Post-ups have a love-hate relationship with the Pacers. Aside from Domantas Sabonis, whose default setting is basically to search and destroy mismatches, and a few bright spots from T.J. Leaf, Indiana struggled to wring any semblance of efficiency out of the anachronistic play-type for which they routinely showed so much fondness last season. Not only did they call for post-ups on over seven percent of their possessions; on 12th-ranked frequency, they scored 0.893 points per possession, good for 24th in the league. With stagnant surrounding offense and post-entry passes that were oftentimes late or off-target leading to bowled over defenders and/or extended windows of opportunity for extra hands to swarm and deflect the ball, the low rate of return, which was admittedly bogged down by turnovers, hardly seemed worth the trouble in many cases — especially when Sabonis wasn’t directly involved.
And yet, consider this: Shots coming from a pass out of the post yielded the Pacers +.201 points per possession over field goal attempts in the post. In fact, Indiana actually netted themselves more points on field goal attempts from passes out of the post (1.094) than they did on spot-up opportunities (1.059) and shots coming off screens (0.969) — albeit with the caveat that the former category actually double classifies under the latter two in most instances.
As such, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, it might be more worth it for them to simply consider better ways to prevent the water from getting murky.
Fortunately, one such mode has already emerged. On the first possession of overtime in India, Indiana turned the traditional post-up on its head by putting Malcolm Brogdon in the position to find shooters on-time and on-target with his back to the basket.
This is important for a few key reasons. For one, Brogdon is 6-foot-5 with a strong frame, meaning he has a size advantage over most point guards in a way that wasn’t readily accessible with Darren Collison. That weight differential matters because this was actually a set that the Pacers incorporated mid-way through last season for Wesley Matthews. Now, with Brogdon commandeering the set, Indiana no longer has to waste precious seconds of the shot-clock creating a mismatch with 2-1 screening action and can instead invert the play and cut straight to the chase on the back of their primary ball-handler’s acting skills.
Here, for instance, after swiftly tossing the ball to T.J. Warren at the wing, notice how it appears as though Brogdon is about to casually set a cross-screen for Myles Turner before he abruptly turns back and seals De’Aaron Fox on the low-block.
From there, the whole purpose should be for the guard to post with the intent to pass, which is where things had a tendency to get messy with Matthews, who — for whatever reason — was given a legacy pass to be greedy in these situations, despite the fact that he only scored 11 points on 23 post-up possessions over his 23 games with the Pacers.
In a departure from the norm, as opposed to having the post feeder screen away for the nearest perimeter player, the Pacers do this nifty thing where the big sneaks up and sets a back screen for the post feeder. This opens up a matrix of options depending on the coverage, and calls for the player in the post to be able — and willing — to make a quick, decisive read.
Here, Brogdon found Warren off the fade when his man got ambushed by the pick. But, if the digger skirts the screen, then Warren could curl around Sabonis and a snappy bounce pass would be in order. Switch out Sabonis for Turner, and if the big releases from the screener to cover the cutter, then Turner can drift to the 3-point line. Or, how about if the opposing team sends help from the baseline on the initial post-up? Well, then the other big will be open for business under the basket.
Nothing about any of this is particularly revolutionary, but what takes it from a cone of plain old vanilla soft serve to a carton of Madagascar vanilla bean gelato is the role reversal. With Brogdon in the post, and two forwards screening above him, Indiana can take advantage of their point guard’s wrist strength and high IQ while also forcing Warren’s man to defend in a way he otherwise wouldn’t, at least when he plays at the four.
Plus, there’s room to layer in additional flavor.
Should they downsize, or if they spread Turner to the corner, then the Pacers could take a page from the Houston Rockets and jazz up their already existing alignment.
In this case, rather than flying off a screen from Sabonis, Warren would screen diagonally away for Turner — or, whichever wing happens to be out there in his place.
With his defender expecting him to use the screen while also in wait-and-see mode on the developing post-up, the corner man then creeps in and sets a screen of his own to free up the guard in the nearest slot for three, who would theoretically eventually be Oladipo.
If the low-man goes to double, then there’s already a baked-in wrinkle where the post-feeder wheels around the high-side big with the corner man setting the screen on the player zoning up the weak side, like so.
In every instance, the point guard has the clean sight lines to generate a high-quality shot without being pressured into creating his own offense.
That’s extremely on brand for Brogdon.
So, maybe, the post-up doesn’t have to be rendered obsolete so long as it can be judiciously used and thoughtfully repurposed.
After all, hospitably hosting that which was previously unloved — be it traded for players, bucked norms, or play-types — is extremely on brand for the Pacers.