Last night, the Indiana Pacers did something they never do. They went small.
The roster construction of the Indiana Pacers makes it beneficial for them to usually play more traditional lineups. They have 2 centers who can be effective in any given situation, and that makes it beneficial for them to play bigger lineups most of the time.
But on occasion, there is an opportunity to go small – with Thaddeus Young at center – and we got to see that opportunity last night. With Domantas Sabonis injured and Kyle O’Quinn in foul trouble, the Pacers broke out the Thad at the 5 group, and it was mildly successful.
It was only the second time this season that none of the Kyle O’Quinn, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Ike Anigbogu foursome were all off the floor at the same time with Thad on the floor, though there have been some other vague instances of small ball this season. But this was the first extended stretch of Thad at center, as the first instance came in just a 5-second burst.
Remember that 5-second burst? The Pacers needed to matchup with the Raptors down the stretch of the Oladipo injury game, so they went with Thad at the 5 to defend Pascal Siakam, who was in at center for Toronto. Thad subbed in between free throws, and the second FT was made. Afterward, the Pacers went back on defense and conceded a layup to Fred VanVleet. The Raptors intentionally fouled right after and Myles Turner subbed into the game, so Thad at center was technically a -1 in that 5-second instance.
Then last night’s game against the Raptors happened and we saw the lineup in a new way. In 6 minutes, the “Thad at center” groups outscored the Dallas Maverick 15-11. It was only a handful of possessions, 11 to be exact, but it the first extended glimpse of what could be another feather in the Pacers cap.
The surrounding players, Cory Joseph (Aaron Holiday for one possession), Wesley Matthews, Doug McDermott, and TJ Leaf are all respectable shooters, and this lineup operated with a ton of space:
Dirk is too slow to rotate thanks to his age, but every other defender with help defense responsibilities didn’t rotate to deter the cutting McDermott because they were too afraid to give up the 3.
The Pacers broke out the spread pick and roll with the bevy of shooters on the floor:
Watch that clip again to see what Thad Young himself was doing – thriving in the dunker spot. He’s a master at peaking into the perfect area from this spot and flicking the ball in from close range. He has a lot of skills in the post, actually, and that is an added bonus to this lineup.
Young can back down smaller, weak defenders and get a bucket. When this group of Indiana Pacers is stuck, or there is a favorable switch, they just dump the ball into Thad for points:
On the defensive end, the small ball groups have conceded 13 points on 13 possessions, an even 100 defensive rating. They forced the Mavs to take most of their shots from the mid-range, shots that you can live with as a defensive unit. The Mavs hit half of them, but you live with 1 PPP defense.
Dallas is a perfect matchup for this group. They weren’t playing any traditional centers, so it gave Nate McMillan free rein to get a little creative with the lineups. Now, he knows that he can rely on Young at center if he absolutely needs it.
It’s been a small sample size, but this has worked. I wouldn’t expect the Indiana Pacers to do it much given their talent at center, but having other possibilities to run out there is never a bad thing.