The Indiana Pacers

How the Indiana Pacers can improve their sans-Oladipo offense

The Indiana Pacers don’t have Victor Oladipo. But they do have 30+ more games, and they have an offense to run.

Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers’ superstar, shot the ball 16.3 times per game before his season-ending injury. Those shots have to be attempted by someone else(s) now.

Oladipo drove to the basket 9.5 times per game, which collapsed the defense and created points. The Pacers have to find a new way to do that now.

Vic snagged nearly 4 points per game on the fast break, often a result of his own doing on the defensive end. Those easy points will need to be replaced in some way, shape, or form.

In short, there’s a lot of production that needs to be replaced in the new-look Indiana Pacers offense, and it is going to be very hard to replace Victor Oladipo’s contributions on that end of the floor. It’s going to require some creative gymnastics to figure out exactly how to replace the positive plays he manufactures. But something needs to be done. Right now, what the Pacers are doing on that end of the floor stinks.

Operate with the caveat here that the Pacers have been without Victor Oladoip AND Tyreke Evans over the past two games. But since Dipo went down, from the Memphis game until now, Indiana has scored 292 points on 289 possessions. That is just barely over a 101 offensive rating. That would be the worst offense in the NBA, worse than the terrible Chicago Bulls group. For reference, the Pacers have a 109.2 offensive rating on the season.

In the past two games, without Reke and Vic, it’s even worse. The offensive rating has been 97.9. That’s awful. You just can’t win that way.

Without Oladipo’s aforementioned contributions, putting together a good offense is going to be hard. But it isn’t impossible, and putting together an even competent offense shouldn’t be this challenging. Something needs to change.

And that change isn’t pivoting to some “everybody eats” nonsense. Well, maybe not nonsense, but it is basically gibberish for a team like the Indiana Pacers.

It’s a logical step of thought, many teams try this idea in a transitional period. It sounds great. “Everyone will get a chance to score now. Defenses will know what to expect!”.

That is poor player optimization, to me. For a few teams, with a lesser offensive talent disparity, a fairly even shot distribution throughout the rotation could possibly work. The Pacers are not one of those teams. Against the Wizards, everyone in the rotation took between 7 and 12 shots, and the Pacers offense sucked. It flat out sucked. That is not going to cut it. Aaron Holiday, Edmond Sumner, and TJ Leaf have potential, but they should not be getting as many shots as the vets.

Some players are more talented than others when it comes to play-finishing. Those guys are the ones that deserve more shots. For the Pacers, that’s Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis, and Darren Collison to a lesser extent. Add Tyreke Evans in there when he is healthy. Keep those names in mind.

Now, with all that background, let’s try to fix this mess on O.

The first step, in my opinion, is to steal ideas from a tangible example. Let’s glance at the Pacers most recent opponent, the Washington Wizards.

2018-19 makes two consecutive seasons in which right after John Wall went down with an injury, the Wizards offense actually got better. There are obviously a lot of variables to something like this happening, it is hard to pinpoint just one reason why this is the case. But part of Washington’s sans-Wall success is that the Wizards pass exponentially more without Wall.

Wall’s season ended on December 26th. From the Wizards first game up through that point, they averaged 279.3 passes per game. Since they began playing without Wall, the Wiz have thrown 318.3 passes per game. They are 9-7 in that span after going 13-22 with John Wall in the lineup.

More passes aren’t always going to be better. But a very high percentage of the time, it is. Wall can get to the rim and set other guys, without him, they lack those skills (albeit to a lesser extent than Indiana, they still have Bradley Beal). To mitigate the uphill battle they have attacking the basket off the dribble and facilitating for others without him, they just move the ball more.

The extra ball movement allows the team to not miss a beat. Now, the obvious problem with this analogy: Victor Oladipo isn’t John Wall. The last two seasons, Wall’s effort level has vanished and his impact has substantially decreased. At his best, he is still incredible, but we haven’t seen him at that level in a bit. Meanwhile, Oladipo is an effort machine and gives it his all on both ends.

Also, the Wizards still have Bradley Beal. But they had Beal with Wall, too, and their offense was still worse than it was san-Wall. There’s something to this.

The Pacers played 11 games without Oladipo in 2018. They went 7-4 and threw around 318 passes per game, culminating in a good-enough 109.7 offensive rating during that stretch.

After it was announced Vic would be out for the season, the Indiana Pacers played 2 games and threw just 301 passes per game. Against Washington, they did a fine job moving the ball – throwing around 346 passes. This culminated with 27 of their 33 makes being assisted. That should have worked right?

Well, no. In that game, the team fell into the “everybody eats” strategy, which does not work well for them. Had they properly distributed those passes to the aforementioned play finishers, things would have looked much different. There is a reason they only had 6 makes the entire game that wasn’t set up by a pass.

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The value of extra passes and screens is on full display right there. Bojan had a really good look, and he made it. One extra pass to Myles Turner would have been even more open, though:

Either way, extra pass or not, more ball movement is crucial for a team missing its star player. It’s one of the only ways to break down a defense without the help of a drive or stud post-up plays. The Pacers need to throw the ball around more.

Let’s talk about those ancillary things I just mentioned.

When the drives aren’t there, or the set/post-up ideas die, all hope has been lost recently. There have been far too many heaves by Bogdanovic or Joseph late in the shot clock, borderline prayers. Without Tyreke Evans there to create for himself, the Pacers are limited to running pick-and-rolls/pops at the end of the shot clock when there isn’t time to set up another play. That isn’t a bad thing though.

Just stick two shooters in the corners and run the damn thing. Per Synergy, Myles Turner ranks third in efficiency among high volume pick-and-pop players this season. A Domas Sabonis pick and roll has yielded 1.18 points per possession for Indiana this season. Don’t be afraid to bust that out at the end of the shot clock. Both of those are fantastic options. If it isn’t there, now you have Bojan and DC in the corners, two snipers.

Those guys can’t all play the whole game. Sure. When the kids are at guard, create through the post. Post-ups get a bad name in modern NBA, but they are a great way to create offense. Backing your guy down is not, but allowing things to happen around a post up is great. Two slightly different variations of a post-up play got Edmond Sumner 2 of his 3 makes in the most recent pair of games:

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Drives have been poorly utilized too. The Indiana Pacers averaged 36.4 drives per game the first time Victor Oladipo was out, and they got 20.3 points and 3.9 assists per game from them. The past 3 games, they have actually driven to the rim at a slightly better rate, but the points and assist numbers are down. Some of that is not having Evans. Some of that is the pass out of drives percentage being lower. Those passes often lead to great things – the defense scrambles when you drive to the basket.

To get reductive and offer a silver lining, some of this is the Indiana Pacers just missing open looks. On wide open shots from 10+ feet the last three games, the Pacers are shooting a putrid 34.7 percent, per Change the filter from wide open to just open, and the Pacers are shooting only 28.6 percent. Those numbers are unsustainably bad. They will get better, and the offense will too.

It’s not only the offense. The defense has stunk, too. It’s been lazy, and that bleeds into struggles on offense. Playing great defense can lead to easy offense – this Pacers team has been showing us that for years. Cleaning up things on that end of the floor increases the margin for error in making the described changes when the ball is in your hands. Getting better on D will help the O.

But there’s work to do everywhere. What’s happening now won’t cut it, they are 0-3 for a reason. These small refinements here and there could keep the Indiana Pacers afloat during this tough time. It’s no simple task, but it is doable.

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