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.

Spike Lee says not everyone at Nike thought Jordan should be face of company at first

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We have mythologized Michael Jordan into a man who could almost walk on water, and could certainly walk on air. He legitimately is the GOAT — or, at the very least, one of a handful of players ever worthy of being in that conversation — but the idea he is perfect is far from true.  (He was 6-7 in getting his team to the Finals, LeBron is 8-4, so LeBron lifted lesser teams farther, to use one devil’s advocate argument).

Not everyone always believed in Jordan, and that came out in a couple recent articles.

The Chicago Tribune ran a June 20, 1984, article about Jordan being drafted from their paper, where then GM Rod Thorn was not exactly selling Jordan as a franchise changing player.

“There just wasn’t a center available,” said Thorn. “What can you do?”

“He’s only 6-5,” said Thorn, who must use a different yardstick than Dean Smith, the Carolina coach. Down where the tobacco grows, Jordan has always been 6-6, not that one inch ever stopped Jordan from crashing the boards, hitting from the outside or playing substantially above sea level. By the time he gets to Chicago, or when negotiations for his wages get sticky, Jordan may be the size of a jockey. The Bulls aren’t even sure where to play Jordan. “Big guard, small forward,” said coach Kevin Loughery.

Jordan ended up being the perfect player at the perfect time — an all-time great who peaked just as the popularity of the game took off, and with a little help from Nike his image blew up.

Except, not everybody at Nike was down with Jordan being the face of the organization, Spike Lee told Sole Collector (remember Lee and his commercials helped blow up Jordan’s image).

“People don’t know about this, but the truth is a lot of people were speaking in Mr. Knight’s ear that it might not be too good for Nike to have Michael Jordan as the face of the company,” Lee revealed to Sole Collector. He added that there were worries that Jordan “might not appeal to white America, or the general market as a whole.”

Jordan, obviously, transcended the market and everything else.

But Jordan had his doubters and had his rough patches. He got his head handed to him year after year by the Bad Boy Pistons, who taught him how to win the hard way. He was thought of as the guy who couldn’t win the big one, who was too selfish a player to lead a team to a title.

In hindsight, it’s laughable. But that’s what you get when you try to define a person’s legacy before his career is over.

 

Jimmy Butler shows up in Minnesota wearing a fanny pack and holding a football (PHOTO)

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, reunited with former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. A draft day trade between the Bulls and the Timberwolves saw Butler head to Minnesota in exchange for the No. 7 pick in 2017 NBA Draft, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn.

Butler and Thibodeau get along quite well, and there’s little doubt Butler will be one of the league leaders in minutes played for the Timberwolves next season. With the trade finalized, Butler showed up in Minnesota this week alongside Thibodeau wearing a very Butler-esque outfit.

There’s no good way to describe it other than by looking at it.

Via Twitter:

The Bulls got hosed.

Big3 begins: 3-on-3 league has close games, not much Allen Iverson

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NEW YORK (AP) Allen Iverson plans to be more spectator than scorer in the Big3.

The Iverson of old might be the only thing Ice Cube’s new 3-on-3 basketball venture can’t deliver.

The rapper-actor’s league of former NBA players got off to a strong start Sunday, with the first two games both decided on winning shots in front of 15,177 fans.

Iverson’s team won the third game, though as player-coach he only put himself in for 9 minutes. At 42 years old, the former NBA MVP said he doesn’t expect to be playing heavy minutes in the 10-game season.

“But I think the best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The quality of play was spotty, as players had to shake off sometimes years of rust. But it was certainly competitive.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly good. The games are exciting, the players are still talented and they’re fun to watch,” said Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who coached Power to a 62-58 victory over Tri State in the second game on DeShawn Stevenson’s 3-pointer.

Entertainers such as LL Cool J and NBA All-Star James Harden were in the crowd for the first two games before Iverson, the main attraction among players, took the court following a concert.

He may be the biggest name in the league, but his role on the court will be minor.

“I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. “Playing part is not going to be what you expect.

“You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

He can’t be blamed, given the risk of injury for players way past their primes. Jason Williams, the flashy point guard nicknamed “White Chocolate,” went down with a right leg injury late in the opener, and Corey Maggette had to come out of the second game. Both were expected to be OK.

And that might not stop more players from wanting to play. Recently retired Paul Pierce was in the crowd and Andre Owens, the star of Iverson’s 3’s Company, said Kevin Garnett might want to play.

“Sky’s the limit. Obviously you see the debut,” Iverson said. “I didn’t even expect it to be like this, and then obviously guys that’s retired now, to see the outcome of this situation right here, probably are going to get that itch.”

Games are played to 60 points but teams have to win by two, and getting to 60 wasn’t enough in either of the first two games.

In the opener, Rashard Lewis made a three-point play with his team facing game point as 3 Headed Monsters edged Ghost Ballers 62-60.

The game has gimmicks – Lewis made the first 4-point shot and teams had 14 seconds to shoot. Team names included 3’s Company and Killer 3s and some players wore nicknames on their jerseys, with Jerome Williams going with “Junk Yard Dog” on his.

Cube vowed the games would be competitive – players are vying for a revenue share based on final league standings. There was pushing and shoving in the post and a few hard fouls, and the physicality and trash talk appeared to heat up as the games went on. With hand checking allowed, the games looked nothing like today’s NBA game.

“Some people like that style, some people don’t,” Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin said. “So we’re here to fill that void for the people that appreciate the way the game has been played forever, you know what I’m saying? Basketball is a contact sport.”

The eight-team league will play on 10 weekends, culminating with the Aug. 26 championship in Las Vegas. Games are shown on Monday nights on Fox Sports 1.

3 HEADED MONSTERS 62, GHOST BALLERS 60

The 3 Headed Monsters blew a late lead after Williams went down and the Ghost Ballers went ahead 60-59 before Lewis scored and drew a foul, making the free throw to finish the game.

Lewis finished with 27 points and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the 3 Headed Monsters. Ricky Davis led the Ghost Ballers with 23 points.

POWER 62, TRI STATE 58

Stevenson finished with 20 points for the Power, making five 3-pointers. Maggette scored 15 and Cuttino Mobley had 14.

Jermaine O’Neal scored 18 points for Tri State, coached by Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Mike James had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

3’S COMPANY 61, BALL HOGS 51

Andre Owens had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Iverson’s team. DerMarr Johnson added 14 points and Al Thornton scored 13.

Iverson finished 1 for 6 with two assists.

Rasual Butler made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Ball Hogs. Derrick Byars chipped in 19.

TRILOGY 60, KILLER 3’s 45

Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game of the day. James White added 16.

Reggie Evans scored 18 and Stephen Jackson 17 for the losers.

Watch Draymond Green name all 34 players drafted before him in 2012 (VIDEO)

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Is Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green a petty guy? I will leave that for you to decide.

He is certainly determined, a characteristic that has led him and the Warriors to two championships in the last three seasons.

Green was famously a second round pick, drafted No. 35 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. And according to the video I’m about to show you, Green can recite the name of every single player who was drafted before him in 2012.

No, seriously.

Via twitter:

This might be the best video I’ve ever put on this website.