-open shot Scola gets all game.

Spreading it out in the second half against Atlanta didn’t get Indiana a victory. But I believe it did work. That last shot cut the lead to 6 with 7 minutes left, and overall the Pacers scored 47 second-half points. This after putting up 14 in the second quarter.

Spreading it out in the second half against Atlanta didn’t get Indiana a victory. But I believe it did work.

In Game 3, it was more the defense that let them down. They gave up 10 three-pointers in the final two quarters while allowing the Hawks to put up 59 points. We showed how a big reason that happened was basic communication breakdown.

It seems pretty clear that the defensive adjustment Frank Vogel tried (switching a lot on the perimeter) was aimed at keeping Roy Hibbert on the court. That was a bad call.

But this offensive adjustment — going vanilla and relying on tried-and-true stuff — was successful.