After surrendering 110 points per game over the last four games and failing to score more than 15 points in each of the last two fourth quarters, change is necessary. It is no longer a matter of "when" or "if." It's a matter of "what."
"Motivated," head coach Frank Vogel categorically responded when asked if he was frustrated or confused with the way things have turned for his team lately. "..because we have aspirations to have a strong finish with this club, and what we're doing right now isn't good enough in any way. I'm motivated to move the pieces around, keep them inspired, keep them believing, and make this work."
With pieces ill-fitted for the up-tempo style of play envisioned by the powers that be prior to the season's start, Indiana's identity is still in question with only seven games remaining.
Playing with a sense of urgency and desperation, rather than what appears to be frustration and complacency, is up to the players, but putting them in the best possible position to win falls with the head coach.
Here are a few changes he should consider making:
Solomon Hill needs to play more than two minutes:
Myles Turner was the happy middle the Pacers needed when he was first inserted into the starting lineup back on January 28. His dead-eye shooting at the top of the key paired with his 7-foot frame allowed Indiana to spread the floor without sacrificing rim protection. But now, over two months later, he's started 22 more games as a professional than he started all of last season as freshman with the Texas Longhorns. In 15 games in March, he averaged 9.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks, all of which represent a downturn from his Rookie of the Month numbers in February. With opponents no longer content conceding him long twos, Turner shot 31.6 percent from mid-range over the last month, down from 41 percent in February and 48.5 percent in January.
With Turner showing significant signs of hitting the proverbial rookie wall and still struggling to flesh out exactly where he is supposed to be on defense after the initial rotation happens, Indiana's starting lineup is allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions over the last four games.
"Big shooters," head coach Frank Vogel responded when asked what specifically has been giving the Pacers problems against spread lineups. "When you have a five-man that shoots the ball with range, like (Nikola) Vucevic, it makes it difficult to contain their guards and keep them out of the lane because the bigs are forced to stay out on the perimeter."
The sample size is minuscule over the last four games, but when Solomon Hill replaces Turner in that five-man unit, the Pacers have held opponents to an absolutely stingy 76.4 points per 100 possessions and have outscored them by a monstrous 35.9 points per 100 possessions. This is because playing the youngest Hill does not require Indiana to rely as heavily on the four or five's ability to recover to the screener after showing or hedging on the pick-and-roll ball handler. Instead, Paul George and Solomon Hill can more seamlessly switch all of the pick-and-rolls against the spread lineups which have been giving the Pacers fits all season.
Only using him for two minutes last night, is something that needs to be remedied moving forward.
The all-bench unit needs to be phased out:
Since Ty Lawson returned from injury in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers, the most-used all-bench lineup with him at the helm is sputtering. Lawson's speed is too much for Jordan Hill and Lavoy Allen, and the two big bodies in the painted area along with C.J. Miles' inconsistent perimeter shooting only serves to shrink the floor and make driving to the rim an ill-fated acrobatic act for Rodney Stuckey and his backcourt mate.
In fact, the fit of this second-unit has been so cringe-worthy in limited minutes that ESPN's Zach Lowe selected it as one of the "things" he doesn't like in this week's column.
Even with Ty Lawson aboard and Rodney Stuckey back, it makes me queasy when the Pacers go just a single minute with all three of George Hill, Monta Ellis and Paul George on the bench. Their blah offense lacks a fulcrum, and the Pacers have predictably flailed around in the 249 minutes during which Frank Vogel has gambled with such lineups, per NBAwowy.
Unless Lawson rediscovers his form, expect Vogel to scrap this during meaningful playoff minutes.
Vogel does not necessarily need to pull Lawson, who did put forth a solid game against the Chicago Bulls, (scoring 8 points and dishing three assists off the bench), but he does need to reconsider ever leaving Paul George, George Hill, and Monta Ellis all on the bench at the same time.
"We've got to figure out what pieces fit with each other," Indiana's head coach admitted following his team's embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic. "We've got to make some adjustments to the rotation that we're using, and I think the effort will be there. And if the effort's there, with the right combination, hopefully the execution will come."
Ignoring how sad it is that Vogel said he thinks the effort will be there when his team is fighting for a playoff berth, the most productive move would be to ditch the all-bench unit. Staggering the team's top three offensive weapons will eliminate those slogs at the beginning of the fourth-quarter which have done absolutely nothing to boost Indiana's overall pitiful scoring output during the final frame of the last two games.
Over the last six games, the Ty Lawson, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Jordan Hill lineup has scored a woeful 95.3 points per 100 possessions. But substitute Paul George for C.J. Miles, and that number jumps to 113.1.
Over the entire season, the most-used bench lineup with George Hill running point has outscored opponents by 20 points per 100 possessions. Playing Paul George and Monta Ellis with Rodney Stuckey, Lavoy Allen, and Jordan Hill has also yielded positive results.
So what's the common theme, here?
Better things happen when the second-unit isn't left flailing without any of the team's best three players on the floor.
* * *
The argument could easily be made that the Orlando Magic did not so much thrive in the role of spoiler as much as the Indiana Pacers stood back and let them do so. It was the Magic, not the team fighting for a playoff berth, who scored 56 points in the paint, forced 19 turnovers, and held the Pacers to a measly 15 fourth quarter points.
"Knowing what we need to do, knowing what the problem is and not finding a way to do it. We're complacent in that, in terms of not giving your all," Paul George told the Indy Star's Candace Buckner. "At this point every guy has to give everything they have. I just think we're not giving that extra effort at times."
It is a sad state of affairs when game play adjustments are necessary this late in the season to spur desperation. If losing three out of four games when the season is on the line isn't enough to heighten the team's sense of urgency, then, maybe, making some rotational changes is the best and only option available to rectify the team's long-standing identity crisis and boost morale.