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The Defensive Drop Off: Defending Screens

It’s an injury-plagued season – perfect for tanking! – and through four games, Indiana has struggled mightily in an area last year’s squad excelled, guarding screens.

Andy Lyons

The Indiana Pacers have soared to historic defensive efficiency numbers in Frank Vogel’s tenure. The key area of expertise came on the Pacers pick-and-roll defense. Use Roy Hibbert to prevent layups, and the long, athletic wings to keep shooters from getting open threes. But with only Hibbert remaining, the Pacers are not effectively guarding screens.

We’ll start with a Mike Conley and Marc Gasol pick and roll.

Miles Cheat

Hibbert is in his typical sag position to cut off a drive, and Conley’s man , Donald Sloan has gone over the screen to prevent a three. That’s how Indiana has been defending the pick and roll under Vogel. But C.J. Miles is the problem.

He has completely left Tayshaun Prince on the three-point line. Sure Gasol is the next pass and would be open, but that 18-footer by Gasol is what Indiana wants Memphis to take. But the ball gets sent over to Prince who buries the three.

Now to Atlanta, who destroyed Indiana’s defensive scheme last season by having three-point shooting big men.

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Again Hibbert plays this well, and Rodney Stuckey goes over the top. But then Stuckey commits to Paul Millsap and runs at him. So does Miles – again he completely leaves his man on the three-point line.

These two running at the shooter allow Millsap to drive rather than take the less efficient 18-footer. What Stuckey and Miles don’t realize is that Hibbert is in perfect position to deny Millsap any easy path to the basket.

Since Indiana doesn’t switch on screens, Hibbert isn’t staying on Jeff Teague. That’s Suckey’s responsibility. (Although last year in the playoffs and in this meeting Indiana did switch a few times on screens.)

Indiana was better at funneling players towards Hibbert on Tuesday night against Milwaukee, but the defense still struggled with screens.

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Stuckey and Solomon Hill don’t do a good enough job and give up a corner three. Stuckey needs to be close enough to at least run a shooter off the three-point line.

Then Milwaukee ran a play that took advantage of Luis Scola’s tendency to blitz the ball handler on the pick and roll. Ersan Ilyasova sets the ball screen then immediately flees for a flare screen. Scola does a decent job recovering, but he flies by the shooter and gives up an open three.

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It hasn’t all been bad. Indiana did a terrific job defending this screen heavy play from Memphis.

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That was out of a timeout, and the Pacers forced the long two.

Against Milwaukee, the Pacers guarded two ball screens extremely well. And Luis Scola’s blitzing paid off.

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But more often than not, Indiana has looked like this.

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Hibbert actually ends up screening his own teammate. Although this looks bad, Prince takes a long two, not a three, and he misses. Just what Frank Vogel intended.

This is a newness problem, too many new players playing too many new roles. And clearly Vogel didn’t draw up this defense with Damo Rudez in mind. But other than the horrendous turnovers that have led to easy fast break points, defending screens has been Indiana’s biggest defensive problem.