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 Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor now worth estimated $200 million

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And the rich get richer.

Kobe Bryant is a smart man who studies whatever he does. He was that way on the court, breaking down film on opponents and knowing what was coming next, being one step ahead. He’s done the same in his post-NBA life, which is in part how he won an Oscar.  He is calculated.

The same with his investments. Before he stopped playing, he invested in a new sports drink called BodyArmor. (Did you notice the last couple years of his career he always took down or at least turned the label away of NBA sponsor Gatorade when he sat at a podium to speak?) This week, his investment in that company paid off big time, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola announced it had purchased a minority stake in sports drink BodyArmor.

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

At least where I shop, BodyArmor — marketed as a healthier alternative to the other sports drinks — is showing up in the same spaces as Gatorade, Powerade, and the rest. It’s got a growing market share, with more than $400 million in sales expected this year.

I guess Kobe can afford college for his daughters now. Although, he may have already had that covered.

Check out Trae Young, Carmelo Anthony getting buckets at ‘Black Ops’ run in NYC

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Chris Brickley runs one of the best, most star-studded NBA summer runs anywhere in the nation out of his facility in New York. (You can learn more about him and what he does in the video above.)

Right now, Carmelo Anthony and Trae Young are among the names there — and they are getting buckets. Check out some videos.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley told NBC Sports earlier this summer. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there.”

‘Melo and Young look good in these clips. Granted, this is summer run and no matter the level it has to come with a grain of salt — these are not NBA defenses and systems. It’s still summer ball. But if you’re a Hawks or Rockets fan (or a fan of Miles Bridges, or Mo Bamba, or some other NBA guys) you have to like what you see.

Some fans decided to go after Anthony in the comments on some of these videos, and he gave it right back (NSFW language):

For the record, if you feel the need to insult an NBA player in the comments of an Instagram feed of some summer run, you may want to step back and examine where things went sideways in your life.

DeMar DeRozan already has a mural in San Antonio

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This is far less likely to be vandalized by Kobe fans

DeMar DeRozan has yet to suit up for a game in San Antonio, but he’s already been welcomed by a local artist with an impressive mural.

DeRozan was committed to Toronto like no other star before him, he was understandably frustrated when he got traded. However, he is going to love the welcoming reception in San Antonio, both from the passionate fan base and Gregg Popovich. DeRozan is going to get more chances in motion and not just having to create for himself, and that will be a good thing.

The Spurs won 47 games last season without Kawhi Leonard and now add an All-NBA player in DeRozan. Do not sleep on them in the West.

 

Stephen Curry explains trash talk with LeBron James at end of 2018 Finals Game 1

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LeBron James had been a dominant force in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, but he was a frustrated man at the end after the legendary J.R. Smith blunder at the end of regulation, and the fact the Cavaliers still had a timeout at that point. Rarely does an NBA Finals feel over after one game, but LeBron had been brilliant and pushed that Cavaliers team as far as he could, and they still lost in overtime. It was crushing.

LeBron showed his frustration at the end of OT (the video is above). With the Warriors up double digits and just :30 seconds left in the extra period, Stephen Curry went in for a layup at the end of the shot clock and LeBron slid over and skied blocked it. Then the trash talk ensued — between Curry and LeBron, then with Klay Thompson stepping in and jawing at LeBron.

What went down? Curry talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast (as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It was an interesting moment …I was hot because I was trying to finish out a possession, I think it was less than a minute left, I didn’t see him coming over from the weak side so I tried to do a little soft scoop layup and he pinned it. Then he stared me down and he said something to me.

“And I was like, ‘That’s what we’re really on right now? We’re about to win and you’re worried about mean-blocking my shot and talking trash?’ And then the whole Tristan (Thompson) and Draymond (Green) thing happened and I went back up to him and I was like, ‘Yo, what’s up? Is this really what we’re about right now?’

“And he was like, ‘I gotta do that to make sure my teammates know I’m a mentor’ and it’s a part of his leadership and that type of deal. And I was like, ‘I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb for your leadership.’ (laughter). Come on man, that’s messed up.”

There was nothing wrong with what LeBron did — the clock was running, the game was still on, and he made a play. Doesn’t matter if the game was decided, Curry decided to take a shot and LeBron stopped it. And LeBron was frustrated, so he talked a little.

Now, LeBron’s in the West with the Lakers. Last season Steve Kerr talked more than once about the challenge of keeping the Warriors focused, motivated, and building good habits during the grind of the regular season. You think LeBron in the Warriors’ division might help with that a little this season?