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Year in Review: How the half-court offense of the Pacers evolved in 2017

Appreciating the new requires looking back at the old.

Overlay: Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Background: Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After ranking 20th offensively on the first day of this calendar year, the Indiana Pacers have the seventh-most efficient offense with New Year’s Eve fast approaching. Still, old acquaintance should not be forgot until some of the finer points of how they made the leap are brought to mind.

Here’s a closer X’s and O’s look at the evolution of Indiana’s half-court offense in 2017.

Shooter-centric sets have been incorporated more frequently

Over the entirety of Indiana’s first round match-up with the Cleveland Cavaliers last spring, C.J. Miles only used three total possessions coming off screens. Rather than calling for him to run his man through a maze of picks, the lefty sharpshooter was more often employed as a stationary floor spacer for whenever the defense committed itself to the pick-and-roll ball-handler.

By comparison to that series, the Pacers have been more creative with the way in which they’ve relied upon Bojan Bogdanovic’s ability to read his defender, thereby generating greater off-ball movement as well as some calculated misdirection.

Take this nifty set from Indiana’s streak-snapping victory over the Cavaliers, for instance. After Bogdanovic sets a sort of decoy screen for Victor Oladipo to cut to the left corner, Kyle Korver’s focus is diverted just long enough to prevent him from recovering to his man behind the arc when Thaddeus Young picks the picker.

Here, what initially appears like a play call for Lance Stephenson to come get the ball on the wing turns out to be a pindown for Bogdanovic, courtesy of his methodical change of pace.

More fun are the occasions when he keeps moving even when he’s forced to regroup on the fly. For example, with Anthony Davis hanging back in the paint, the 28-year-old wing thinks twice about using the back screen set by Young to cut toward the rim.

Instead, he fakes like he’s going to use the pick in order to leave his defender in the dust when he runs him through the straight screen set by Myles Turner, effectively freeing himself for another open three.

Per Synergy, Bogdanovic is one of only nine players to have used at least 80 possessions coming off screens this season. Among that group only Kyle Korver (1.26), Stephen Curry (1.20), Paul George (1.13), C.J. McCollum (1.12), and Allen Crabbe (1.07) are scoring more points per possession than Indiana’s starting small forward (1.06).

The ball doesn’t stick as much

When the Pacers aren’t attacking early in transition, they pound the ball less in favor of sharing it more.

Thus far, they’re averaging 301.4 passes per contest compared to 286.6 last season.

Hybrid lineups don’t have to contend with the paint being clogged

At a glance, here’s how clunky the floor spacing was last season when Al Jefferson had the ball in the low-post opposite of Lavoy Allen.

Even when Lance Stephenson’s sags into the paint, compare that to when the prodigal point wing’s forceful driving game is offset by multiple off-ball scoring threats capable of providing him the space he needs to turn the corner, hit the screener, or find stop-releases on the perimeter.

In limited sample size, the Pacers have outscored opponents by 30.2 points per 100 possessions when Stephenson, Joseph, and Oladipo are joined by Bojan Bogdanovic at power fauxward alongside Domantas Sabonis.

Overloading isn’t as enticing for opponents

As long as the Pacers continue to run the league’s most prolific pick-and-roll offense, the expectation should probably be that more teams will follow the lead of the Pistons when it comes to consistently hedging their bets with Thaddeus Young’s playmaking by showing hard on Indiana’s guards whenever the lefty power forward has been employed as the screener.

As our friends over at Detroit Bad Boys pointed out, that approach has been met with mixed results.

Still, conceding open shots to Young should be interpreted as more of a pick-your-poison decision than welcome invitation.

The opposite was the case during the playoffs last season.

Recall, for instance, how Indiana’s plethora of drive-first guards became a convenient hiding place on defense for Kevin Love. Here, following an offensive rebound, there was little incentive for the four-time All-Star to retreat to Monta Ellis in the left corner — where he shot 28.2 percent thru 82 games — when he and J.R. Smith could force the ball out of Paul George’s hands, instead.

By comparison, opponents aren’t likely to overload on Victor Oladipo with any one of Darren Collison (37.9%), Bojan Bogdanovic (48.9%), or Cory Joseph (52.4%) stationed in the corner.

After all, despite having exploded for 47 points on 28 shots, including scoring eight of Indiana’s last 10 fourth quarter points, it wasn’t until there was under 2:00 minutes to play in overtime that the Denver Nuggets fully committed to hard showing on pick-and-roll plays involving Victor Oladipo and Thaddeus Young.

Same year, very different Pacers.