Because the Indiana Pacers are heavily dependent upon speed to compensate for what has mostly been confused defense and inconsistent floor spacing, they routinely find themselves faced with the same ultimatum: Force turnovers or risk losing.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Pacers are 6-3 when they cause at least 15 turnovers and 1-5 when they don’t. They’re 2-4 when they commit more turnovers than their opponent.
Unfortunately, the team’s narrow focus on pace has placed undue pressure on the already iffy defense to create points off turnovers by gambling. For example, take this possession from early in the season against the Brooklyn Nets. The split second Paul George spends trying to knock the ball away from Luis Scola is all his man needs to cut toward the rim for the easy score.
Given that the defense was logically expected to take a step back without George Hill’s wingspan, Solomon Hill’s versatility, and Ian Mahinmi’s more veteran grasp of pick-and-roll coverage, prioritizing shooting in free agency would have made winning the turnover battle night in, night out somewhat less vital. Playing fast effectively is difficult without stringing together stops, but trading baskets might as well be a fool’s errand without consistent long-range marksmen.
Consider this: The Pacers are 1-6 in games when they shoot below 35 percent from beyond the arc and 4-1 when they shoot above 40 percent.
Those splits reflect Indiana’s reality. The team’s offense looks dynamic when Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, and Glenn Robinson III are combining to make seven threes against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not so much when the same threesome — along with the rest of the short-handed roster — can only muster one against the Phoenix Suns.
Banking on forcing turnovers to act as a buffer for the defensive rebounding drop-off was already dicey without accounting for the wild swings in three-point accuracy. Having an additional player on the roster capable of opening driving lanes for Jeff Teague and prying defenders away from Paul George would make that balance less delicate.
Enter: Omri Casspi.
The 6-foot-9 Israeli has only appeared in six of Sacramento’s first fourteen games and hasn’t received any explanation from head coach Dave Joerger as to why he has fallen out of the team’s rotation.
“We haven’t talked since preseason. It was a team-wide meeting only,” Casspi told Cowbell Kingdom.
What makes the eight-year veteran a match for the Pacers, who currently rank among the top ten teams in the league in terms of pace, is that he was at his best last season playing within George Karl’s fast, free-flowing offense, averaging 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds on 48 percent shooting while knocking down 40 percent of his looks from three.
“It’s who I am. I love fast. Fast is in my DNA,” Casspi told Cowbell Kingdom. “Fast, open threes, getting into the action quick and crisp. That’s who I am. That’s not going to change.”
Since C.J. Miles has missed at least 10 games each of the last five seasons and is currently sidelined with a knee injury, acquiring depth at the small forward position certainly couldn’t hurt. Casspi fitting the team’s existing style and being a key component of the only small-ball combination that really worked for the Kings last season should act as further incentive.
It’s a small sample size, but having someone on the roster capable of playing spot minutes as an interchangeable forward with Paul George or stretch-four next to Al Jefferson would give Indiana some needed lineup versatility.
Miles could potentially play more minutes at shooting guard on a situational basis if there was a proven small forward option to fill the void off the bench. Lavoy Allen’s ability to generate second-chance points can be an asset, but he still struggles to defend against spread lineups and parking his big body on the opposing block makes converting what should be easy looks at the rim for Al Jefferson even more of a challenge than it’s already been. Having a spread four could mitigate some of these fit issues.
Casspi grabbed a higher percentage of his team’s available defensive rebounds last season (19.6%) than George (18.7%) or Miles (11.2%) did with Indiana, which makes the possibility of him switching positions now-and-again seem more plausible — even if those numbers prove to be slightly skewed by makes and misses.
Defensively, the Kings were slightly better with Casspi on the floor last season as opposed to off, but they ranked in the bottom ten of the league in points allowed per 100 possessions. With Indiana now in a similar position, it’s difficult to see him moving the needle for the Pacers too far either way.
Regardless of whether the eight-year veteran, specifically, is on Indiana’s radar, marksmen, more broadly, should be. As it stands now, counting on winning the turnover battle to offset erratic defense and sometimes stagnant half-court offense is producing maddening variance. Adding a versatile three-point shooting threat could rein in the extremes and perhaps even transform that aforementioned ultimatum into more of a suggestion than sticking point.