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What the Pacers can do about Doug McDermott being the forgotten man

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There aren’t many perks to the shooter being a wallflower.

Original images via (left to right): Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports; Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports; Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports; Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On a night when the Pacers shot 3-of-24 from long-distance, Doug McDermott’s first and only three-point attempt against the San Antonio Spurs came with 11:49 to play in the second quarter. The game marked the sixth time this season in which the sharpshooter has logged a single attempt from three-point territory after being signed to a three-year, $22 million contract to improve the team’s floor spacing.

“Me being more aggressive when I check into the game is No.1,” McDermott said of what he needs to do to get himself going. “I’ll definitely do that because Coach is drawing up plays for me. He’s doing everything he can, but it just comes down to me executing it.

“I’m going to continue to work on those shots everyday in practice, and trust them when I get in the game.”

Credit the 26-year-old journeyman for giving a diplomatic answer and holding himself accountable for missing 9 of his last 12 threes, but even if you ignore that his usage rate has been lower in 19 games with the Pacers than in 22 games with OKC when Russell Westbrook set an NBA record for usage; he’s averaged fewer touches in slightly more minutes than Glenn Robinson III did after working his way back from ankle surgery last season.

Inconsistent opportunity doesn’t tend to lend itself to finding a rhythm, especially not on occasions like this when he sprints ahead of the action in transition only to be ignored in the corner while the guard picks up a charging foul.

Outside of holding up a flashing neon sign, there isn’t much more McDermott could’ve done on that possession to be more aggressive.

“It’s on us as a unit to get him more involved,” Thaddeus Young said of the career 40 percent shooter following Saturday’s practice. “When he’s out there on the court we have to realize he’s out there on the court with us.”

Granted, San Antonio switching the floppy action contributed to McDermott’s wallflower status, but the fact of the matter is that the Pacers gravitate toward running this variation for Bogdanovic to come off a stagger on the left side after setting the single screen on the opposite block with his understudy acting more like a decoy, regardless.

That being said, it isn’t as if the Pacers don’t have plays for McDermott.

This set in particular is similar to the weave the Warriors run for Klay Thompson, except sometimes the Pacers have the big ghost the ball screen before setting the quick hit away for McDermott.

Defending this action is pick-your-poison. The on-ball defender isn’t going to leave Cory Joseph with the ball to help on the shooter. If the big steps up higher to greet McDermott coming off the screen, Sabonis is slipping with numbers.

That leaves two options: Get snagged attempting to fight over the top, or go under (as seen below) and hope McDermott misses the three.

It’s a nifty set, the only problem is that the above-shown example — precluded with Bogdanovic and Joseph in motion as opposed to the abridged version — has only been called and executed to completion once since they played Portland.

That was 12 games ago.

Lately, the Pacers have attempted to make McDermott feel more at home by incorporating some of the off-ball movement he utilized with Rick Carlisle in Dallas, where he shot a career-best 49.4 percent from three in 26 games.

See how he plays it cool like he’s he going to set a baseline cross screen and then ghosts it to create hesitation before shifting into high gear and running off a pindown?

That’s straight out of Carlisle’s playbook — sorta.

Indiana ran that same action against the Spurs to get McDermott his lone shot attempt of the game, but T.J. Leaf left his spot a beat quicker than Thaddeus Young did in the previous example. If not for Kyle O’Quinn’s hard screen, the 26-year-old shooter would not have had much of a window to get off a clean shot, a problem given that he’s attempted exactly one shot — yes, one — off three or more dribbles.

And therein lies the difference in dimension between how the action is executed by the Pacers versus the Mavericks.

With Dallas, McDermott would receive a faux screen before setting a faux flex screen and ultimately coming off the pindown for the shot.

That extra wrinkle matters for two reasons: 1) It gives the offense more options (i.e. Barea can get off a shot or curl if his man hesitates), and is therefore less predictable, and 2) It puts less pressure on McDermott to put the ball on the floor or create space for himself with a shot fake or side-step — which he is less adept at than Bogdanovic — to avoid a reset.

In that regard, it’s almost like the Pacers copied the Mavericks homework but decided to make sure a few of the answers were different as to not make it too obvious.

At the risk of being supremely cliche, as it pertains to what they borrowed from Dallas and Golden State, imitation should be perceived as the sincerest form of flattery and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

All of which is to say that McDermott needs to knock down shots when he’s open, but shooters need to shoot and in order for him to do so with greater regularity the Pacers need to know and be more aware of their personnel — and that doesn’t just apply when they are in the flow of the game.