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Defense needs to “mean something” to the Indiana Pacers, again

The Pacers aren’t going to be what they were on defense, but they shouldn’t want to be what they are.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Through four games, the oftentimes porous and sometimes preposterous defense of the Indiana Pacers has a lot that ails it (to put it mildly).

Stats via

J.J. Barea scored 14 points on 20 (!) drives. Trevor Booker dribbled the full length of the floor unabated. Rajon Rondo threw the equivalent of a touchdown pass to Jimmy Butler, and all that stopped D’Angelo Russell from turning to his strong hand and scoring over the top of Jeff Teague in the post three times in under three minutes of game play was his own foul trouble.

These particular defensive miscues, predominantly of the energy and effort variety, are likely part of what prompted Paul George’s post-game frustration after his team’s narrow victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I think defense got to mean something to us,” George told Fox Sports Indiana’s Jeremiah Johnson following his late-game heroics. “Right now, we’re getting scored on, and it’s not hurting us.”

But, it should be. Indiana’s pick-and-roll coverage has been an absolute eye-sore. It’s already evident that Teague, as the on-ball defender, isn’t going to be able to prevent his man from using a screen. As such, using Turner’s ability to purposefully hedge, or perhaps even go as far as long-arm show in certain instances, is going to be paramount.

Here, the 20-year-old jumps out to slow down Teague’s man, but he elects to use soft help against a shooter, which results in Lou Williams making him pay.

The lackadaisical effort by help defenders to make contact with the roll man has also been at issue. Ideally, Turner needs to slide toward Williams at more of an angle to force him to dribble away from the basket, but Thaddeus Young’s unwillingness to take one step to the right to contest Larry Nance Jr. crashing hard toward the rim is the more egregious error.

When Young did provide weakside help, no one was there to help him. Granted, there isn’t going to be much Teague can do here to stop the forward motion of Julius Randle’s 250-pound frame, but he at least needs to make some effort to try to bump him from his spot.

Finding some way to better defend on a string is crucial because their ill-advised attempt at switching against the Dallas Mavericks brought about some cringe-worthy mismatches.

Unfortunately, the team’s heavy reliance on speed is exacerbating some of these problems for a couple of reasons. For one, it causes fatigue which typically leads to players playing defense with their hands and arms instead of their feet. Perhaps even more damaging, though, is that the narrow focus on pace is placing undue pressure on the defense to create points off turnovers.

Gambling, of course, comes at great risk. Case in point, the split second Paul George spends below trying to knock the ball away from Luis Scola is all his man needs to cut toward the rim for the easy score.

George, likely feeling burdened to cover for a multitude of defensive sins, has also been sporadically guilty of playing some bizarre help defense at inopportune times.

To varying degrees, style, scheme, and conditioned lack of trust can all be blamed for Indiana’s deficiencies. Nevertheless, Indiana’s defensive drop-off was predictable. Myles Turner is still learning. Teague, hampered or not, was never going to be able to replicate George Hill’s disruptive length. Paul George is the only stout wing defender, and Monta Ellis no longer has a place to hide.

Still, even if roster holes prevent Indiana’s defense from being what it used to be, heeding George’s call to make it “mean something” again should at least hinder it from being the current mess that it is.