The Extra Pass: Fixing Pacers offense not simple, easy

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The Indiana Pacers are a mess.

A second place in the conference mess. The team’s month-long swoon — one that has gone from “oh, these stretches happen to every team” to “maybe we should really be worried here” — finally caught up with them when the Pacers’ loss to the Spurs Monday night allowed the Miami Heat to pass the Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

A team that looked like a legit title contender the first months of the season has been 8-10 since March 1 and in the past couple weeks their game has smelled like organic fertilizer. The most points the Indiana Pacers have scored in their last five games is 84 (their lone win in that stretch, vs. Miami). Against the Spurs Monday night the Spurs put up 77 points on 37.7 percent shooting. It wasn’t pretty.

While the Pacers’ vaunted defense has slipped (102.1 points per 100 possessions in their last five games, 11 more than they surrendered on average in first 30 games of the season) it is their offense that has been painful to watch. In the first 30 games of the season they were scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, which wasn’t exceptional (would be 18th in the NBA for the season), but with their defense it was enough.

In their last five games the Pacers have scored just 85.8 points per 100 possessions. They are pointing fingers at each other over it.

The rut their offense is in, the problems in their game, are just not ones easily fixed. Here’s a short list.

• Lack of elite ball handling/shot creation. Against the Spurs 22.9 percent of the Pacers’ shots came from the pick-and-roll ball handler (the largest single way they generated shots), and they shot 5-of-14 on those and turned the ball over on 22.7 percent of those plays (stats via Synergy Sports). Because a lot of guys with questionable handles have the ball in their hands, when the defensive pressure picks up — as it did against the Spurs — they struggle. And that defensive pressure is only going to get more intense as we get into the playoffs.

• Early in the season the Pacers adjusted for that lack of ball handling by creating shots through good ball movement, spacing and moving better off the ball. Those days are gone. Their offense is often stagnant and too often guys seem to overload the strong side and not space the floor to create driving lanes. When they cut it seems to be going through the motions, not with a purpose. The Spurs in particular also did not really respect the three point shooting of the Pacers and packed the lane at points.

• The Pacer really miss C.J. Watson — the solid, veteran point guard has played just 8 minutes since March 4 due to a combination of elbow and hamstring issues. With him leading the way the Pacers bench had been a strong suit early in the season (or at least not the black hole it had been last season) and Watson was a key reason. He could be back within the next week and if so that would be a big boost — he can provide some of the ball handling they need, help stabalize the offense. He could also lead a bench where Luis Scola and Evan Turner have not looked good of late.

• The Pacers screen setting and use of screens has been unimpressive. The number of screens set where the guy setting the pick doesn’t make contact with the defender (because he rolls out too early or because the ball handler leaves space to get through) is entirely too high.

• Their slow pace of play lets the defense get set, so they get no easy baskets in transition.

• When Roy Hibbert talks about selfish players, he is talking about Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner. As Tom Haberstroh of ESPN pointed out on twitter, in the 149 minutes Turner and Hibbert had played together since the trade deadline move to bring Turner to Indiana, he has gotten one assist passing to Hibbert. One.

• Turner has not been a fit, he played less than 7 minutes against the Spurs. Meanwhile, Danny Granger has thrived in Los Angeles given more freedom in an offense and as he got his legs back under him (although he is out injured, and you have to wonder if he can stay healthy).

• The Pacers are not working inside out with Hibbert, not getting him the rock when he does establish position. That said, he’s grown frustrated and is now part of the problem, not the solution.

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Indiana had made their offense work thanks to Paul George playing at an elite level, Lance Stephenson not being selfish (is it just me that thinks after the All-Star Game, and in a contract year, he has looked out for his numbers a lot more?) and some solid bench play. No more.

It’s not that they can’t get back to sharing the ball, spacing the floor, to hitting some of the jumpers they are missing now (which is an issue). They can. But can they do those things at a level that would lift them past the Miami Heat over the course of seven games? I picked the Pacers to do that (to win it all, actually) before the season but I’m no longer sold. I’m not sure they can fully pull out of this skid.

The good news is they have not only the next 16 days to figure it out, but also they have the first round of the playoffs (which in the East will essentially be a tune-up round against an inferior opponent, a team like Charlotte will fight but can’t beat even these Pacers).

However, if they can get back to a Game 7 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, now that game will likely be in Miami (a team that has won 10 of their last 11 when Dwyane Wade sits and rests). The Pacers have surrendered their home court.

Not that it will matter if they keep playing like this.

Report: Wizards willing to discuss John Wall, Bradley Beal trades

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The Wizards are 5-11, have poor chemistry and are on track to pay the luxury tax.

This might call for extreme measures – like trading John Wall or Bradley Beal.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

As the Washington Wizards’ season spirals, the franchise has started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster — including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal — is available to discuss in trade scenarios, league sources told ESPN.

Washington’s preference remains to reshape the team around Wall and Beal, but poor play among key teammates is limiting their trade value and paralyzing the Wizards’ efforts to make meaningful changes to a roster that no longer appears functional together, league sources said.

In other words: The Wizards are finally acting rationally. There’s no good-enough reason they should have refused to discuss Wall and Beal trades before. That doesn’t mean Washington should have traded Wall or Beal. They’re good players, and the inertia of NBA trades discussions would have made a trade unlikely. For the same reason, trading those stars now remains unlikely. But what was the advantage of not even considering trading those two? Maybe the Wizards would have gotten an offer so good, they would have taken it. There’s almost no downside to discussing trades, especially after setting a tone to players that trade talks are inevitable and not a reflection of a player’s importance to the franchise.

But, under Ernie Grunfeld, Washington has been far more reactionary to proactive. Considering dealing Wall or Beal now – when every Wizard’s trade value has sunk due to the team’s collective stink – is too typical of this stale regime.

Wall’s value is extremely low relative to his star status. His super-max extension kicks in next year and pays him $42,728,000 per season through age 32. That is a terrifyingly large contract for someone who already appears to be slowing down. Trading for Wall now could trigger a huge trade bonus that gives him a big raise this season, too.

Beal remains an elite trade chip. He’s just 25 and locked in the following two seasons at a reasonable $27,922,396 per year. But he hasn’t looked as sharp on the court this season, lowering his value.

Washington’s other planned top players – Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre – have also underwhelmed. Porter is on an unappealing max contract, and Oubre is headed toward restricted free agency next summer. There’s only moderate reason to trade for either now.

So, dealing Wall or Beal could be the Wizards’ way out of their jam.

Or a way into an even bigger jam.

Report: Warriors aren’t interested in Carmelo Anthony

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It’s unclear where Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony will finish the season this year. He won’t return to the Rockets, and nobody has stepped up to complete a deal with Daryl Morey for the aging superstar.

The most logical place for Anthony to land appears to be the Los Angeles Lakers, a team of former stars now lumped around LeBron James. But the Lakers haven’t seemed eager to do so, nor has anyone else.

Jokes around the league about where Anthony could go have been plenty, and one of the most popular refrains is that Carmelo should go to the Golden State Warriors to get his first ring. It’s a ridiculous supposition on its face, but after the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins, it oddly doesn’t seem completely out of the question.

However, according to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, Golden State is not considering Carmelo.

Via The Undefeated:

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green believes there is an NBA team out there for his old USA Basketball teammate that will be a better fit. Anthony previously turned down the Miami Heat and also the Portland Trail Blazers twice, sources said. As for Green’s Warriors, a source said the two-time defending champs have no interest despite having a roster spot open.

“Of course, he can still play in this league,” Green said. “There is no doubt in my mind.

“He’s still Melo.”

I honestly don’t know where a good basketball fit for Carmelo is anymore, largely because of his attitude about himself. It’s not clear that Carmelo can be the type of player he used to be on offense, and defense is sort of out of the question. While he did take to shooting more 3-pointers with the Rockets this season, he needs to go into full Vince Carter mode in order to stay on an NBA floor. That seems unlikely moving forward.

All this leaves us with the same question: If Golden State isn’t interested in Anthony, who is?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Watch the Nets’ hype video for their Biggie Smalls-inspired ‘City’ jerseys

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Look, the NBA City jerseys are not good. Most of them are gray, which is the most boring trend in uniform design in any of the four major sports over the last decade or so.

A bunch more are just straight up ugly, or run on motifs that make sense contextually but don’t push the right buttons aesthetically.

But the Brooklyn Nets jerseys? Those are beautiful.

On Saturday the Nets debuted their City jerseys, inspired by Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls, and published an incredible hype video that featured several players and locations around the borough.

Via Twitter:

The coloring on the jersey is Coogi-inspired. Coogi is a fashion brand known for similar patterns, which Biggie was fond of wearing both in music videos and on stage.

What do you think? Is this Nets jersey the best City uniform?

Three Things to Know: After third straight loss Steve Kerr says Warriors now in “the real NBA”

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Each night in the NBA there is a lot of action, a lot to unpack. Which is why every weekday morning during the NBA season we bring you three things you need to know out of the night before, to keep you up on all the big happenings around the NBA.

1) Warriors drop third straight game on road trip and Steve Kerr is blunt: “This is the real NBA…. We’ve been in this dream. So now we’re faced with real adversity.” This is not serious illness the Warriors have come down with, it’s just a little fall cold. Come April, when the chance to threepeat is on the line, the Warriors will be the Warriors again. Don’t doubt that.

But right now, the Warriors are scuffling.

Stephen Curry is out with a strained groin. Draymond Green is out with an injured toe. In his last five quarters of play, Kevin Durant has shot 9-of-32 (28.1 percent) and he picked up a technical Sunday chirping at officials, he just is off his game and seems to be unfocused (insert your speculation about the Green situation here). In his last two games Klay Thompson is shooting 40 percent. On Saturday night both had chances at potential game winners and missed good looks. On Sunday in San Antonio, neither even got the chance as the Spurs handled the Warriors without much trouble 104-92.

With that, the Warriors went 0-3 on a road trip for the first time with Steve Kerr as coach, and they are 2-5 in their last seven. In those seven games, the Warriors are allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions, the second worst defense in the league during that stretch. On the other end of the floor, the ball is sticking on offense.

“I’ve had a dream run for four-and-a-half years,” Kerr said. “We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. So, yeah, of course, this is the toughest stretch we’ve been in. This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. So now we’re faced with real adversity. We’ve got to get out of it ourselves.”

How do they change this around? Get healthy — Curry was playing back closer to his MVP level before the groin injury, just putting him back in the lineup will spark the offense and the team. Green’s return will help the defense. Durant and Thompson will find their shot at some point. Beyond that, the Warriors just need to get out of their own heads. While everyone around the NBA can talk about how they are on a cakewalk to a title, the reality is they are going to have to work for it. There are good teams in their way.

That said, we aren’t even to Thanksgiving yet. If the NBA season is a marathon, we are just 5.1 miles into it. It is far too early to think the Warriors are in any real trouble, or more unlikely, that they are going to make a trade and break things up (ownership said that is not happening).  The Warriors will be the Warriors again when it matters. Right now, they are facing some adversity, and that’s probably good for them looking ahead towards the playoffs (better to be tested than not).

2) When LeBron James is good, the Lakers are good. Sunday he dropped 51 on the Heat and the Lakers looked dangerous again. Last Wednesday night on national television, LeBron James had one of those “just reminding you I’m the best player on the planet” games dropping 44 on the Timberwolves, and the Lakers looked the best they have all season in a win. Saturday night, LeBron had a pedestrian 22 and did not dominate the game the same way, and the Lakers lost to the Orlando Magic.

Sunday LeBron was back to his dominant ways, dropping 51 on his old team in Miami, getting Los Angeles another win.

Looking at the splits, two things happen in the Lakers’ wins. First, he is a more efficient shooter. For example, he shoots 32.5 percent from three in Laker losses, but 44.6 percent in victories. Or, his true shooting percentage jumps from a good 58 in losses to an insane 64.8 in wins. The second big change is his defense, and the team defense, is more dialed in for Laker wins. LeBron’s defensive rating is 115.6 in losses, and is 101.8 percent in wins.

It’s not just LeBron that has keyed the Lakers’ improved play of late, much of that comes from better team defense overall. But he is the catalyst of the offense, and when LeBron dials it up the Lakers dangerous.

3) He’s no Jennifer Hudson — Heat’s Josh Richardson ejected for throwing his shoe into crowd. When Jennifer Hudson throws a shoe — her shoe, someone else’s shoe, any shoe she can find — on The Voice, it’s a sign of respect. A compliment.

That is not how it came off when Josh Richardson threw his shoe into the crowd Sunday. Richardson — who is having a breakout season in Miami — was frustrated. Very frustrated with the foul calls (he felt he didn’t get one on a dunk attempt, then with his shoe off he fouled LeBron), with the team not winning, with a knot in his shoelace that would not come out, and with Erik Spoelstra subbing him out to get the shoe fixed and to calm down. So Richardson launched his shoe into the crowd.

That’s an automatic ejection. Richardson can break out the checkbook, too, a $25k fine is coming.

But if he wants, Richardson can just tell the league office he was offering LeBron a compliment by throwing his Nikes into the crowd. Not going to work, but he can try.