For the fourth-straight holiday season, the film room along with the virtual shelves of several advanced stats sites have been scoured in search of the perfect present for each player on Indiana’s roster in hopes that the impact soon will be near.
Let’s get cracking.
Tyreke Evans: Focus
In several of the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, Santa grants time-constrained, behavior-altering wishes. When a niece asks that her aunt be incapable of lying (a la Liar, Liar), a few days of mandated truth-telling manages to tie the main character’s life into a nice bow just in time for Christmas. In another, a woman asks for the courage to stand up for herself and 48 hours later, when the spell wears off, she’s learned how to speak her mind all on her own.
Can we get some of that fast-acting magic for Tyreke Evans?
On top of the fact that the drive-first guard is posting career lows in points, assists, and free throw rate while shooting an absolutely dreadful 33.3 percent at the rim in the half court, he’s also had a number of possessions that can only be explained by lack of concentration.
The ball spontaneously turned into a butter blob mid-slalom against the Suns. In Sacramento, a pass rolled off the back of his heel when he was all alone in transition. He had zero recognition of the shot-clock when the Cavs were in town. And he got whistled for travelling on back-to-back possessions against the Lakers, just to name a few.
Needless to say, Bojan Bogdanovic was all of us in this moment:
And yet, in part because he has the second-highest usage percentage on the team, the Pacers have gone 12-4 in the games in which he’s scored in double figures compared to 6-8 in those he hasn’t, not accounting for the games he’s missed.
As such, perhaps a temporary embargo on hapless miscues would help the barrel-chested scorer rediscover who he was during his one-year layover in Memphis — or, at least help him tap into that particular alter ego with more consistency.
Darren Collison: Improved shot-clock management
Last season’s league-leader in three-point field-goal percentage has made 13 of his last 32 threes after starting the season 14-of-46, and he has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios among starting guards.
Recent bump in low-volume efficiency aside, however, Collison struggled mightily against Toronto’s length and his decision-making continues to lag behind at times in the half-court.
Not unlike Bojan Bogdanovic’s exasperated response to Tyreke Evans, Myles Turner was all of us when he motioned for Collison to get into the offense quicker during this possession versus the Kings:
Or, how about against Chicago.
Here, because Collison waited a beat too long to throw the pass to Bogdanovic on the fade coming off the wide pindown when Justin Holiday attempted to shoot the gap, Myles Turner had to re-screen, which gave Wendell Carter Jr. the opportunity to confront the Croatian sharpshooter and led to an ever-dangerous split.
Neither of these possessions ended in a turnover, or even a missed shot; but, they factor into why less than 15 percent of Indiana’s shot attempts come early (18-15 seconds) in the shot clock, a mark which ranks 26th in the league.
There’s a difference between taking rushed shots that lead to long rebounds and run outs and making a purposeful effort to get into the offense quicker. In both of these instances, the Pacers — who desire to attack early and late — needed the 31-year-old guard to take a lesson from the man in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and fly like a flash, tear open the shutters, and throw up the sash.
Cory Joseph: Regression avoidance
After shooting 41 percent from three over his first 37 games last season, Joseph only converted 31 percent of his attempts from long distance in his remaining 45 games.
It’s starting to look like that slippage might be coming early this year.
From getting into the offense quicker as a source of constant motion to what he does as a pesky defender at the point of attack, good things tend to happen for the Pacers when Cory Joseph is on the floor.
Per Wowy, Indiana has narrowly been outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions in the 469 minutes in which Darren Collison has played alongside Victor Oladipo with Cory Joseph on bench. When the roles between the two point guards are reversed, the Pacers have posted a mammoth net rating of plus-19.7 in, albeit, a much smaller sample size of 173 minutes.
Still, regardless of role and even if only on low volume, the Pacers are going to need the 26-year-old reserve point guard to be a more reliable stop-release on spot-up plays come playoff time — especially in the highly likely event that teams try to force Oladipo into being a passer.
With the second-half of the season fast-approaching, Joseph has to rage against regression like it’s extra holiday weight on the first day after New Year’s.
Aaron Holiday: On-the-job training
The 22-year-old sweet-shooting rookie has shot 23 percent from three, but he’s still managed to wow even amidst his shooting woes with stuff like executing a windmill crossover through traffic, swatting shots off the glass, and snaking his dribble.
There’s a lot to like about Aaron Holiday, which is why it’s too bad there’s no place for him in the regular 9-man rotation to continue to grow on the job as a defender.
For instance, he got burned a couple of times by Cameron Payne, mostly because of what Wendell Carter Jr. did as the screener.
Here, at the precise moment when Indiana’s third-string point guard was in the process of forcing the ball-handler to the sideline with his back necessarily turned to the screener, the rookie big man slipped the step-up; thereby baiting Holiday into shifting his weight to the middle of the floor just long enough for Payne to beat him off the dribble.
Later in the same game, Carter Jr. threw Holiday for a similar loop with a running slip in transition that conned the 22-year-old guard into believing there would be a screen for him to fight over and consequently left him vulnerable to Payne’s crossover with little opportunity to react.
Borne out of botched coverage calls, both mistakes underscore why reps are required to develop the lines of split-second communication between the player defending the screener and the on-ball defender.
Assuming the Pacers need him to be ready to play full-time next season with Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans all on expiring contracts, Holiday might need to be as quick of a study on that end of the floor as Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin had to become after Santa Claus fell off of his roof.
Victor Oladipo: A secondary playmaker
All of which begs (or, perhaps more festively, has snowballed) into one overarching question: What is the Pacers answer going to be when teams come at Oladipo with hard traps in the playoffs?
Indiana’s supporting cast went 7-4 when the high-octane guard was out indefinitely with knee soreness, a vast improvement over last season’s mark of 0-7, but at no point over that stretch were they being forced to cover for and/or read and react to teams relentlessly committing multiple defenders to the ball — let alone their star player.
In that regard, how this group’s improved depth will react to the various escalating degrees of homing coverage is still a relative unknown, outside of a few all too familiar bread crumbs.
On the handful of occasions when the screener’s man has jumped out above the level of the screen to confront the high-octane guard dribbling off the pick, stuff like this — with Turner waiting a beat too long to dart to the rim at the same time as Oladipo either aborts his dribble or attempts an ever-dangerous split — has reared its ugly head:
When Houston took away the late-bloomer’s one-on-one pull-up threes by forcing him to dribble into a crowd, the swarm of extra bodies bothered his ability to take advantage of his teammates, as he finished the game with 22 points on 24 shots:
And on the only late-game possession when the Nets ran a trap to get the ball out of his hands, some of the same hints of panicked stagnancy resurfaced.
Granted, history isn’t guaranteed to inform on the future. Maybe, Indiana will come prepared with more schemes to proactively relieve some of that congestion? Maybe, Myles Turner will become more natural slipping into space? Maybe, Collison and Joseph will hit shots at a better clip than their combined mark of 10-of-36 when Oladipo went 12-of-50 from the field over the middle three games of the series? Maybe, Tyreke Evans, who at least has still shown the ability to shift defenders at the nail with head fakes and hesitations, will figure things out and be able to unleash Oladipo’s speed on the weakside?
But that’s a lot of maybes, which naturally should lead the Pacers to thoughtfully consider another: Maybe, the secondary playmaker Victor Oladipo still needs is on a different team.