Indiana Pacers: 5 Areas the Pacers Must Improve Upon to Challenge in the East
The Indiana Pacers are balanced offensively, relentless defensively and are one of the best rebounding teams in the league. Add in what is arguably the best bench in the league, and there are many reasons that the Pacers are quickly becoming the sexy, dark horse pick in the Eastern Conference.
That being said, as an underwhelming loss in Detroit and an abysmal effort in Miami showed, the Pacers still have their work cut out for them. Going forward, they must improve on a few key aspects if they are to have any chance of upsetting Chicago and Miami come playoff time.
1. Darren Collison and the Pick-and-Roll
The biggest cause of consternation to watching the Pacers' early season has been Darren Collison's inability to execute the pick-and-roll. In other aspects of the game, Collison has performed well. His shooting has been strong, his assists-to-turnover ratio high and his defense, while at times lamentable, has been adequate.
Most impressive has been the young point guard's command of the offense, except for when it comes to to running the pick-and-roll, a staple (the staple) of the Pacers' halfcourt game.
In David West, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough (even Jeff Foster), the Pacers have the best pick-setting big men in the league. They all happen to have to respectable mid-range games.
Such a combination lends itself perfectly to a lot of open shots off the pick-and-roll. Expect Collison is late almost every time. Fortunately, he has enough sense not to force the pass after the window has closed, but it is exasperating seeing how many times Collison has missed an opening.
Even against Kevin Garnett, who is renowned for his strong defense against the pick, David West was open either on the pop-out or the roll numerous times.
As soon as the pick should be set, the pass should be automatic. So far, it hasn't been, which is why the Pacers offense has at times looked static.
If Indiana wants to take pressure off its defense and start winning games with its offense, then assistant coach Brian Shaw is going to need to sit Collison down and work with him on one of the key elements to the Pacers' game plan.
2. Get the Ball to Roy Hibbert
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So far this year, Roy Hibbert's improvements have been evident and his game impressive. Seven games into the season, he is averaging a double-double of 12.9 PPG and 10.3 RPG.
Most players would be happy with such numbers, and considering that he's improved his rebounding total by more than three boards per game, there is a lot to be pleased with. However at 7'2'' and now in excellent shape, more production is needed from Big Roy, particularly on the offensive end.
So far, Hibbert isn't solely to blame. The Pacers should make it a priority that Hibbert touch the ball every single possession in their halfcourt sets, because not only can he create his own shot, but Hibbert is one of the best passing big men in the league.
Running the offense through, Hibbert would collapse the defense, space the court for the Pacers and allow Granger, George and the like more freedom to maneuver.
So far, however, getting the ball to Hibbert hasn't been the priority it needs to be for Indiana offensively.
With their next game against an undersized Charlotte team, Hibbert has an excellent opportunity to show that he deserves the ball more.
3. Set Screens for Paul George
If you saw Paul George play last year but have yet to see him play this season, you'd think I was absolutely crazy for suggesting this: The Pacers need to get Paul George more looks from deep.
I know there were a lot of reports about George working on his shot over the summer, but so far, George's transformation from a slasher to a spot-up-knock-down shooter has been unreal.
Last season, George hit a paltry .297 from behind the arc. This year, George has raised that mark to .625 overall, including a going a blistering 10-of-12 in January from downtown.
Currently, George is second in the league in three-point percentage and has hit eight more threes than leader Chris Duhon has attempted.
Accordingly, the Pacers should adjust their offensive sets to screen more for George. While it's unlikely that the second-year pro will stay this hot, a deadly three-point shooter makes the Pacers offense all that more dangerous.
Look for more set plays for George in the coming weeks.
Define Roles on Offensive
The defensive effort and rebounding have been great. It's the offense that at times has struggled.
The problem so far seems to be players not understanding their roles, particularly when it comes to Paul George and David West. Too often, George and West have been caught floating around the perimeter without real purpose or clarity as to where they should be. It's not their fault, though, as the coaching staff has yet to define the responsibilities of each player in the offense.
To do so, the Pacers should take a page out of the Boston Celtics.
Like Paul Pierce, the offense should evolve around Danny Granger (and Roy Hibbert as well). David West should fill Kevin Garnett's role as someone who can post up down low or pop out and direct traffic from the high post, and Paul George should copy Ray Allen's relentless running off screens along the baseline to get open from deep.
Right now, the Pacers are too bunched up and keep getting in each other's way. If West and George develop more concrete roles, the offense should open up and everyone's scoring will increase.
5. Play Lance Stephenson More
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During the lockout, second-year pro Lance Stephenson stayed in Indiana and dedicated his summer to improving his game. He's grown up and is more serious about being a true professional.
All of this points to reasons that "Born Ready" should be given a chance to reap the benefits of his hard work.
Yet, through seven games, Stephenson has barely seen the court. When he has played, he's been active and aggressive.
In only 40 minutes of game exposure, Stephenson has racked up seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and two points, which are decent numbers for someone relegated to garbage time.
Recently, Vogel has turned to A.J. Price for backup minutes at guard. Nothing against Price, but Stephenson offers more length, defense and potential for the Pacers.
Strong Start Points to Top 4 Finish in the East
Overall, the previous criticisms pale in comparison to the improvements the team has shown. The Pacers have scoring balance, depth, defense and rebounding. Most importantly, they seem to be a cohesive unit that enjoys playing with one another.
Already, in the early season, the Pacers logged impressive win over the Celtics and, going forward, will have a chance to prove that they belong.