The Extra Pass: Indiana’s Strange Success

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme that could use another glance. Today, we swing our attention to Indiana, where the Pacers are putting together one strange season.

I wish there were a more aesthetically pleasing comparison available, but the Indiana Pacers are the cockroaches of the NBA. They are an ugly team, scattered about on the offensive end, waiting for the shot clock to tick down to the skinnier numbers so they can rush to the rim for scraps. There is very little sex appeal or sophistication here — just resiliency.

You chop off their head, and they live for 35 games and counting. Last year’s leading scorer Danny Granger hasn’t played a single minute.

You take away what they’re looking for, and they find something else. 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert is shooting 40 percent from the field and averages less than 10 points a game.

You eliminate the new addition to their ranks, and they still keep coming. Gerald Green has an 8.2 PER, good for fifth worst in the league of players who average more than 20 minutes a night.

The Pacers are 29th in offensive efficiency, 28th in field goal percentage and 29th in points per game. They should be finished already, planning their trip to Secaucus, New Jersey to watch lottery balls bounce around with the rest of the inept offensive teams in the league.

But instead, the Pacers are 21-14, fourth in the Eastern Conference, and just three games back of a Miami Heat team they vanquished last night. Three games out of first place. The Indiana Pacers. With all that going on.

How?

The best defense can be a slow offense

The Pacers have evolved in the best way– they know that they’re terrible offensively without Granger (and with Hibbert missing layups), so they’ve adapted by helping themselves on the other end. The offense, as brutal as it may be, serves a purpose for the defense by playing purposefully slow.

The Pacers play at the league’s 25th slowest pace, but they also rank 10th in offensive rebounding percentage. The victory over Miami was a wonderful example of how these two things work together. The Pacers absolutely bled the clock with the lead, and combined with their 22 offensive rebounds, they made that 8-10 points feel like 18-20 instead. The opportunities for Miami to come back in the fourth quarter were extremely limited.

Of course, taking the air out of the ball, so to speak, would mean nothing if the Pacers weren’t defending the way they are. For as every bit as bad as they’ve been offensively, the Pacers have been even better defensively.

It starts inside

Hibbert has used his own struggles at the rim as a way to exact revenge on his opponents, blocking the third most shots in the league (2.7 a game) and altering countless others. From 9-feet and in, the Pacers hold their opponents to the league’s lowest shooting percentage.

Although Hibbert isn’t fleet of foot, he’s a space eater for a defense that rarely gambles (26th in turnover percentage). The Pacers as a whole are very conservative defensively — their guards like to go under screens, and their big men rarely hedge or trap on pick-and-rolls. As a result, the Pacers are rarely scrambling to recover or asking their bigs to make lightning quick rotations.

And although he’s not noted as a defensive force, David West uses that thick chest of his as the wall to Hibbert’s sentry tower arms — opposing power forwards notch a PER of 12.2 against West, and the Pacers are about 2.4 points better defensively per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor (and a whopping net 13.5 points overall).

Thanks to West and Hibbert, and the crazy size of Paul George, the Pacers are also the 6th best defensive rebounding team in the league. Opposing teams go one-and-done offensively quite a bit.

Length on the perimeter

Another thing the Pacers do extraordinarily well defensively is defend the 3-point line. The average team this year shoots around 35.7 percent from behind the arc, but the Pacers hold their opponents to a stingy 31.6 percent shooting. That’s the top number in the league, and the length of guys like George Hill (who owns a ridiculous 6-foot-9 wingspan), Lance Stephenson (6-foot-10 wingspan) and Paul George (near 7-foot-wingspan) play into that heavily. According to Synergy Sports, the Pacers are the number one defense in the league defending against spot-up jumpers — a testament to the ability of their wings to get a hand up and contest every shot.

Coach of the Year?

There’s a reason Frank Vogel just got a contract extension, folks. The Pacers have a lot of plus individual defenders, but no one in their right mind expected them to have the league’s most efficient defense 35 games in. This is a core that has benefitted a great deal from playing together, and give Vogel credit for allowing Indiana’s starting five (Hill-Stephenson-George-West-Hibbert) to play the second most minutes together of any unit in the league — even if Indiana’s bench has been a question mark ever since he grabbed the big seat. If Tom Thibodeau can win a Coach of the Year for the defense he brought to Chicago, Vogel should at least be seriously considered if this keeps up.

Thank you, David

And here’s the reason why it might not keep up. Indiana’s Dr. Jekyl defense and Mr. Hyde offense is unlike anything we’ve seen, but a very soft schedule certainly has played into that a bit. Indiana’s strength of schedule is dead last in the league, and their SRS, a rating that factors point differential into that equation, is just 15th. Although more recent wins against  Memphis, Milwaukee and Miami are impressive, their wins prior to that came against sub .500 clubs almost exclusively. Some regression should be expected as the quality of opponents spikes back up.

But even with that said, it’s tough to deny the staying power of the league’s most resilient team to date. Things can’t possibly get worse offensively, especially since Stephenson has made such a positive impact lately. With Granger targeting a February return, there is hope on the horizon.

It’s not often we see a contender so painfully one-dimensional, but if this defense holds on to the distinction of being the best in the league, the Pacers will be awfully hard to ignore any longer.

Kobe is the Lakers’ all-time leader in steals (and other trivia rookies don’t know)

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“He played 20 years … I mean, yeah I guess.”

That’s what Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball had to say in this video after learning that Kobe Bryant was the all-time leader in steals for his franchise. You have to hand it to him, it is a little surprising. Even more surprising is that Bryant has 220 more than Magic Johnson at No. 2.

In a video posted to YouTube by Complex on Saturday, rookies tried to answer questions similar to the one Ball pondered over, like what team drafted their head coach, who the NBA all-time leading scorer is, and what day the first game of the season starts on.

A lot of the responses were pretty funny, including the guys getting wrong what year Adam Silver became NBA commissioner. Poor David Stern has already been forgotten about!

Meanwhile, Ball looked the sharpest. He’s going to come in handy when the Lakers play pub trivia.

Artist makes other 29 NBA team logos featuring the Toronto Raptor (PHOTO)

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It’s summertime in the NBA, which means a lot of us are just trying to find ways to keep our minds occupied until training camp starts.

Thankfully, some of us are artists, including u/bbnexus over at the r/NBA subreddit. Apparently they wanted to use some of the free time we have here during the NBA offseason for a little art project. Specifically, turning all of the remaining 29 NBA team logos into one featuring the Toronto Raptor.

The result is a pretty impressive amount of effort having gone into these logos. I personally think the edition for the Hawks, Timberwolves, and Celtics are the best ones.

Via Reddit:


A fun game to play here is to figure out which logo goes to which team.

Based on how some of the new Nike uniforms have turned out for teams this year, perhaps u/bbnexus should get the job designing a future ones based off of these logos.

Kevin Durant responds to school handout telling kids to avoid being like him

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Kevin Durant is having a pretty good summer. He is obviously in a full on “I have a ring now” mode and is just battling everyone he can set his sights on. He’s confident, as he should be.

Durrant responded to critical comments conservative commentator and ex-ESPNer Britt McHenry made about the Golden State Warriors forward not wanting to visit the White House should an invitation come for the team.

Now, Durant has seen a handout that a teacher gave to kids in school comparing him and Michael Jordan. In the handout, it asks kids to refrain from being like Durant, asking them not to take the easy way out by cheating in class. Instead, it asks them to be more like Michael Jordan and not take shortcuts.

That’s not even a correct interpretation of the facts, much less a very good analogy. Nevertheless, when SB nation published an article on an image of the handout on Twitter, Durant responded.

Via Twitter:

Firing might be a little harsh but perhaps the person who wrote this handout could put their hardcore sports allegiances away for a minute? Things like this and up on the Internet, you know?

Stan Van Gundy talks up Pistons’ rookie Luke Kennard

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Luke Kennard came out of Duke with one of the best jump shots in the draft — he’s got a skill that translates to the NBA and will help the Pistons. The questions were about his defense and athleticism, but he started to answer those when he averaged 17.2 points a game in the Orlando Summer League. He hit threes but generally just looks like a guy who just knows how to get buckets.

So far, at the Pistons’ training facility and in the Orlando Summer League, coach and decision maker with the Pistons Stan Van Gundy likes what he sees from his rookie, he told the Pistons’ official website.

“Pretty much what we thought offensively, maybe even did a better job passing the ball than I thought,” Van Gundy said. “He’s able to make plays off the dribble , that nice change of pace, and things I hadn’t seen a lot of. He really has a great feel for the game and how to play in addition to clearly his ability to shoot the ball….

“We’ve seen that a lot. He’s got great mental toughness,” Van Gundy said. “The thing I have great confidence in is that as he runs into challenges in the league – and everybody does and he’ll be no exception – I just think he’s a smart guy who’s adaptable. I think he’ll figure out a way to combat it. I’ve got great confidence in his ability to do that….

“The thing I didn’t know that he showed me is he has the ability to move his feet defensively. Now, he’s still got a long way to go in terms of handling some of the other things, rotations and things like that. But he certainly showed that he can get down in a stance and move his feet. I did not have a good feel for that going into the draft, so that was a positive.”

Yes, you should take a coach talking up a rookie before a game is played with a grain of salt.

However, the comment about the potential to defend is good news. SVG is right that mental toughness, and willingness to put in the work, is what will allow Kennard to take steps forward, but he has to have a baseline to get there and Van Gundy thinks he has that. Kennard has challenges ahead of him but if he can keep hitting shots the Pistons will give him time to work out everything else.

Kennard is going to get plenty of run as the backup to Avery Bradley at the two in Detroit. In with a second unit of guys like Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, Kennard is going to get his chances to score. He could put up decent numbers for a rookie.