This Tuesday and Wednesday I had a chance to talk with Indy Cornrows contributor Ian Levy. If you don't follow him on twitter, I recommend it; in the pre-season he was recommended by Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie as a Twitter Indispensable Must Follow. High praise that's well earned. He also writes for the Two Man Game and is probably one of the most level headed Mavs aficionados around.
Also, if you haven't before, I recommend visiting SB Nation site Indy Cornrows to learn more about this Eastern Conference team you probably don't see play very often. On to the questions!
1.) With Danny Granger out for the next few months, things have gotten off to a rough start in Indiana. What is going on and can any of the problems be fixed (seems like the Pacers shooting percentage HAS to go up, for example)?
The offense has been just atrocious, and fixing it will be a significant challenge because the problems run deeper than Granger's injury or just a streak of cold shooting. The Pacers have not been executing well in numerous areas, but this is compounded by the fact that their sets are very simplistic and don't always appear to have built in second-options. There is no way to have your eyes distracted on a George Hill - David West pick-and-roll because there is almost no movement from the other three Pacers on the floor. When initial action is stymied the Pacers are forced to resort to isolations against the shot clock which almost always result in a contested jump shot.
The inability to generate dribble penetration is also a huge problem. Poor pick-and-rolls get some of the blame, but Gerald Green and Paul George are either pulling up for jumpers too soon, or over-penetrating and turning the ball over. Roy Hibbert has been missing a ton of shots around the rim and the Pacers find themselves in this position where nothing is easy, nothing moves the defense off their marks, and consequently there are no open shots to be had. Doing a better job with the little things will make a difference, but unless there is an injection of imagination and creativity from the coaching staff the Pacers' offense is staring up at a very low ceiling.
The point guard situation in Indiana does not look good, not good at all. D.J. Augustin has given the Pacers exactly zero offensively and has been a huge soft spot in the defense as well. George Hill has played better of late, but hasn't been able to bring the rest of the team's offense with him. Although he's a terrific basketball player I don't think he is, or has ever been, a natural point guard and the Pacers' just don't have enough other elements going for them on offense to compensate. Again, the problems are exacerbated because the offensive system is so devoid of complexity and it puts a ton of pressure on Hill to make good point guard plays. Collison wasn't the long-term answer for the Pacers either but I think the Pacers may really regret not finding a non-Augustin solution with a little more upside when they traded him.
3.) I, for one, miss Ian Mahinmi dearly, how is he working out so far this year?
Mahinmi has been about what I expected. He's a big defensive upgrade over Lou Amundson and is starting to make his presence felt defensively around the basket. The problem is that he's being asked to anchor a unit that usually includes Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin. The Pacers' second-unit couldn't stop anyone last season, so he's made a difference for sure, but in the long-term he'll need some help to stop the bleeding there. Offensively he crashes the boards and tries to make himself available in the paint. The results have been mixed, but he's about the 27th most pressing problem the Pacers have on offense right now.
4.) What are the goals of the Pacers this year?
It's incredibly depressing but I think the goals have already had to be adjusted. The Pacers came into the season looking for 50+ wins and to put some pressure on the Heat at the top of the Eastern Conference. Those may have been unrealistic expectations to begin with, but they seem borderline insane at this point. Granger won't be back for three months and so all the problems the Pacers are having offensively need to be fixed with the pieces available. At this point I would say the number one goal is to find at least a handful of sets or elements that they can count on to provide points on a nightly basis. The next thing is to find a way to win as many games as possible while they are in the middle of this period of muddle. If things slip too far in the next few weeks home-court advantage drops off the goals list and just staying in the playoff hunt moves to the top.
Thanks Ian. Talk to you again later in the season.