The Indiana Pacers took a 4-3 record into Wednesday’s matchup with the New York Knicks. While they had a winning record, there are a few issues they must address as the year progresses.
Arguably the Pacers’ most pressing issue is their reliance on mid-range jump shooting. The problematic aspects begin with the significantly lower out of points per possession (PPP) that these attempts provide compared to perimeter jump shots or finishes in the paint. There are problematic trickle effects that go beyond a simple mathematical process, too.
To put Indiana’s dependence on mid-range jump shooting into perspective, the Pacers entered Wednesday attempting 37.1 percent of their jump shots within the half-court from mid-range. Their frequency was the highest in the NBA by a considerable margin of 5.9 percent.
From an efficiency standpoint, the Pacers were producing only 0.8 points per possession on those particular mid-range jump shots. Within the half-court, they were producing an elite 1.087 PPP on short range jumpers, 1.25 PPP from beyond the arc, 1.232 PPP on finishes around the basket (excluding post-ups) and 1.103 PPP on post-ups.
Basically, there are a multitude of alternative areas that the Pacers are producing greater results than what they are from mid-range. That’s a direct consequence of creating a half-court offensive scheme dependent on those attempts.
A relatively indirect consequence of being dependent on mid-range jump shots is that it lowers the amount of opportunities that a team can shoot from beyond the arc. Indiana entered Wednesday shooting on average 9.7-of-22.6 (43 percent) from the perimeter. They ranked last in the league in attempts but first in percentage.
It’s crucial that the Pacers use some tweaks to create more perimeter shooting attempts throughout games. The simplest method starts with Myles Turner. He is used primarily as a pick-and-pop and spot-up threat in his role as a stretch-five role, having him pop out to the perimeter and spend time from behind the line whenever he is spacing the floor.
Opposing teams are having their big defender in pick-and-roll sequences drop deep into the paint and Turner’s tendency to pop to mid-range greatly simplifies the recovery process. Ultimately, dropping the big defender greatly deters a drive while the on-ball can pester the ball handler with a closeout on the pull-up jumper, which causes an inefficient sequence.
Indiana’s guards frequently have tunnel vision when handling the ball and that’s going to have to change too, especially in the pick-and-roll. It’s crucial that they deliver the ball to a jump-shooting threat like Turner from beyond the arc so it forces his man to be pulled away from the paint. It would directly create driving opportunities for guards, space for cutters and room for post-ups.
The way that the Milwaukee Bucks use Brook Lopez is a perfect example of how Turner could maximize his impact as a stretch-five. Lopez is averaging 6.3 attempts from beyond the arc and that is the second most on their team. As a whole, the Bucks are averaging 40.6 perimeter attempts and that trails only the Houston Rockets.
Another method of turning their mid-range attempts into perimeter attempts is to have guards like Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison and Tyreke Evans approach the play to pull-up from beyond the arc. There are plenty of situations throughout games when it’s possible to do so, whether in the pick-and-roll, in handoffs, spot-up, or isolation.
The Pacers also have the option of using players like Thaddeus Young in the corner when they are playing off the ball as opposed to leaving them on the block. Eventually, it would be wise for them to acquire a stretch four to maximize their perimeter shooting volume and to significantly improve their floor spacing.
They have done a solid job of using off-screen sequences to clear space for Bojan Bogdanovic and Doug McDermott. It’s always an option to run these plays more since it would add additional layers to their offense and maximize their perimeter shooting output.
Using more off-screen plays with Oladipo more frequently is an option for the Pacers. He doesn’t have the smoothest shooting mechanics for these types of sequences, but has shown to be more than capable. Also, it would create more opportunities for him to get downhill against the defense with momentum to finish at the basket.
Indiana could use more post-up sequences and spread the floor to create more inside-and-out passing opportunities for perimeter shot attempts. Turner has shown a lot of positive signs as a post scorer so far this season and Domantas Sabonis has certainly done the same. All they would need to do is score well enough to be able to exploit defensive commitments and ball watching.
One of the consequences that the Pacers have experienced from their reliance on mid-range jump shots is the decline in their free throw attempts. They went into Wednesday averaging a league-low 18.9 free throw attempts. Not having favorable floor spacing to drive the lane is a certainly a major factor in that.
With the emphasis on "freedom of movement" rules by the officials, there are so many ways that the Pacers can exploit defenses. Running a half-court scheme that neutralizes the advantages that other teams are taking advantage of makes it more difficult to keep pace with such high scoring totals.
There were 24 teams in the NBA entering Wednesday averaging at least 28 attempts from beyond the arc and 19 teams averaging more than 110 points. Last season at this time, there were only 16 teams that were meeting that perimeter shooting mark and only five teams meeting that scoring figure.
It’s essential that the Pacers work to modernize their offensive approach or else it’s going to be very difficult to keep up with opposing offenses.