The Indiana Pacers held out for a 98-96 win over the Lakers in Staples Center last night. Indiana is 11-4 on the season, is in 3rd place in the East, and has a +3.5 point differential. The Pacers were thought to be one of the teams that, despite lacking heavy star power, would benefit most from the youth/depth theory for this season (and a lot of people overlooked the Sixers, my youth/depth pick). Indiana is doing it mostly through defense. Right now they are 4th in the league in defensive efficiency. They play a below average pace and only give up around 90 points per game because of it. It is the offense, which has been criticized for not flowing well early, that might be keeping them from future success.
The Pacers are a big team from 2 through 5. They have 2 guys at 6'8" in Granger and George, 6'9" and big bodied David West, and 7'2" presence Roy Hibbert. Plus they have a 6'9" Tyler Hansbrough and 6'3" point guard George Hill coming off the bench. Thus, the Pacers try to isolate on the block for these guys. The thinking makes sense, it would be a waste not to try to use your edge in sheer height to some sort of advantage. However, Indiana's offense is 20th in the league in efficiency. Let's see how they set it up.
By playing such a post based game, Indiana takes one fifth of their shots from 10-feet or closer, by far the highest in the league. On these type of shots they shoot 43.4 percent, much higher than the league average of 37.5. The Pacers also have the 3rd highest offensive rebound rate in the league owing to how they play off the ball.
Once the post is established, the Pacers completely clear the strong side of the floor. They keep a guard at the top for a kick out 3 (the Pacers are one of the best 3-point shooting teams at just under 40 percent) or a cut. He is then replaced at the top so there is always a place for the post player to go if he gets into trouble. When the shot goes up, Indiana is excellent at crashing the boards due to size and the defense sagging thinking they might need to play help defense. The other positive outcome from these post plays is a foul by the defense. Indiana is in the top 10 in free throw rate and doesn't miss many, shooting 79.1 percent from the line as a team.
This style obviously has its drawbacks seeing that Pacers rank 20th in offensive efficiency. They are 26th in the league in assist rate and are below average in percentage of baskets assisted from all spots on the floor inside the arc. This means the ball is sticking and the offense can be stagnant. One would think that maybe the need to hit more cutters and maybe have plays designed to get players open off the ball. However, some of the problem could be that the shots just aren't falling. Indiana shoots 41.8 percent from the floor overall and is dead last in field goal percentage at the rim and from 16-23 feet. The long 2's might not change, but the Pacers can hope that the poor finishing up until now might pick up.