Since forget-me-not flowers are oftentimes given on Valentine’s Day with the hope that admirers will be ever-present on the mind of recipients, the opportunity is there to give some love to some of this season’s less heralded minutiae.
Fans won’t soon forget the team’s wide array of crazy comebacks chock-full of Victor Oladipo’s clutch plays and Lance Stephenson’s air guitar solos, but they also may not remember — or, perhaps have even noticed — some of the smaller details which have played a part in how the Pacers have exceeded expectations.
So, in the spirit of Hearts Day, here’s a bouquet of a half dozen forget-me-not plays which celebrate the subtle before the flashy.
The defensive commitment of Cory Joseph
Not enough has been said about the variety of skills Cory Joseph displays on the regular on defense which stem beyond the peskiness he provides at the point of attack or the fight he puts up against ball screens.
Just consider everything that was asked of him in this single possession to close the half against the Dallas Mavericks:
- After bumping Salah Mejri from his spot rolling to the rim, Joseph races to recover to Yogi Ferrell from behind the arc.
- Then, once Mejri snags his teammate’s misfired three, the scrappy 25-year-old scrambles to check Harrison Barnes.
- As the Mavericks clear out so their leading scorer can attempt to exploit the mismatch, Joseph holds his position and forces a bad shot without ever needing to call upon Myles Turner as a second-line of defense.
- Last, but certainly not least, he tracks down the miss while preventing Barnes from gathering the loose ball by positioning himself between his man and the baseline.
As Jim Ayello of the Indy Star pointed out, the Pacers have held opponents to 8.6 points per 100 possessions fewer when Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner have been on the floor with Cory Joseph as opposed to Darren Collison.
The totality of possessions like the one cited above, along with his ability to strip the ball from Kyle Anderson on a key late-game possession in San Antonio or bait Kyrie Irving into committing a turnover by forcing the side pick-and-roll action to the sideline in Boston, are a big part of the reason why.
The poise of Domantas Sabonis
By now, it should be evident that Sabonis and Oladipo have developed a special chemistry when it comes to executing dribble hand-off sets.
So much so that when defenders attempt to duck under to keep the late-bloomer out of the paint, Sabonis still manages to find the right angle on the screen so that Oladipo can have enough space to drain the pull-up jump shot.
Or, better yet, when they try to overplay it with Indiana’s high-octane guard standing in the left corner, the son of Arvydas Sabonis comes ready and willing to thread backdoor passes to Oladipo cutting to the rim.
And, here’s the thing: Both of these possessions have something in common other than the play type and players involved. They highlight the polished patience and passing acumen of Indiana’s 21-year-old backup center.
The ultimate example of this was from early in the season against the Portland Trail Blazers, when the Pacers set-up as if they were going to run a dribble hand-off set on the right side of the floor for Oladipo to attack the basket.
Instead, with Darren Collison setting a quick backscreen on the weak side for Bojan Bogdanovic, Sabonis faked the pass to Indiana’s leading scorer, pivoted, and waited for the exact moment to find the Croatian sharpshooter in the eye of the storm for the reverse layup.
The ability of Sabonis to read the floor without panicking is a significant reason why he has managed to have a positive impact on the game even on nights when his shot doesn’t fall.
The decision-making of Victor Oladipo
Lost in the slew of big, late-game shots, point-saving, point-creating steals, and acrobatically graceful finger-roll layups executed with mere slivers of airspace, is that Indiana’s first-time All-Star has also demonstrated growth in the way in which he thinks the game.
For instance, look no further than the monster three he hit against Cleveland when he sent Kevin Love flying. Not only did he make another clutch shot off the dribble, but he recognized that Myles Turner was being guarded by LeBron James and avoided the unfavorable switch by calling for Thaddeus Young to set the ball screen instead.
Not only was it a heads up play, it epitomized why his development into a go-to scorer has been about more than his explosive athleticism.
The pick-and-pop threat of Myles Turner
Myles Turner has touched the ball less on average than 17 other starting centers, and he hasn’t demonstrated many signs of season-over-season growth with his spotty coverage against roll-men, pigeonholed scoring arsenal, tendency to settle for turnaround jump shots when defended by smaller guards, and touch-and-go recognition of floor spacing after making a pass or setting a screen.
Yet, in spite of his struggles to make the third-year leap amid heightened expectations, possessions such as this against the New York Knicks serve as a handy reminder of the value he has to the team in being who he already is.
Here, because the 21-year-old shot blocker is one of only seven players in the league shooting above 50 percent from mid-range, Courtney Lee collapsed on Turner to force him into being a playmaker.
It’s somewhat maddening that the Pacers continue to rank among the bottom six teams in three point attempts per 100 possessions while placing among the top six in three-point field goal percentage, but at least Turner’s presence means a greater portion of their low volume of three pointers will be high quality.
The off-ball movement of Bojan Bogdanovic
As opposed to being employed solely as a one-dimensional, stationary floor spacer, the Pacers have found some creative ways to rely upon Bojan Bogdanovic’s ability to read his defender.
Take this nifty set from Indiana’s streak-snapping victory over the Cavaliers, for instance. After Bogdanovic sets a sort of decoy screen for Victor Oladipo to cut to the left corner, Kyle Korver’s focus is diverted just long enough to prevent him from recovering to his man behind the arc when Thaddeus Young picks the picker.
Beyond knocking down the open shot, where Bogdanovic shines brightest in these types of actions is the way in which he casually lulls his man into complacency with his ho-hum demeanor before rapidly shifting gears and sprinting to his spot.
The everywhere-ness of Thaddeus Young
With the Pacers only calling two plays for the lefty power forward, Thaddeus Young seemingly finds a way to apparate to spots on the floor where he’s needed most by operating as a secondary option alongside the baseline.
Whenever opponents collapse on Domantas Sabonis rolling to the rim, Thad is there to catch the drop pass.
Whenever the 29-year-old passes up an open shot for a better shot and Darren Collison attacks the closeout and gets forced baseline, Thad is still there to flash the paint.
Put simply, wherever there is a crevice within Indiana’s prolific pick-and-roll offense, Thad will be there — he’ll be everywhere.