Numeric Narratives: Pacers' Hidden Truths

When Frank Vogel took over as Pacers' Head Coach we saw two immediate changes on the offensive end. More possessions for Roy Hibbert in the low post and more pick-and-rolls and isolations for Darren Collison. These were two things that Pacers' fans had been screaming for since the beginning of the team's stunning slide in early December.

The Pacers went on a tear to start Vogel's tenure and the offense appeared to take off. The team saw a big jump in their per game scoring numbers and even ran off 12 straight games of 100 points or more. This happened because the team focused on pushing the pace but their overall offensive efficiency essentially stayed the same.

The fact that the Pacers saw such a dramatic initial bump under Vogel and padded their stats with some big wins against terrible teams has obscured the fact that the offense really hasn't improved all that much. Under Vogel the Pacers have been scoring 104.9 points per 100 possessions. Under Jim O'Brien they were scoring 104.0 points per possessions.

These early successes under the new regime obscured an important fact that the team seems unaware of (I sure hope not) or unwilling to accept: Hibbert in the low post and Collison working in isolation or pick-and-rolls have been extremely inefficient offensive sets for the Pacers.

Here are a few numbers from Synergy Sports:

  • 50.6% of Roy Hibbert's possessions this season have been used in post-ups. In those situations he's averaging 0.82 points per possession, good for 88th in the league. He's shooting 41.9% and turning the ball over on 11.9% of those possessions.
  • 20.9% of Darren Collison's possessions this season have been used isolations. In those situations he's averaging 0.82 points per possession, good for 107th in the league. He's shooting 40.6% and turning the ball over on 16.8% of those possessions.
  • 23.9% of Darren Collison's possessions this season have been used in pick-and-rolls. In those situations he's averaging 0.70 point per possession, good for 119th in the league. He's shooting 38.6% and turning the ball over on 11.5% of those possessions.

I'd like to point out that despite the huge amounts of blame heaped on Jim O'Brien for Collison's struggles in the first half of the season, this shouldn't have been entirely unexpected. In his rookie season with New Orleans Collison averaged a terrific 0.96 points per possession on isolations, good for 31st in the league. However, he averaged 0.68 points per possession on pick-and-rolls, good for 142nd in the league.

Now these numbers admittedly tell only part of the story. The possession statistics tracked by Synergy don't account for assists or shots created out of these possessions for other players. For example if Collison runs a pick-and-roll, drives to the basket and then kicks the ball out to Danny Granger for an open three pointer, the possession is counted as a spot-up three point attempt by Granger.

Regardless of those issues, it's clear that these three possession types have not worked well for the Pacers this season. Possession numbers on a game by game basis for individual players are not available so we can't compare the numbers for Collison and Hibbert from before and after the coaching change. We can however look at those numbers at a team level.

Possession Type % of Possessions Points per Possession
Post-Ups (Season)

10.6%

0.85

Pick-and-Rolls (Season)

10.1%

0.78

Isolations (Season)

12.2%

0.84

Post-Ups (After Vogel)

12.5%

0.82

Pick-and-Rolls (After Vogel)

10.4%

0.82

Isolations (After Vogel)

14.4%

0.82

Under Frank Vogel the Pacers have increased the percentage of their offense which comes in post-ups, pick-and-rolls and isolations. They've had a slight bump in their effectiveness on pick-and-rolls but have declined in the other two. The Pacers have now devoted 30% of their offensive possessions this season to plays where they are scoring under 0.90 points per possession. Under Frank Vogel that percentage has jumped to almost 40%.

There are other factors to consider and I do want to acknowledge them. Vogel took over mid-season at a point where there is very little practice time. He may not have the time to teach and refine these sets to the way he would like them to be run. Mike Dunleavy has been out for the past two weeks, the same time span when the offense really fell off a cliff. Dunleavy's ball movement and shooting ability make everything run smoother at that end of the floor. The best way to improve is by practice. It's possible the coaching staff is aware of the struggles of Collison and Hibbert in these situations but is continuing to run them in the interests of player development.

I don't want to get my house toilet papered but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that two of the most effective possession types for the Pacers this season have been spot-ups and cuts (0.96 and 1.11 PPP), two hallmarks of the Jim O'Brien offensive system. I'm not saying we should go back to that dark time, but it's possible Obie had a better grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of his players than we all gave him credit for.

I mentioned above that I sincerely hope the team is aware of the struggles they are having in these sets. I would expect that they are and have even more information about it than we have access to. However, the way the team consistently looks to these sets at crucial junctures of the game makes me wonder. At this point in the season I'm not sure what can be done to help Collison and Hibbert improve beyond just repetition. But the first step to fixing the problem is acknowledging that there is a problem.

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