Jalen Smith is nicknamed Stix for a reason. Wiry with long arms, the strength imbalance between he and Isaiah Stewart, as a 6-foot-8 chunk of toned muscle, was expected on Friday night; and yet, also unsuspecting. After all, Beef Stew wasn’t so much tenderizing Indiana’s herd of youthful bigs with brawn on the block, as he was flexing his know-how, repeatedly creating open paths to the basket, whether with snake screens or duck-ins, in a way that could stand to be emulated by the Pacers — particularly as it pertains to the latter.
Think of it this way. Since being traded to Indiana, Smith has impressed firing away from deep, attempting 3.9 threes per game and hitting them at a 45 percent clip, including some shots in transition, but he struggles to overpower switches with his face-up game and can be awkward driving from the corners, rather than backing down smaller guards.
Of course, opportunities have been somewhat sparse, as the trend of attacking from the outside has carried over from earlier in the season, when Turner and Sabonis were all too often overlooked; however, as Stewart demonstrated on Friday for the Pistons, playing 4-out, 1-in can actually assist in those efforts, even if Smith doesn’t touch the ball.
Just look at this possession from the second quarter and consider the possibilities of Jalen screening his own man or ducking-in hard at the dunker’s spot, with Buddy staying spaced.
In essence, Smith would be tearing open a hole for Brogdon to attack into and forcing Haliburton’s defender to make the same touch choice that Buddy was confronted with when the Pistons were trailing by three with less than two minutes to play.
Instead, with Buddy circling, Brogdon attempts to get to his right — away from the inside match-up — and ends up running into a brick wall.
That happened repeatedly in the fourth quarter, as the guards attempted to isolate against Stewart, either misfiring from deep or getting stonewalled around the basket.
“We thought we had a mismatch against Stewart,” Isaiah Jackson said post-game. “But he was playing phenomenal defense ... and we really just couldn’t get past him.”
Again, this is where the big, whether in the dunker spot or releasing from the switched screen, could be of more use. Look at Jackson and notice how he has Cade Cunningham pinned behind him on the same side of the floor as the ball-handler.
If Jackson works to maintain that position, then Brogdon can get downhill with his strong hand or dish to Jalen in the corner, as opposed to challenging Stewart, in yet another difficult and contested 1-on-1 situation, at the opposite side of the rim.
To be fair, Goga attempted a similar maneuver in Orlando and nearly caused a collision with Oshae Brissett, but there’s (literally) a sizable difference between trying do so while getting folded in half by a seven-foot center.
And mimicking the same technique that Stewart demonstrates here, only against a switch,
As Jalen himself could’ve done, here, by turning his toes toward the lane and into the mismatch, rather than releasing from his spot and congesting Brogdon’s driving lane.
All of which is to say that, while it may not currently be realistic for Jackson or Jalen to punish switches in the traditional sense, jousting with smaller competitors in the post; the way in which they position themselves inside can still play an active part in dislodging mismatches on the perimeter, shedding Isaiah Stewart on defense by taking a page from him on offense. In that regard, if the Pacers are going to duck entering the ball inside on duck-ins — do it with purpose.