It seemed like the Pacers had finally found something as January turned into February. With C.J. Miles replacing Monta Ellis in the starting lineup, they had won five-straight games. They were defending the 3-point line, and they were holding opponents to 100.6 points per 100 possessions, a mark which was good for fourth in the league over that span of time. But just as everything was finally starting to look up, Thaddeus Young got hurt and the team’s season-long struggle with consistent inconsistency reared its ugly head.
In the immediate aftermath, they managed to soundly put away a tired, travel-delayed Detroit team playing their third game in four nights before eking out a home win over the Thunder.
Then, things got dicey.
Already having dropped consecutive games to the Cavaliers, Wizards, and Bucks, Lavoy Allen added injury to insult with a bout of knee soreness. The result was Glenn Robinson III starting in place of Miles and Kevin Seraphin replacing Young. As Lance Stephenson’s return later proved, Seraphin is ideally a reserve center, not a starting power forward. He’s a competent rim protector, but his lack of mobility is a major liability against opposing spread lineups.
Over the entirety of the six-game losing streak, opponents attempted the fourth-most threes per 100 possessions (31.4) in the league against the Pacers and they shot nearly a league-high 46.4 percent. Worse still, Indiana’s defensive rating plummeted to dead last (122.5).
All of which is to say that on a roster bogged down by paint-bound bigs, Thaddeus Young’s wrist injury was pivotal.
How did Thaddeus Young impress?
It certainly had an impact on his shot.
During the 2009-10 season, Young connected on a respectable 34.8 percent of his 138 attempts from behind the arc. In the seasons between then and 2016-17, his three-point accuracy rate bottomed out at 12.5 percent on only eight attempts and peaked at 33 percent on 115 attempts.
Without any discernible trend, it was difficult to predict which extreme would better inform on the lefty’s past performance from long-range. Darryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus found that it takes 750 attempts for a player’s three-point shooting percentage to stabilize. Over Young’s previous nine seasons, he had launched a total of 792 shots from behind the arc, which put him past Blackport’s estimated reliability threshold and indicated that his 31.9 percent career-mark was likely an accurate representation of who he’d been as a shooter, but not necessarily who’d he be for the Pacers. Fortunately, a positive change in the 28-year-old’s role put him in a better position to make more of his next 750 threes.
No longer expected to be the Zach Randolph to Brook Lopez’s Marc Gasol, Young knocked down 45 shots from behind the arc in his new role as spread four. That’s equal to the same number he made over the last three seasons combined. More impressive, though, is that his total number of makes surely would’ve been even greater had he not sustained that sprain to his wrist.
“Where we’ve been so good offensively was having Thad stretch to that 3-point line for us and knocking down a lot of corner 3s,” Paul George told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor. “Now, he doesn’t even want to shoot that for obvious reasons. His wrist is definitely bothering him.”
Excluding the playoffs, he went 1-of-7 from three after missing those eight games in February.
How did Thaddeus Young disappoint?
Young’s foot speed undeniably gave the Pacers a better chance of defending the three-point line than when the double-plodder lineups were running amok, but that alone does not mean he was a stout off-ball defender.
Here, Young is too distracted by Monta Ellis funneling his man toward Al Jefferson that he doesn’t even notice that his own man is wide open beyond the arc. In turn, Nikola Mirotic knocks down the long-ball while the lefty power forward hits the snooze button in no man’s land.
There was also one particularly egregious possession in the playoffs when Young inexcusably had no idea who he was guarding out of timeout, which forced Lance Stephenson to have to pick his poison between J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver.
Granted, these are cherry-picked examples for demonstrative purposes, but they weren’t exactly isolated instances. The 28-year-old excels at hustling for steals and he can slide well with his man, but his rotational awareness and weak side help — for lack of better words —- need help.
He’s under reasonable contract through the end of next season (2018-19 Player Option), and he’s exactly the sort of high-energy, flyer that Kevin Pritchard aspires to accumulate. He’s more mobile than Al Jefferson, Lavoy Allen, and Kevin Seraphin, he’s more capable of spreading the floor than Rakeem Christmas, and he’s stronger — especially while draining unorthodox post-floaters — than C.J. Miles. Thaddeus Young’s injury hurt, but the roster’s redundancy made it hurt more. A wrap on his wrist shouldn’t have played such an integral role in wrapping the 2016-17 season.