The Indiana Pacers Must Stop Getting Bullied

Nov 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) looks to pass the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) defends in the second quarter of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) looks to pass the ball while Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) defends in the second quarter of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers give us a reason to frown once again, but we can turn it upside down and into a smile with a few small tweaks.

What’s wrong with these Indiana Pacers?

No, you can’t say everything, even if that’s the way it feels right now. Indiana has plenty of issues to fix, especially defensively, but that doesn’t mean everything is irreparably broken with the Pacers.

A Reason to Frown

To a casual observer, the modern NBA is a haven for the napoleons of the world — a place where David routinely trumps Goliath. And with reason: A set of rule changes during the 1990s banned hand-checking and encouraged freedom of defensive movement, emphasizing quickness over size and speed over strength — making pick-and-rolls more dynamic, and rendering post-ups less efficient.

But the Association can still be a scary place for smalls. Being undersized can make you a liability, and smart teams are not kind to liabilities; their offenses will attack you, and their defenses will ostracize you.

Monta Ellis is a glaring example. The Hornets had a field day at his expense (at every Pacers’ expense, in fairness):

Monta is actually a tougher post-up than you’d think. He’s strong, and trying to beat him with quickness is like trying to win a ping pong match against the propped up side of the table. Kidd-Gilchrist gets free for an open hook here only by using his left elbow to chicken wing Ellis out of position — a foul.

Still, there are some matchups he simply can’t handle one on one. Ellis is probably 6’0 at best (he’s listed at 6’3, but I’m skeptical). And you don’t need to throw it into the post to exploit the size advantage.

Ellis gets lost around the screen, but it hardly matters how close he stuck to Batum. A contest is effective when it disrupts the concentration of the shooter; Michael Phelps wasn’t all that close to this poor guy, but he sure did affect the shot.

The most distracting thing to a shooter, Olympians aside, is the fear of getting their shot blocked. Monta Ellis can get as close to Nic Batum as he wants, but he has no chance of blocking his shot, and Nic Batum knows it. Stick Monta on any shooter with some size, and you’re asking to get rained on.

And smart teams free of paint-cloggers will manipulate alignments, making Ellis defend the rim.

Even when he’s in position, Monta just isn’t much of an impediment. Smalls aren’t well-versed in verticality, and you need a wider base and some length to really execute it anyway. To have any shot at preventing easy dunks, Ellis has to get to the spot earlier, which opens up skip passes for deadly corner threes, and does nothing to prevent soft-touch bigs from feathering uncontested flip shots.

Even when he plays his smartest, most dialed-in basketball, Monta Ellis is one bad matchup away from getting played off the floor.

Turning that Frown Upside Down

At the end of the day, Monta Ellis isn’t the problem. Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and Joe Young are the problem; you just can’t play all those minis and not expose some serious pressure points.

The simple solution: Stop playing them — a drastic change for sure, but these are drastic times. Sure: It’s only ten games into the season, and the Pacers are 4-6— a mere two wins off .500. But it’s the process, not the results that are terrifying. (Alright, the results are pretty scary too.) The defense at the point of attack is atrocious, and the backline defense is worse still. Playing a switchier core lineup could prove to be a fix-all.

My suggestion:

PG: Paul George

SG: C.J. Miles

SF: Glenn Robinson III

PF: Georges Niang

C: Myles Turner

Paul George is the best ball-handler on the team and it’s not close; he’s the best passer and finisher, and he’s the only guy with a trap worthy jumper. A George-centric lineup wouldn’t miss the mighty mice’s playmaking.

Spacing would be an issue, but it already is, and neither Ellis nor Teague is helping. Move the chess pieces around, and you could find enough oxygen to breathe.

Georges Niang is a rookie, but he’s a Draymondesque trap-buster capable of whipping hook passes to the corners and feathering lobs over the top; he should be the roll man. (He also shot the lights out from three in college and has some tantalizing potential as a floor spacer/pop man, but it’s unreasonable to think he can find his sea legs from the NBA line so quickly.)

The weak side perimeter is the perfect spot for C.J. Miles— en Fuego right now, and always ready to launch a left-shoulder bomb.

It’d be nice if Myles Turner had extended his range to the Great Beyond over the summer, but he is still can’t miss from midrange. Slotting him in the strongside corner could ease his transition behind the arc and open up the middle of the floor, since teams are reluctant to abandon a shooter only one pass away, in the deadliest area on the court.

More from 8 Points, 9 Seconds

Glenn Robinson III is the toughest fit; he has reportedly made admirable strides towards improving his stroke, but he’s a non-shooter right now, and teams will be happy to ignore him. That gets tougher the closer he gets to the rim.  Robinson is an explosive athlete with the length to snatch errant lobs from the rafters and throw them down; putting him in the dunker spot could negate some of the spacing issues, and even open up some corner threes off secondary rotations.

Defensively, this unit would be flawed, but it’s tough to imagine it faring worse than the current incarnation. Switching one through four — even one through five if Turner proves capable— could curb a lot of the initial breakdowns, preventing the emergency help rotations Indiana struggles with.

When the front lines do fail, they’d be better equipped to protect the rim. They would always have the length around the basket regardless of how opposing offenses manipulated the alignments, and benching Thad Young is addition by subtraction; Georges Niang is already a far more intuitive helper.

If the situation called for more traditional drop-back schemes, Paul George and Glenn Robinson could handle the most potent ball-handlers, letting C.J. Miles find a safe place to hide.

Understandably: Indiana won’t go for this coup. GRIII has had his moments, but they don’t trust him enough yet to make him part of their core; if they did, he’d be playing more than eleven minutes per night. Georges Niang is a talented rookie, but he’s a rookie, and they don’t like him as much as I do.

Perhaps above all else: Indiana believes in Jeff Teague and Aaron Brooks. They clearly see something in Teague that I don’t — they pined after him for years— and Aaron Brooks has been a sparkplug off the bench and a legitimate factor from deep. These guys, along with Ellis, will have a big hand in the Pacers’ fate this year — like it or not.

But some kind of change needs made.

Luckily, Nate McMillan has already taken a step in the right direction by replacing Ellis in the starting lineup with C.J. Miles. A little more of the same would do some good; hiding one liability is burdensome, two is backbreaking. If the Pacers see to it that their collection of minis only sees the floor together on the rarest of occasions, it will be a step in the right direction.

A Reason to Smile

I can’t say I’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of play-calling creativity during Nate McMillan’s first few games as Pacers head coach, but every now and then you see something that makes you smile. This little ditty to take the lead in overtime against the Sixers made me smile:

It’s tough to spot, but Jeff Teague and Myles Turner run a pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor, with Philly dropping back to corral it. As the play kicks off, Paul George is standing in the middle of the paint— curious for two reasons:

  1. He’s in the direct path of Jeff Teague and Myles Turner, preventing them from getting to the gooey center of the defense.
  2. Paul George is Indiana’s best shooter. You want your best shooters on the perimeter, pulling defenders out of the paint and exchanging two points for three when the defense collapses.

George screens the defending big (Turner’s man), forcing his defender (No. 33 Robert Covington) to step up and prevent Jeff Teague from nonchalantly making his way to the rim for a soft two. Now completely uncovered, George sprints to the top of the arc for a wide open three.


Next: Which Former Indiana Pacers From Last Season Do They Miss the Most?

Normally teams would never leave Paul George alone — not when they could leave a non-threat like Ellis instead. It’s going to take more creative sets like this to squeeze the juice out of some limited Indiana Pacers lineups. Keep ‘em coming.