Paul George, Lance Stephenson

The Extra Pass: Indiana’s Strange Success


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.


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.

Kevin Durant to media: You treated Kobe Bryant ‘like s—‘

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant once told the media, “You guys really don’t know s—.”

The Thunder star expressed regret, but if he knew how we were going to treat Kobe Bryant, he might have stuck to his guns.

Durant, via Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him. He was our Michael Jordan. I watched Michael towards the end of his career when he was with the Wizards, and I seen that’s what Kobe emerged as the guy for us.

I’ve been disappointed this year because you guys treated him like s—. He’s a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting. It’s time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like s—, and I didn’t really like it. So hopefully, now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire after this year. It was sad the way he was getting treated, in my opinion.

But he had just an amazing career, a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Means so much to the game of basketball. Somebody I’m always going to look to for advice, for help, for anything. Just a brilliant, brilliant, intelligent man. And it’s sad to see him go.

Kobe is shooting 20% from the floor and 30% on 3-pointers for a 2-14 team. How else should we describe his season?

Why not bash the person most publicly critical of Kobe? Or the many people around the NBA who recognize how far Kobe has fallen? Or Byron Scott, who has repeatedly intensified discussion of Kobe’s demise?

Why is the media, which is not some monolithic entity anyway, the primary target?

There are writers who fawn over Kobe, writers who criticize him and many more who do both. We don’t all think alike.

If we did, Durant would be bound to treat Kobe like s—, too.

Hassan Whiteside thanks Hassan Whiteside in Kobe Bryant tribute

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Like many players, Hassan Whiteside posted a tribute to Kobe Bryant upon the Laker star’s retirement announcement.

But Whiteside’s is a bit, um, different.

Whiteside salutes himself for making Kobe smile. (That’s not a smile.) The Heat center also tweeted a screenshot of the Instagram post with the hashtag “#koberetire,” which sounds pretty commanding.

Is Whiteside in on the joke or is he that self-centered? I’m honestly not entirely sure.

Report: Jahlil Okafor tried using fake I.D. last month.

Jahlil Okafor

Another day, another Jahlil Okafor issue.

There was the fight in Boston. And the other altercation in which Okafor reportedly tried to punch a man then had a gun pulled on him. And the high-speed driving.


John Gonzalez of CSN Philly:

In late October, Okafor allegedly presented a fake I.D. at Misconduct Tavern in Center City, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Okafor, 19, was refused service, the sources said. One of the sources said he was surprised because Okafor is “a big guy” and “famous” and “pretty easy to recognize.”

This is a very minor offense – a 19-year-old trying to drink. If Okafor had stayed in college another year, he’d be surrounded by peers doing the same. Luckily for him, this seemed to end at the bar and without the legal system getting involved.

But more negative attention the last thing Okafor needs. His Boston fight began open season on him, with reporters digging into his past. What will they find next?

Okafor badly needs to change the narrative, and he can do that with sound behavior once the onslaught of revealing his past transgressions ends – whenever that happens.

PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder, Pacers climb into Top five

Taj Gibson, George Hill, Paul George, Solomon Hill
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Sure the top three in the chart remained the same, while the Thunder and Pacers round out an interesting Top 5. However, the real drama is at the bottom — can the Sixers get their first win Tuesday when they face the Lakers?

source:  1. Warriors (18-0, last week No. 1). This week, Draymond Green became the first Warrior with back-to-back triple doubles since Wilt Chamberlain — Jerry West is right, in this system Draymond is a top 10 player. No Harrison Barnes for at least this week (sprained ankle) and the Warriors head out on a seven-game road trip Monday. Will that mean a loss?

source:  2. Spurs (14-3, LW 2). Tim Duncan is doing exactly what you hope an elite, aging player does — use fewer shots but use them efficiently. The Spurs don’t have great individual shot creators, but their commitment to ball movement and running action through Duncan or LaMarcus Aldridge at the elbow (both great passers and smart players) makes up for it, and they have the eighth best offense in the NBA.

source:  3. Cavaliers (13-4, LW 3). Cleveland is still the top team in the East, but LeBron James looks at those two teams above them in these power rankings and knows Cleveland isn’t near that level of execution. (Especially on defense in the first half of games, they coast.) So he called a team meeting after a loss to Toronto. He’s right, but getting Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert back in the next couple months will help.

source:  4. Thunder (11-6 LW 5). Winners of four in a row, plus Kevin Durant is back — and he is knocking down threes at a 47.1 percent rate last season. On the road at Atlanta and Miami will test that win streak this week.

source:  5. Pacers (11-5, LW 9). They are outscoring teams by 11.9 per 100 possessions their last 10 games. Frank Vogel on Indy’s play: “We’ve had a good, healthy belief in this plan all year. We didn’t know how long it was going to take before it got going, and we knew it had the potential to catch fire. We’ve gotten a little bit hot of late, but we haven’t really accomplished anything yet.”

source:  6. Heat (10-5, LW 4). They still have the second best defense in the NBA this season (just ask the Knicks after last week) but that will be seriously tested this week hosting the Thunder and Cavaliers back-to-back.

source:  7. Raptors (11-7, LW 7). They had won four in a row, including over the Clippers and Cavaliers, until the Suns got them on Sunday.That’s a testament to Kyle Lowry and the offense, because with Jonas Valanciunas out the defense has struggled, and that will cost them at some point.

source:  8. Mavericks (10-7, LW 6). The Mavericks have a team true shooting percentage of 55 percent in their past 10 games, eighth best in the NBA. That is a testament to coach Rick Carlisle, because outside Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams this team is struggling to space the floor with their shot.

source:  9. Bulls (9-5, LW 8). Before the season the thought was Fred Holberg would improve the Bulls’ offense but would they still defend enough for him. A month into the season Chicago has the sixth-ranked defense but the 26th ranked offense. Tom Thibodeau was an offensive genius?

source:  10. Hawks (11-8, LW 10). They went 2-2 last week but the wins were quality ones — against Boston and Memphis. They are doing it with a top 10 offense on the season and great play from Paul Millsap, but things have flattened out some the past few weeks.

source:  11. Hornets (10-7, LW 16). They have outscored their opponents by 6.3 points per 100 their last 10 games, going 7-3. In the past this team has struggled with Al Jefferson out, but they picked up wins last week thanks to Frank Kaminsky and Tyler Zeller stepping up. Big tests with Warriors and Bulls this week.

source:  12. Celtics (9-8, LW 11). Boston is forcing turnovers on 19.2 percent of opponent possessions, which is an insane rate. They will try to keep that going when they head to Mexico City for a game there this week against the Kings.

source:  13. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 19). Must follow NBA writer/podcaster Nate Duncan had an interesting idea: Is it time to consider Zach Randolph going to the bench and playing the five behind Marc Gasol, then Memphis goes smaller with a little more shooting at the four? Not a move they can make mid-season easily (they need the four who can shoot better), but something to watch going forward.

source:  14. Jazz (8-7, LW 18). They have five of their next six at home after a road-heavy start to the season (although the Warriors coming to town isn’t really comforting). The defense is still top 10 but the offense has shown signs of life in recent weeks, which is a welcome change.

source:  15. Clippers (9-8, LW 17). The last couple games this team has looked more like its old self, like it’s breaking out of its doldrums, like Sunday beating Minnesota. When Pacers coach Frank Vogel was asked about so many teams hanging around .500 in the NBA and who would break out, he quickly pointed to the Clippers.

source:  16. Magic (9-8, LW 20). Scott Skiles has finally thrown in the towel on the Elfrid Payton/Victor Oladipo pairing (Oladipo is coming off the bench), which he had to do – the team is -12.9 points per 100 possessions when they are on the court together. The Magic have won three straight.

<source:  17. Suns (8-9, LW 15). Their defense has struggled, especially with Tyson Chandler out, but they have the fourth best offense in the NBA in the last 10 games, scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions. Chandler used to be an offensive boost (because of his solid picks and good hands on the roll) but he hasn’t been this season in Phoenix.

source:  18. Timberwolves (8-9,LW 21). I’ll admit that I’m an not the biggest Zach LaVine fan, particularly when he is at the point, but for all his flaws it’s better to give him minutes than Kevin Martin when he can’t shoot (and he is shooting 27.6 percent overall and 23.8 percent from three his last 10 games).

source:  19. Pistons (8-9, LW 14). Andre Drummond is still putting up beasty numbers, but Stan Van Gundy called out his defensive effort in the Pistons’ losses this past week. They have a four-game homestead coming up, with all the teams below .500.

source:  20. Knicks (8-10, LW 12). Losing four in a row hasn’t cooled Kristaps Porzingis fever much in NYC. As will happen in Phil Jackson’s version of the triangle, the Knicks are the slowest paced team in the NBA over the past 10 games, and this team could use a few easy transition buckets.

source:  21. Wizards (6-8, LW 13). They went 0-4 against other teams in the second tier of the East last week. Their biggest problem is a bottom 10 defense, but second is John Wall turning the ball over on more than one-in-five possessions he ends, the highest rate of his career. Marcin Gortat is not having fun anymore.

source:  22. Trail Blazers (7-10, LW 24). It remains the Damian Lillard show — the Blazers’ offense is 14.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. He can reliably create shots for himself and others, and he is the only one (C.J. McCollum helps but it’s not the same).

source:  23. Rockets (6-10, LW 26). The coaching change didn’t inspire them to play better transition defense, it’s still a mess. Their wins last week — the Sixers by two, the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony in OT — did not impress. Patrick Beverly back in the starting lineup does help.

source:  24. Bucks (6-11, LW 22). The good news is Jabari Parker looks better every day and has been throwing down some huge dunks (just ask Kevin Love). The bad news is John Henson seems to have taken a huge step back this season — the Bucks are -16 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court.

source:  25. Kings (6-12, LW 25). The kings got one win with DeMarcus Cousins out, but that just makes them 1-7. His absence is part of the reason George Karl continues to jerk the lineups around. At least Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers.

source:  26. Pelicans (4-13, LW 27). The Pelicans are playing better of late and Ish Smith’s play at the point guard spot gets a lot of credit for it. He’s not the long-term answer the Pelicans, he’s just less of a disaster than the guys who have been in that spot before this season.

source:  27. Nuggets (6-11, LW 23). Losers of six in a row and things don’t get easier as they head out on the road for their next five. This might be the part of the season where the Nuggets start to really fall back.

source:  28. Nets (4-13, LW 28). They have played hard and hung around in games, then picked up a win against Detroit. But can they get one “one the road” Friday in Manhattan against the Knicks (who have struggled of late)?

source:  29. Lakers (2-14, LW 29). Kobe Bryant didn’t want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour, but he’s about to get one anyway starting in Philly Tuesday. One thing to keep in mind during the tour: the Lakers have the second-worst record in the NBA, they only get to keep their pick come June if it’s in the top three.

source:  30. 76ers (0-18, LW 30). While they have yet to get a win the effort has been there and teams have had to come from behind to beat them as Memphis did Sunday (Philly just doesn’t have the talent once other teams crank it up). Does the losing streak end Tuesday when they host he Lakers?