Court Vision: Indiana builds a defense without weakness
By Rob Mahoney
• As explained by Zach Lowe in his study of Indiana’s defense over at Grantland, the Pacers aren’t doing anything revolutionary in terms of execution or approach. Yet they’re putting up some truly historic numbers by leveraging their length, and benefitting greatly from their lack of a defensive vulnerability among their core players:
Those first two factors — sheer size and the lack of a minus defender — are so basic and immune to strategy that they are easy to speed past in search of sexier answers. But they are the foundation of what’s going on here. During a team meeting in training camp, Frank Vogel, Indy’s recently extended head coach, called George Hill, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George to the front of the locker room and had them stand side by side, with their arms outstretched, according to Vogel and several players. The point was obvious: “I just wanted to illustrate to the guys what enormous length we have,” Vogel says. George laughs when he recalls the scene: “I was like, ‘What does coach have us doing up here in front of everybody?’
• There are still head coaches working in the NBA who are against having more information at their disposal due to their categoric dislike for statistics. Tom Ziller of SB Nation discusses the curious case of Lionel Hollins – one coach in just such a mold, despite the fact that his franchise recently hired former ESPN.com stats writer John Hollinger as the VP of Basketball Operations.
• Hardwood Paroxysm is scheduled to do a Q&A with sharpshooter, indie rock fan, and sandwich connoisseur Matt Bonner, and needs your help to brainstorm the best questions possible.
• D.J. Foster dug deep to find the silver lining for the most hopeless of lottery-bound teams this season, including this unexpected gem regarding the performance of the better-but-still-lottery-bound Charlotte Bobcats:
That vaunted Bobcats pick-and-roll attack! According to Synergy Sports, the Bobcats notch .88 points per play for their ballhandlers in the pick-and-roll, which ranks them second in the league.
This is pretty incredible, mainly because every team in the NBA uses picks for ballhandlers. It’s the bread and butter of nearly every NBA offense.
But it’s the Bobcats with Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and any other pick users that rank second among all teams. With all the great point guards around the league, Kemba Walker (31st overall in P&R scoring) and Ramon Sessions (38th) are quietly consistent enough as scorers to have the Bobcats rank as elite in this category.
You just keep on setting screens and doing your thing, Bismack Biyombo. You may not be scoring, but your guards are.
• Don’t miss our own Ben Golliver’s look at the Thunder’s unbelievably quiet success this season, and the omens of their amazing efficiency differential.
• When evaluated in the context of their specific opponents, the Heat’s alleged rebounding problems don’t seem all that concerning. HEAT.com’s Danny Martinez explains:
As of the Utah game the HEAT rank 25th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. That alone may look like a red flag, but is it? To find out, we need to see who the HEAT have played and how many defensive rebounds they should have up to this point.
This is actually simple to do. To calculate this, we just pull up the HEAT’s schedule, find the opponents and look up their offensive rebounding rates for the season. Next, we’ll calculate the available defensive rebounds in the games actually played and compare how the HEAT did and how the raw numbers suggest they should have done.
The two highlighted figures are the numbers to look at. The HEAT have come up 16 rebounds shy of where they’re projected to based on opponent. With the HEAT having played 36 games, it comes out to .44 defensive rebounds a game. That doesn’t appear to be anything worth stressing over.
• The absence of a productive player is often mistaken for the absence of production — as if losing a 20-10 talent somehow only deprived the team of 20 points and 10 rebounds that would thereby need to be replaced. Britt Robson does a wonderful job of explaining why, in the specific case of the Timberwolves and Kevin Love, the loss is far more complicated (and dramatic) than that:
Then there are the less obvious advantages created by Love’s skill set. He notoriously complains to officials while his teammates race down the court to defend, so why are the Wolves suddenly yielding so many fast break points in his absence? (They were outscored 95-to-38 in that realm during the four games on the road.)
Most probably it is because of Love’s prowess as an offensive rebounder, which not only reduces the amount of times an opponent can initiate a fast break, but keeps their swingmen down near the hoop to contest the caroms and prevents their guards from leaking out too soon and too rapidly, lest Love grab the rebound and the Wolves suddenly have a 5-on-4 advantage in the half-court.
Another factor is the fatigue of the Wolves’ guards, who no longer operate in the greater spacing provided by Love’s presence, and no longer can “take a play off” by simply dishing it to their star and letting him go to work. Instead, they have to expend more energy in less space, siphoning energy on a group already compromised by a lack of height, or muscle, or two healthy knees — and further compromised by the losing and dysfunction that is now feeding on itself.