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Indiana Pacers: Stats, Facts, and Brass Tacks

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Passing more and shooting better off the catch than the dribble does not the Spurs make. An extensive look at the Pacers' offensive woes and why being a one-way team may no longer be enough in the East.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

When looking at the numbers, it appears as if an inverse relationship between dribbling and offensive efficiency may exist for the Indiana Pacers. On zero dribbles, Indiana shoots 46.2%. When the Pacers pound the ball 3-6 times, that number drops by seven percentage points to 39.1%. While that is less than a mammoth difference, it is significant when coupled with Indiana's extensive woes at the offensive end. On the year, the Blue-and-Gold's season average field goal percentage (43.1%) is representative of the worst mark in the team's franchise history (NBA era), per basketball-reference. Therefore, given how much this team routinely struggles to score, it is imperative for them to maximize whatever strengths they do have on offense while minimizing their deficiencies.

For instance, when compared to the rest of the league, the Pacers (27th in offensive rating) are better shooting off the pass (13th) than off the dribble (28th).

2014-15 Pacers Field Goal Percentage (Rank) Points Per Game (Rank)
Catch and Shoot 39.5% (13th) 29.5 (3rd)
Pull-ups 33.5% (28th) 12.1 (27th)

Likewise, though they shoot 40.2% on drives (defined by NBA.com/stats as any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks) that mark only places them at 27th in the league. Moreover, the Pacers top driver - Donald Sloan - only averages 3.9 points on 6.7 drives per game.

In turn, it should come as no real surprise that most of the Pacers' perimeter players, to varying degrees, are also more accurate off the pass than they are off the dribble.

Player Catch and Shoot Pull-ups Diff.
Chris Copeland 36.0% 22.0% +14.0
Solomon Hill 38.1% 27.5% +10.6
Damjan Rudez 42.2% 33.3% +8.9
C.J. Watson 45.2% 38.1% +8.9
Rodney Stuckey 40.7% 40.0% +0.7
Donald Sloan 30.6% 30.9% -0.3
C.J. Miles 33.0% 34.2% -1.2

Given these numbers and taking into account that David West (47.7%), Roy Hibbert (45.4%), and Luis Scola (42.4%) have each proven themselves as more than competent shooters off the catch, the logical conclusion seems to be that the Pacers should pass more and dribble less (i.e. minimize isolations, forced pull-up attempts, etc.).

As it happens, it is not as simple as that.

When we get down to brass tacks, as it currently stands, Indiana already averages 321.7 passes per game, which places them in the top third of the league (7th). Thus far, there is no indication that Indiana is somehow better in games when they record a higher number of passes. In fact, the Pacers are just 7-14 (0.333) when they tally as many or more passes than their per-game average (321.7) as compared to 8-10 (0.444) when they fail to reach that mark. Part of the reason there is no correlation between more passes and Pacers' victories is because getting higher quality shots is dependent upon more than just ball movement.

It also necessitates player movement.

At 16.2 miles per game, the Pacers rank 28th in the league in distance traveled per 48 minutes. Granted, part of this low number is due to the fact that Indiana intentionally tries to slow their opponent's pace with their elite-level defense, which, in turn, leads to fewer possessions as well as fewer trips up and down the court.

Beyond that, another factor to consider is the continued lack of player movement in the half court. For instance, rarely, do the Pacers set multiple - let alone quality, stationary - screens. Rarely do any of the Pacers - at least, those not named Solomon Hill - cut to the basket when opponents collapse on Roy Hibbert in the post. Rarely do the Pacers' shooters move from corner to corner to actually get open from behind the arc, and rarely do the Pacers' guards generate drive-and-dish options.

Instead, the Pacers employ a heavy diet of ineffective ball screens, handoffs, and telegraphed post-entry passes from the wing. More often than not, it seems Indiana's vanilla-brand of offense often leads to one of the following: David West attempting to force his way to the bucket as a bailout option (the Pacers shoot just 38.9% late in the shot clock), Roy Hibbert receiving the ball 10-feet from the basket after a guard has dribbled into trouble and left his feet (at 9.6 feet, Hibbert's average field goal attempt distance is a career-high), a low- percentage three-point attempt (the Pacers rank 22nd in 3P%), or a hapless turnover (13.3% of Indiana's possessions result in turnovers).

As it is, there are two playoff-caliber teams - the Clippers and Raptors - that travel fewer miles per 48 minutes than the Pacers. However, those same two teams also happen to be helmed by Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry, both of whom rank in the top five in terms of points created by assists per 48 minutes. Without a top-flight creator, the Pacers simply do not have the luxury of being stagnant.

Better off the catch than the dribble, trying to create with the ball in the hands of the back-up's back-up is not the answer, but neither is just moving it. Of course, actually hitting Hibbert and West when they have their opponent pinned would help.

In order to capitalize on the team's strength of shooting within the flow of the offense, the Pacers must move themselves as well.

Whether that means setting more curl screens for C.J. Miles, generating shots for C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, or Damjan Rudez via off-ball movement, looking to cut when opponents double-team a teammate, or initiating more high-low action from West, Scola, and Hibbert, the Pacers, quite simply, need less dribbling, standing, and watching and more moving, catching, and shooting.

All are essential if the Pacers hope to earn a playoff berth. The reality is that the talent gap between Indiana's makeshift lineups and many of the East's best is wide enough that being a one-way team probably will not be enough. The brass tacks are that Indiana must display the vital signs of a structured offense on a much more consistent basis or the team will find itself on the outside of the playoff picture looking in come April.

(Stats cited are from NBA.com's Player Tracking Data and Basketball Reference and are as of January 10, 2015)