The Pacers are the best defensive team in the NBA. There are good individual defenders on the roster like Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson but their team defense is smothering. What do the Pacers do as a team to limit opponents' opportunities and maintain their defensive focus?
First of all, the emphasis for winning always begins at the defensive end and they have a long, athletic starting unit which allows them to protect the rim with Roy Hibbert while also focusing on defending the three-point line aggressively. They also do a good job limiting transition points for opponents which sets up more opportunities for half-court defensive possessions where they can use that size and ability to matchup with various opponents without having to help off the ball too often.
Again, the length makes a big difference in those help and recover situations, as well. George Hills is 6'3 but has a 6'9 wingspan. Lance Stephenson is 6'5 but has a 6'10 wingspan. David West is 6'9 at power forward but has a 7'4 wingspan. So you combine those three with the defensive stoppers in Paul George and Roy Hibbert and it creates a challenge for any team in the half court.
While the Pacers are great defensively, they struggle somewhat on offense. Often, Indiana will rely on George to carry the team. Is Indy's offense a cause for concern going forward and into the playoffs?
The Pacers have enough offense to get where they need to go when combined with that league-leading defense. The trouble spots in general have been turnovers coming in bunches relying too heavily on Rob Hibbert in the post. The starting offense seems to run better through David West in the post, but the starting unit as a whole is just fine offensively. The reserve unit has improved with offensive options Luis Scola and Danny Granger now in the rotation, but that group remains too inconsistent from game-to-game. When you throw in C.J. Watson, there is a lot of big game experience coming off the bench and they have been better in the more important games this season. But the mileage shows up at times which could be a problem late in the post-season. Fortunately, there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.
Indiana takes over 20 percent of their shots from midrange. Midrange jumpers are widely viewed as low efficiency shots. The team makes over 42 percent of these shots, though. Should the Pacers care more about their shot selection or take a "don't fix it if it ain't broke" mentality?
With the current construction of the playing rotation, they take about the right amount of threes. David West, Roy Hibbert and Luis Scola are pick n' pop options taking a lot of those midrange shots and only out of desperation do you want them setting up behind the arc. Lance Stephenson is streaky at best from behind the arc and usually does more good with dribble penetration to create shots for himself or others on his way to the hoop. Paul George probably takes too many three-point shots, at least that's what Larry Bird always says. PG's three-point attempts are up this year and he, too has been streaky. A big part of his increased scoring average is his ability to create midrange shots off the dribble with the threat of finishing at the rim.
Lance Stephenson becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. What do the Pacers need to do to keep him?
This will be a fascinating offseason situation which doesn't set up well for the Pacers on paper. A rough estimate of $8 million per year is about all of the cap space the Pacers will likely have to offer Stephenson without making a deal or two. Of course, the market will set the price for Stephenson and it is hard to imagine a team or two won't inflate their offer past a reasonable amount for the Pacers to hang onto Lance. But the situation in Indy for Lance and his relationship with Larry Bird is unique and with all of the effort the Pacers have put into developing Stephenson into a productive member of their team both on and off the court, I find it hard to believe they won't find a way to make things work to keep this starting unit together. That may require some tough choices with quality bench players but somehow, some way I feel they will find a way.
Rasual Butler is on the Pacers? How did I miss that?
Rasual Butler has become a great story for the Pacers this year. After playing on the Pacers summer league team, he was invited to camp without a contract nor any intention by the team to keep him on the roster. As camp practices and preseason games played out, they couldn't keep him off the roster. So Butler joined the team as a reserve wing behind Orlando Johnson, rookie Solomon Hill and, in some ways, free agent forward Chris Copeland while the team waited for Danny Granger to return.
As the season progressed, Butler made his way into the playing rotation and is now the first emergency wing (for foul trouble, injury) behind Granger. He is a solid pro that fits the Pacers system perfectly and also adds a little three-point punch when he's on the floor. Just as important, he is a wise vet who has been in and out of the league and has a locker next to Lance Stephenson which allows him to offer his sage advice when needed.