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Thaddeus Young’s absence is underscoring the Pacers’ real problem

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Hint: It isn’t Paul George.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Thaddeus Young’s injured wrist matters. It matters a lot. Consider, for instance, that the starting lineup that fueled Indiana’s seven-game win streak - Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles, Paul George, Young, and Myles Turner - has outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions in 193 total minutes this season, a mark that ranks 8th in the league among 44 lineups that have played at least 190 minutes. By comparison, their lineup with Glenn Robinson III replacing Miles and Kevin Seraphin in place of Young is minus-3.9 points per 100 possessions in 61 minutes.

Seraphin is ideally a third-string center, not a starting power forward. While he routinely displays competence as a rim protector, his lack of mobility has been a major liability against opposing stretch shooters. Albeit, Young has a bad habit of falling asleep off-ball, but his foot speed at least gives him the option to run shooters off the three-point line. Over the last six games, opponents have shot a league-high 46.4 percent from three against the Pacers. After ranking second defensively (at 98.1 points per 100 possessions) during their seven-game win streak, they’ve been dead last since (122.5).

The slighter version of Al Jefferson can’t solely be blamed for Indiana’s leaky defense. Teague needs to be more purposeful in attempting to prevent his man from using a screen. Turner still exhibits intermittent confusion when deciding whether to hedge or use soft help, and George sometimes struggles to prevent his frustration from impacting his energy and effort.

Still, Seraphin’s miscast presence at four not only aggravates all of these breakdowns, it tends to be the catalyst to a costly chain reaction: Because he struggles to hedge and recover to the roll man, Indiana’s wings (predominantly Paul George) are forced to sag off shooters to prevent easy paint points. This, unfortunately, leads to even more wide open threes.

Defense has been more of an issue than offense, but Young’s absence has made a noticeable impact on both sides of the ball.

Substituting the lefty power forward’s near-40 percent accuracy rate from distance with plodders has made traversing the lane more challenging for Jeff Teague, as evidenced by his dip in drives per game over the last six contests.

The end result of the lane being clogged has been stagnant offense. The Pacers are currently playing at a snail’s pace, are holding onto the ball too long, and aren’t getting near enough player movement within possessions.

The above graphic lends plenty of credence to Paul George’s pointed post-game comment to the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor on the the Spurs really knowing “how (to) screen and get guys open” and it being “different on our end” of the floor.

Rather than being system driven, Indiana’s read-based offense has displayed a season-long tendency to devolve into standing and waiting for whoever the player with the ball is to make something happen. Granted, Thad being sidelined hasn’t suddenly caused the ball to stick, but the lack of floor spacing and versatility produced by his absence has certainly exacerbated it.

Going small would help mitigate some of these issues, but the team’s lack of wing depth coupled with Lavoy Allen’s bout of knee soreness makes doing so a difficult task. Not to mention that heightening the team’s most important scorer’s minutes while simultaneously expecting him to hedge, crash the glass, and potentially hold his ground on the block doesn’t seem like the wisest decision, especially not when the Pacers are 7-11 when Paul George fails to score 20 points.

Like he told the Indy Star’s Gregg Doyel following his team’s sixth straight loss, “I can’t do everything.”

The Pacers need him to shoot better than the woeful 26 percent he’s shot over the last two games, but he needs the Pacers to put him in a better position to make those shots. Him being reluctant to shift positions isn’t the problem, his team pursuing non-shooters and plodders when they wanted to play fast is.

On the season, the Pacers are averaging a measly 0.07 more possessions than they did last season. Over the last six games, they’re averaging 4.27 less.

Thaddeus Young’s injured wrist matters, but the redundant roster’s collective identity — dependent upon multiple ball-dominant scorers to compensate for erratic shooting and shaky defense — is making it matter more than it should.