Tyreke Evans needs to take some of the pressure off of Victor Oladipo, not only when the high-octane guard goes to the bench but also when they play in tandem.
“You have to have two guys who can make plays,” Kevin Pritchard said while introducing Evans. “We saw last year in the playoffs, with Victor in the pick-and-roll, you can take him out of his best thing. They would soft double it. They would hard double it, but they would make him pass it. But if you have two playmakers on the court, with shooting and being able to space, it’s tough to defend.”
Last season, because Oladipo demonstrated a repeated tendency to abort his dribble and either jam left-handed pocket passes to the screening big at the free throw line or demurely toss the ball to the off-ball guard, there wasn’t much guesswork involved for opponents to play solid one-pass-away defense.
Granted, the Pacers could’ve done more to relieve this sort of congestion (i.e. setting a quick pindown screen on the weak side to distract the shaker’s man from stunting toward the screener), but going through the rigmarole to distract from Oladipo’s limited passing arsenal arguably wouldn’t have been as necessary with a secondary playmaker available to shoulder some of the heavy lifting.
During the playoffs, Darren Collison’s low-volume efficiency and safe shot-creation from the regular season struggled to cover for Oladipo going 12-of-50 from the field over the middle three games of the series, connecting on just 7-of-26 shots across that same span with only two makes coming outside the paint.
Evans, on the other hand, committed turnovers at a higher rate, but his ability to drain threes off the dribble and draw and shake opponents to and from the ball with head fakes and hesitations has the potential to put undue stress on the nail defender when given the opportunity to manipulate the pick-and-roll with Indiana’s first-time All-Star situated on the opposite slot.
In order to meld the existing strengths of both straight-line drivers around the object of keeping the defense off balance, here’s some suggestions from the 28-year-old ball-handler’s one-season stint in Memphis on how the Pacers can employ Evans to start what Oladipo finishes.
Set off a Stampede
This possession against the Spurs is simple enough. With Pau Gasol dropping below the level of the screen to avoid having his lack of foot speed exposed while Danny Green prioritizes the drive by going under the screen, Evans pulls up for (and misses) the lightly contested shot.
But, imagine for a moment that a more nimble big was more aggressive with the coverage to take away the 3-point line (after all, Evans did shoot above 40 percent on threes off the dribble last season, something only Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry accomplished on at least three attempts per game), and consider the agonizing decision that would be facing Kyle Anderson if Oladipo’s closing speed was standing on the wing in place of Jarell Martin.
With every penetrating dribble that Evans takes with Gasol backpedaling until Danny Green can recover, Anderson would have to instantaneously weigh inching away from the center of the free throw line to tag the roller against straying too far out of range to close out to his man.
At the precise moment that Anderson turns his head or takes even the tiniest step toward the screener to help, Evans could take a page from the Utah Jazz, as laid out here by PickandPop.net, and use the defense’s assumptions against them by whipping the ball behind the pick-and-roll action for Oladipo to hit the nitrous button and set course for the rim with the corner defender left in the precarious position to choose between staying at home or crowding the ball.
For an added twist, notice what happens when the roles are reversed and Manu Ginobili stays attached to Evans in anticipation of the offense being run through the main scoring engine on the floor for Memphis rather than retreating to the nail to gum up the path of the roller.
Once the ball is swung to the opposite side of the floor, Deyonta Davis sets a step-up screen in Ginobili’s blind spot, which gives Evans the freedom to mercilessly pick on the over-40 shooting guard’s aging reflexes.
As expected, a teensy jab to the left is all it takes to send Ginobili the wrong way around the purposefully ambiguous screen; thereby, netting Evans (or, just as easily Oladipo) the space to drain the open pull-up three.
Oladipo’s momentum is more comparable to a downhill skier matching speed with agility to race to the bottom of the slope whereas Evans draws on slalom-like step-throughs and baiting techniques to get into the teeth of the defense; however, while relatively synonymous in the above example, if the former was the recipient of the pass it would make it more challenging for opponents to bother him with hedges and traps due to the perpendicular angle of the screen.
Zipper Reimagined with Smoke in Mirrors
Whether the Pacers choose to trade out Darren Collison or Bojan Bogdanovic for Evans in the minutes he shares with Oladipo in a staggered rotation will likely depend upon the match-up, but for the sake of this example it is necessary to pretend as if they’ve gone with a three-guard lineup with the first-time All-Star standing in for Chandler Parsons.
As previously discussed, the Pacers trigger plenty of their actions with a down screen for Oladipo to cut vertically from the baseline to the slot with his defender snagged, which is similar to what Parsons initially appears to do, below, while the off-ball guard (i.e. Collison) relocates to the corner.
However, instead of immediately coming to get the ball from Evans on the perimeter as Oladipo often does with the Pacers, Parsons fakes likes he’s going to set a middle ball screen just long enough before drifting to the 3-point line to cause his defender, Juancho Hernangomez, to momentarily appear as if he were a human glitch unable to choose between helping Gary Harris corral the ball-handler and sticking with his man.
Even after the spinning buffer circle stopped cycling, however, Hernangomez still opted to converge on Evans, who ended up hitting a tough shot around the basket. If Parsons were Oladipo, that same moment of hesitation mostly likely would’ve bred enough confusion either for Evans to glide down the lane with less resistance or manufacture a spot-up three for his backcourt partner.
Snake the Clogged Drain
Just like spread shooters can open driving lanes for slashing guards, slashing guards can create open shots for shooters.
“The thing that makes him so good is his size, strength and ability to get where he wants to on the court,” Pritchard said of Evans. “He can get wherever he wants on the court. There’s no doubt about that.”
For example, look at what happened against the Clippers when Evans snaked his dribble tightly around Brandon Wright’s screen in order to put Wesley Johnson’s defensive versatility in his rearview mirror and evade being contained along the sideline.
Notice, specifically, how the sudden change of direction toward the opposite side of the floor drew the focus of all five (yes, five) defenders, as each prepared to stop the ball at the risk of abandoning his man.
A couple of things pop, here. First, Marshon Brooks, in a measly seven-game sample size, is the only player surrounding Evans on this particular possession who shot above 35 percent from three last season with the Grizzlies. That, in part, explains why the Clippers were willing to give into their instincts to collapse into the paint, and it also provides some context for the 28-year-old scorer’s insistence on weaving through and around multiple defenders to force the shot.
Notably, despite the development of his pull-up jumper from 3-point range, his field goal percentage in the restricted area (53.3 percent) only experienced a modest (still below average) bump when compared to his prior two injury riddled seasons (49.4 percent).
With various combinations of Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Doug McDermott available to be mixed and matched, Evans should have the privilege to wheel and (if he is so inclined) deal in a more spacious offense.
As such, return to that same possession, and picture what would have happened if Evans, with Oladipo in place of Mario Chalmers as the off-ball guard, had taken even just a few more east-west dribbles in front of the screening big to test DeAndre Jordan’s lateral mobility.
Acting on the assumption that Myles Turner is the screener with Johnson trailing the path of the ball-handler, the opportunity would be there for Evans to fire a throwback pass with to the 22-year-old center with the feathery jump shot and predilection for popping.
Additionally, the nail defender, in this case Austin Rivers, would (again) be confronted with deciding if he could temporarily hinder the driving angle of Evans without getting burned by the rapid rate by which Oladipo’s potential energy can turn kinetic upon receiving the kick-out pass.
Enhanced Dribble Hand-Off
The Pacers only called dribble hand-offs on 4.2 percent of their possessions last season; however, on 18th-ranked volume, they scored 1.02 points per possession, good for second in the league.
To zhoosh up the already special chemistry developed last season between Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis on these actions, the Pacers could explore having the first-time All-Star screen for the passing big while Evans discreetly waits in the corner to come get the ball.
In the above example, given that most behemoth rim protectors aren’t particularly accustomed to nor comfortable with fighting over screens as the on-ball defender, Portland’s Maurice Harkless switches onto Marc Gasol, which results in Jusuf Nurkic being assigned to contain Chandler Parsons (i.e. Oladipo) at the top of the key with Evans coming in hot toward his opposite flank.
Assuming that Evans dishes the ball to Oladipo, think good thoughts for the Bosnian center’s ankles when the lightning quick guard goes to exploit the mismatch.
All of which is to say that when opponents try to force Oladipo into being a passer the Pacers have someone who can more reliably provide an answer for how he can remain a scorer.
If Oladipo arrives at training camp equipped to keep his dribble alive and test the foot speed of the defender showing above the level of screen while throwing the types of skip passes and one-handed whip passes that will make opponents think twice about abandoning the weak side corner to load up on his usual release valves, then these examples become even more dynamic because he and Evans will be able to float interchangeably between roles while doubling the trouble.