Just because Dan Burke is still here doesn’t mean that George Hill and Ian Mahinmi are. It’s time Indiana’s defensive system fully adjusts to this reality. Where Hill was capable of staying attached to his man’s hip through high ball screens, Jeff Teague has a tendency to lag from behind. Yet, strangely, this hasn’t stopped the Pacers from employing conservative pick-and-roll coverage when they shouldn’t.
For instance, consider this possession from Indiana’s fifth loss to the Charlotte Hornets in six meetings. That’s Kemba Walker. The same Kemba Walker who has averaged 24 points on 44 percent shooting against the Pacers over this season and last. The same Kemba Walker who is shooting 38 percent off the dribble, per SportVU. Let’s see if the Pacers have Myles Turner hedge to force Walker to dribble away from the basket until Teague can recover.
Instead, Turner’s soft coverage gives the first-time All-Star, who has shot 52.6 percent from three in his last three games against the Pacers, all the space he needs to pull-up from distance and drain the open shot. (Hint: This might be part of the reason why he’s shooting 52.6 percent from three against the Pacers.)
Of course, expecting Indiana’s only true rim protector to venture 30 feet from the basket isn’t without risk. Turner will have to be quick on his feet, and the weak side help can’t be sleepy. If not, capable roll men will inflict as much damage on the Pacers as sweet shooting ball-handlers.
Turner already proved he can do this two months ago against...wait for it...Kemba Walker.
Back in December, the Pacers earned their only win in six tries against the Hornets, in large part, because they altered their defensive strategy.
“We got practice guarding that type of guard in the Portland game,” head coach Nate McMillan explained of how his team managed to hold Walker to only 12 points on 25 percent shooting. “These guys (Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker) — who can just come off the screen and shoot the three, quick release, they draw fouls — in guarding that it’s going to require your big to be up higher, and he’s got to be mobile enough to contain quick penetration. I thought Myles (Turner) did a nice job in that Portland game. He did a nice job tonight.”
Spot the difference here. Turner, rather than playing a sort of one-man zone in the high paint, ventures out to the three-point line, preventing Charlotte’s point guard from rising up behind the arc.
Turner should come out at more of angle to give Teague a better opportunity to recover, but Indiana’s 20-year-old center still manages to erase Walker’s field goal attempt at the rim.
Last season’s Indiana Pacers, with George Hill’s wingspan and Ian Mahinmi’s veteran experience, could force opponents to adjust to them. This season’s Indiana Pacers, ranking 22nd in per possession efficiency when the pick and roll ball handler scores at least one point, need to adjust to their opponent. Hedge against the Kemba Walkers. Hug the screener and go under against the Ricky Rubios. Hang back in the paint and attempt to prevent penetration against the John Walls. In short, the consistently inconsistent Pacers shouldn’t rely on any one consistent framework.
George Hill isn’t coming back. Strict adherence to the pick and roll strategy he played within shouldn’t either.