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.

NBA’s Basketball Without Borders to host first event in Australia

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21:  A general view is seen of the city skyline over Melbourne Park during day three of the 2015 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Andrew Bogut. Dante Exum. Matthew Dellavedova. Patty Mills. Joe Ingles. Technically Kyrie Irving (he was born there but plays internationally for the USA).

Australia has brought a fair amount of talent — and scrappy players — to the NBA, and now the NBA is taking one of its outreach programs there.

Yesterday the NBA, FIBA, and Australia’s National Basketball League announced a Basketball without Borders event June 23-26 at Dandenong Basketball Stadium in Melbourne. It’s the first time the community outreach program will come to the island nation of Australia.

“We are pleased to partner with FIBA and the NBL to bring the first Basketball without Borders camp to Australia,” NBA Asia Managing Director Scott Levy said in a statement. “The league has seen a surge of Australian talent in recent years, and we look forward to supporting the next generation by giving them a platform to showcase their skills alongside their peers from throughout the region.”

These events bring in youth basketball players and work with them, both giving young players highest quality instruction and raising the profile of the sport in the nation with a little star power. Basketball Without Borders will celebrate 15 years this summer and has been all over the globe with similar events.

Now they can check Australia off the list.

Free agent Nicolas Batum sounds like a guy who wants to return to Charlotte

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 17: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets  looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs  at American Airlines Arena on April 17, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Let’s not pretend it’s about anything else — it’s about the money.

Nicolas Batum is a free agent this summer, right after the best season of his career averaging 14.9 points a game and shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. The last couple years quality “3&D” guys such as DeMarre Carroll have gotten paid bit money, and Batum is next on that list.

But all things being equal, he sounds like a player who would love to stay with Charlotte. Look at what he said the day of exit interviews to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:

“We should be playing tomorrow (in the Eastern Conference semifinals) and we’re pretty mad about that,” Batum said of Sunday’s Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat.

“So this is unfinished business.”

“It was a pretty cool year. First time I got to play like I want to in eight years in the NBA.”

Batum went on to say the Hornets will be the first team he speaks with July 1. If the Hornets want to keep him, they will get their chance.

The Hornets have some difficult decisions to make this summer. In addition to Batum, their most coveted free agent around the league, the Hornets also have Jeremy Lin (who will opt out), Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and Courtney Lee. Keeping all of them may not be possible in a market where teams are flush with cap space thanks to the new television deal and overspending.

It may take a max or at least near max deal to keep Batum — GMs across the league saw what he could do this season and want him. That fifth year that only Charlotte can offer may be key for a guy who will be on the other side of 30 when he tries to get his next contract. Which is overpaying some, but that’s what the market will be like this summer. The Hornets have to decide their priorities on bringing their current core of free agents back, and what price tag they are willing to pay for each guy.

But if they are willing to pay, Batum would like to be back.

Kevin Love says he’s fine after leg, shoulder injuries in Game 1 vs. Hawks

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Kevin Love was hobbling off the court more like he just played a football game than a basketball game. He took a few hits during the game.

The most notable was to his surgically repaired shoulder left when the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore bought a pump fake and ended up landing on that shoulder (video above). Love came off the court holding his shoulder after that one, which was a little too reminiscent of last year for Cavs fans. Then there was the leg injury when he landed awkwardly trying to tip out a rebound.

So how is Love doing? He said after the game he’s just fine, as reported by Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.

“I’m fine,” Love said. “It was just one of those plays. You’ve always got to watch those plays when you pump fake on the 3-point line or on a jump shot and you’re leaning in and get hit, but I feel good.”

Love also came up limping later in the quarter when he landed awkwardly on his toe. He was weight-bearing in a vulnerable position for his knee momentarily, but appeared to catch himself before coming out of the game. A team source said it was more of a precaution than a necessity, as the game was well in hand by that point.

Love will be on the court for Game 2 Wednesday night. He had 17 points (but on 4-of-17 shooting) and 11 rebounds in Game 1, finishing a +15 on a night when the Cavaliers starters did their jobs, and the bench showed its flaws. I thought this could be a breakout big playoff series for Love, and his shooting certainly did not live up to that billing, but he did draw Kent Bazemore on him (keeping him off LeBron), which is a good thing. Also, he did a solid job defensively matched up on Al Horford (4-of-13 shooting) and if he can continue that the Cavs path to the next round is easier.

Spurs fan grabbed Steven Adams arm during final, wild play of Game 2

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 2: Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder grabs a rebound against the San Antonio Spurs during game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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We went over a lot of the wild, freewheeling final 13 seconds of Oklahoma City’s Game 2 win over San Antonio — there were a host of missed calls both ways, the most egregious being Dion Waiters shoving Manu Ginobili from out of bounds.

Or was it? How about a fan grabbing a player, trying to keep him from returning to the court? That happened to Steven Adams of the Thunder after his brilliant — very possibly game saving — close out on Patty Mills corner three.

That’s just wrong. And you can add it to the list of things the referees just did not see.

The only silver lining here is it didn’t impact the play, with just two seconds left Adams was not going to get back into rugby scrum that was happening on the ground under the basket. A scrum the Thunder won (after fouling LaMarcus Aldridge) along with the game.

If the league can find out who that fan was, he or she should be banned from the front row of future games.