Welcome to the newest installment of Stat of the Week. This feature, posted each Monday (Tuesday in this case), focuses in on one statistic or number to recap and tell the story of the Pacers' performance for the previous week.
The Pacers had just two games last week, both losses. An epic offensive collapse cost them a game against San Antonio and the Hawks toyed with them as usual on Saturday.
This offense has continued to vacillate between atrocious, horrible and not quite good enough. Over the past few weeks we have examined some of their stuggles in the context of The Four Factors, Usage Rate vs. Offensive Rating, Plays Run Out of Timeouts, and Shot Selection. Today we are going to look at the team's ball movement on offense and specifically assists.
The Pacers' offense is based on movement. When it's working well the ball is in motion from player to player, rarely being dribbled for long. Players without the ball are cycling around the perimeter, diving to the basket or cutting around screens. Assists may come from players besides the point guard, but isolation sets are rare and high assist totals for the team should be indicative of offensive success.
There are a lot of different ways to look at assists. The most basic is to look at how many assists the Pacers accumulate in a game. This season they are averaging 20.6 per game, good for 19th in the league and just below the league average of 21.3. One problem with this measure is that teams play at different paces. A slower pace means fewer shots, fewer shots means fewer opportunities to total assists, but not neccessarily less offensive efficiency.
One way to address this is by looking at Assist Rate, or the percentage of team's possessions on which they record an assist. This factor essentially equalizes pace when comparing teams. This season the Pacers have recorded an assist on 19.08% of their possessions, good for 22nd in the league and again below the league average of 20.00%.
The last significant way to compare assists is by looking at the percentage of a team's made field goals which are assisted on. This is usually called Assist%. The Pacers are recording an assist on 57.38% of their made field goals, good for 17th in the league and just below the league average of 57.74%. The site Hoopdata also gives us the opportunity to look at the Ast% by location for teams or individual players, which we'll examine in a minute.
The difficult thing about looking at assists as an indicator of offensive efficiency is that there are two parts to each assist, the shot-maker and shot creator. Problems that we see with these numbers could be indicative of issues with either part of that equation. That being said, let's look at some of the individual numbers for the Pacers.
The table below shows some assist related numbers in two categories. The Assist/40 and Assist Rate numbers would be indications of each players ability to move the ball in the framework of the offense and create opportunities for their teammates. The Ast% numbers, both overall and by location, would be an indicator of a player's ability to capitalize on those opportunities and find their shots within the framework of the offense. I also included the FG% from each area for reference.
At Rim FG%
At Rim Ast%
League Average (Individual Player)
In the shot shot creation department several players are exceeding expectations, partially a function of the team's shared ball handling responsibilities. A few players have also been underwhelming in this area. In terms of Ast/40 only five players are above average this season, Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison, Josh McRoberts, T.J. Ford and A.J. Price. When we look at Assist Rate we see that Hibbert is no longer above average, while Jeff Foster joins the list. This is because Hibbert uses a large number of possessions on both shot attempts and turnovers, while Jeff Foster uses very few possessions and rarely shoots or gives the ball away.
Darren Collison's assist numbers are way down this season and a noisy, vocal and growing group of Pacers fans attribute this drop to the perceived outrageousness of Jim O'Brien's offensive system which requires the point guard to give up the ball early and frequently lays primary playmaking responsibilities with frontcourt players working out of the high post. While this is certainly part of the problem, it should be pointed out that both T.J. Ford and A.J. Price have put up vastly superior assist numbers playing the exact same role in the exact same system. Collison is new to the team and will likely improve as the season goes on, but I don't think it's fair to say that his struggles are completely, or even mostly, because O'Brien has taken the ball out of his hand.
In the shot making department we also seem some positive and negatives. Josh McRoberts is someone I would point out as a positive. He's making a high percentage of his shots close to the basket and is being assisted on a high percentage of those baskets. This would be an indication that he is finishing plays within the flow of the offense rather than trying to take his man one on one in the post. Although his percentage could go up a little, he's been assisted on every single one of his made three pointers. This is a good sign he hasn't developed an itchy trigger finger from the perimeter is relying on open shots being created for him.
Brandon Rush is another player I would point out as a positive. Brandon's job in the offense is to be a spot up shooter, finish in transition and make quick aggressive drives to the basket when he sees an opening or a mismatch. He's knocking down threes at a great rate and has been assisted on well above the league average on those attempts. He's also finishing at the basket at a high rate with a slightly lower Ast%. This is an indication that he's been more effective than past seasons in finishing at the rim when he's creating his own shots off the dribble.
I touched on this in my Expected Scoring Profile of him at Hickory-High, but Danny Granger has really changed his shooting patterns on offense. His Ast% on mid and long range two pointers is extremely low this season, and well below the league average from both areas. This is representative of his pattern of relying on those shots out of isolations, whether designed or caused by him stopping the ball on offense. These are already inefficient scoring areas and taking those shots with a hand in your face makes them even more difficult. It should come as no surprise that his shooting percentages from those areas are near career lows.
Roy Hibbert's FG% at the rim is very respectable but his Ast% on those shots is probably higher than I'd like to see. This implies that when he is scoring at the basket it's primarily off opportunities created by others and rarely out of straight post ups. This is partially because he doesn't get many chances to work one on one in the low post creating a shot for himself, but also because he has been fairly ineffective when given the opportunity, especially lately. The other issue with Hibbert is how poor his mid-range shooting has been. With percentages hovering near 30% those is really no excuse for him taking those shots. Especially when he's been assisted on just 46.7% of them in the 10-15ft. range. A player of his size and skills isn't creating space on his own from that distance so the fact that's he is making so many unassisted shots from there means he is taking contested jumpers. His percentages are so low right now there is really no excuse for him taking that shot.
The offense, based on a system of passing and movement, hasn't been working for the Pacers lately. The assist numbers reflect some of the problems, which are likely a combination of players not being in the right place, not making the right pass, not taking the right shot and just not making shots. Under and over-utilization of certain players in certain situations is obviously an issue as well.
A lot of people seem to think that Jim O'Brien's system is hopelessly inept and incapable of being successful. I am of a different opinion. It may not be the most effective system out there or make the best use of our talent, but it has worked in the past and was reasonably reliable as recently as November. My problem is that there hasn't been any flexibility or variety worked into the system. Some players are obviously struggling and opponents are making adjustments but the Pacers seem to be running the same sets in the same ways.
Like it or not this appears to be the coaching situation and thus offensive system for the rest of the season. It may not get the team to the top of the league, but I don't think completely scrapping it is the way to go either, certainly not mid-season. There must be ways to tweak what they're running or how they're running it to get the Pacers out of this point scoring quagmire. Right . . . ?
Statistical Query of the Week: After two editions we have already run out of questions. I'd love for this feature to continue but need some help from the Cornrows community. If you have a Pacers' related statistical idea you'd like me to look into, send me an email at Levy2725@gmail.com and include Indycornrows somewhere in the subject line.
Rebound Percentage Update:
In the first installment of Stat of the Week we discussed Rebound Percentage and identified it as a season long focus and bellwether statistic for the team. The team's percentages 34 games into the season look like this:
Offensive Rebound Percentage: 23.2% (27th in the NBA)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: 74.7% (12th in the NBA)