Paul George, Lance Stephenson

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.

Klay Thompson masters scoring while barely having the ball

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson follows through on a shot during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Warriors guard Klay Thompson possessed the ball for 1:28 last night.

Teammate Ian Clark had it for 2:05.

Obviously, Thompson made a little more of his opportunities.

Thompson scored an insane 60 points in 29 minutes in Golden State’s win over the Pacers.

Remarkably, he didn’t hijack the offense to produce those eye-popping numbers. Thompson shot a cool 21-of-33 from the field, and 20 of his baskets were assisted. In addition to Clark, Stephen Curry,Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston all possessed the ball longer than Thompson.

In fact, nobody has come close to scoring so much while having the ball so little.

Here are the highest scoring games since the NBA began publishing possession time in 2013-14, marking points in time of possession:

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The the second-lowest time of possession on that leaderboard was also by Thompson. He scored 52 points in 2:40 of possession against the Kings in 2015.

But even that game required more than a minute of extra touch time.

Who has scored the most points in a game while possessing the ball for fewer than two minutes? Again, Thompson litters the list – with last night blowing the rest out of the water:

  • Klay Thompson (GSW-IND 12-5-16):60 in 1:28
  • Klay Thompson (GSW-DAL 1-27-16):45 in 1:40
  • Bojan Bogdanovic (BRK-PHI 3-15-16):44 points in 1:53
  • Klay Thompson (GSW-PHO 12-16-15):43 in 1:17
  • Anthony Davis (NOP-UTA 11-22-14):43 points in 1:36

Maybe Thompson knew what he was talking about when he said he wasn’t sacrificing for Durant. Even with his usage rate down slightly, Thompson has still found ways to flourish. He gets hot in a hurry.

It does take him a while to cool down, though.

Stephen Curry runs from bench into tunnel celebrating Klay Thompson 3-pointer (video)

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Ever been so excited you didn’t know to react?

That was Stephen Curry as Klay Thompson worked his way toward 60 points in 29 minutes, running from the bench toward midcourt then doubling back and heading right into the tunnel.

Eventually, Curry found his senses and tried to put out the fire.

Donatas Motiejunas’ agent, B.J. Armstrong: ‘We have our rights. We’re not going to show up’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets and Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets fight for the loose ball at the Barclays Center on January 12, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.The Houston Rockets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 113-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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After the Rockets matched the Nets’ offer sheet, Donatas Motiejunas skipped his Houston physical today.

It doesn’t sound as if Motiejunas will become more cooperative anytime soon.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Unlike previous examples of Armstrong making foolish points to protect his clients, this could be a path that bites his client.

Motiejunas’ rights here were collectively bargained, and they’re pretty clear here.

He has a right not to undergo the physical within two days of Houston matching, but that means the Rockets can hold him in limbo through March 1. On March 2, his offer sheet would become void, and he’d be a restricted free agent – and unable to sign with Brooklyn for a year. Houston could also elect to formalize its offer match or make him a restricted free agent – still without the ability to sign with Brooklyn for a year – at any point between now and March 1.

Motiejunas probably wants the Rockets to “fail” him on his physical, which would send him to the Nets under the terms of the offer sheet. I doubt he’d even need to actually come in for a checkup if the failing is prearranged. But that’d require Houston general manager Daryl Morey squandering an asset out of the goodness of his heart.

Otherwise, Motiejunas is heading toward exercising his right to not get paid – while losing the ability for one year to sign with the one team outside Houston we know wants him.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas no-shows physical after Rockets match Nets’ offer

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Nets’ signed Rockets restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas to an offer sheet. Houston elected to match.

Case closed?

Hardly.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Houston has a right to demand Motiejunas undergo a physical within two days of exercising its matching rights, which it did yesterday. Motiejunas is requires to answer questions truthfully and supply requested medical information.

If Motiejunas fails to meet those requirements, he hangs in limbo until the Rockets decide his fate.

At any time between now and March 1, they could elect to undo their offer-sheet match. That would invalidate Motiejunas’ offer sheet and make him a restricted free agent again, and the Nets couldn’t sign him for a year. On March 2, the same effect will become automatic.

I don’t see what Motiejunas gains by not reporting. If he fails his Houston physical, he’d go to Brooklyn on the terms of the offer sheet.

By not undergoing the physical, he goes nowhere.