When these two teams last met, Chicago tied a franchise record with 18 made three-pointers as they outscored Indiana by 33 points from behind the line. Meanwhile, Nikola Mirotic became only the fourth player this season to attempt 16 or more threes in a game. Overall, it was a grossly exaggerated example of what has become a troubling trend for the Pacers, with or without Victor Oladipo.
On the season, Indiana is currently the only team in the league that ranks among the bottom six in points allowed in the paint per 100 possessions as well as opponent three point attempts per 100 possessions.
Given their precarious position in the upper right quadrant of the above chart, here’s a closer look at what went wrong last Friday as well as what needs to be cleaned up before the Pacers face-off against the Bulls for the fourth and final time this season.
More of the same botched pick-and-roll coverage
Until the on-ball defender can recover, it’s the responsibility of Myles Turner to drop at a depth where he can backpedal to the rim while also keeping the roller in front of him.
Here, because the 21-year-old shot-blocker attempts to prevent Justin Holiday from using the screen to pull-up for three, Robin Lopez is already behind Turner when he starts to retreat.
This, thereby, initiates a costly chain reaction, wherein Thaddeus Young is forced to abandon Lauri Markkanen in order to bump Lopez as he rolls to the basket.
The end result is a wide open right corner three for the Finnish sharpshooter, which the 20-year-old rookie has been knocking down at a 38.5 percent clip this season.
Thaddeus Young’s weird off-ball defense is continuing to wreak havoc
Of course, the porous 1-5 pick-and-roll coverage isn’t always responsible for placing Young firmly between the rock and the hard place. Sometimes, the lefty power forward’s own inattentiveness puts him there.
Take this possession from the second quarter, for instance. Because Young is so intently focused on the ball and appears prepared to switch defensive assignments with Cory Joseph, the 29-year-old veteran doesn’t even notice that Paul Zipser slipped the screen set by Nikola Mirotic.
Once Thad notices that Joseph has been pulled away from the play, there’s simply too much ground for him to cover to be able to contest Mirotic’s quick release.
A similar problem occurred, here, when Young turned his head just long enough to monitor Turner’s drop coverage against Jerian Grant that he created too much space between himself and Markkanen to recover off the drive-and-kick.
While these sorts of breakdown aren’t new, it probably should be noted that Young hasn’t exactly looked like himself on either end of the floor as of late.
Since he was listed as questionable with a sore right thigh prior to facing the Brooklyn Nets on December 16, he’s only averaged 7.1 points on 41 percent shooting and the Pacers have been outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor as opposed to off. Dealing with lingering soreness from that injury (if there is any) likely wouldn’t cause him to fall asleep off-ball, but it could be impacting the speed by which he’s capable of reacting.
Beware of the almost certain death play call
However, even when Young was on the bench, defending against this horns set when Mirotic and Markkanen were simultaneously employed as the screeners was nightmarish for the Pacers.
Here, when Jerian Grant drives left around the screen, Markkanen pops to the top of the key while Mirotic has the option to cut toward the basket.
(Hint: This does not end well for the Pacers, especially not when the initial response to the action was for Domantas Sabonis to hard show against Grant.)
That’s a misstep, because this is too tough of a cover for any of Indiana’s options at center, regardless of whether Markkanen drains this shot (he did) or threads the pass to Mirotic.
Switching as the lesser of the evils
Instead, with the exception of some needed tweaks to the 1-5 coverage, the preferred form of poison probably should be to give up size against these types of actions.
By consistently executing switches with positions one through four, Mirotic can still shoot and score (which he does) over the top of Joseph. But, at least the marksman isn’t left uncontested.
After ranking 27th in the league in 3-point percentage through their first 23 games, the Bulls are only one spot shy of the top-10 since Mirotic returned to the lineup.
Moving forward, the Pacers don’t need to exacerbate the threes they already struggle to limit by allowing them to also be open.