Two weeks ago the Pacers were officially in a doozy. Losers of 4 straight against quality opponents, the Pacers have seemingly lost some of the swagger they started the season off with when they were beating the competition into submission with a sound defense and an offense that was at best “effective.” Now that we are entering the stretch run of the season with teams gearing up for the playoffs, the Pacers seem to be going in the opposite direction. Teams like the Bulls, Spurs, and Rockets are starting to hit their stride, yet the Pacers are not playing at the level they were at the start of the season. This is coming at the absolute worst time of the year. While a few local media outlets seem to think they need to refocus on defense as their bread and butter, the team’s “cure all” might be a little simpler than that. Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Blue and Gold for most of the season. Although their defense has been as impressive as can be for the most part, I’ve seen an element that has been missing from the Pacers all season long. Actually, it’s been missing over the past 3 or 4 years. That element is the Pacers offense.
As good as the Pacers have been at the defensive end of the court, they’ve been equally abysmal on the offensive end of it, and a big part of the problem is the lack of using the fast break. Looking at the Pacers on offense is reminiscent of watching a collegiate level offensive attack. Simple, basic, plain execution. No pic and rolls, drive and kickouts, or triangle sets and plays. If I could liken them to an NFL franchise, I would say the Pacers resemble the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the last year of Dungy’s tenure there. The Bucs had an outstanding defense, but left a lot to be desired on the other side of the ball. Fast forward one year later and enter John Gruden. Gruden recognized the offensively challenged elements of the Bucs and tweaked that side of the ball, eventually leading them to a SB victory that same year. Now I’m not saying the Pacers need to fire coach Vogel and go find their “Gruden,” because 50% of their offensive woes can be fixed with one simple tweak: “Turning their defense into instant offense.” Vogel is a good enough coach to teach them how to do that.
When you watch the Pacers during games when they get stops, often you’ll see George Hill or Lance Stevenson walk the ball up the court as the rest of the team gets into their basic half court set. This would be fine and dandy if the Pacers were a team that was as difficult to defend as Phil Jackson’s “Triangle offense.” However, the Pacers half court sets aren’t rocket science to figure out, which is what I believe is the biggest contributing factor in why they’ve lost 4 games in a row. George Hill hasn’t been the creative PG the team needs him to be and honestly, I liked Hill best in the role he had when he was with the Spurs: “Coming off the bench as the 6th man scorer. Since the Pacers have made a commitment to Hill as their starter, he needs to start playing like a true point guard. That means he needs to attack more, including breaking the opposing defenses he faces down and kicking out to the open man in order to create opportunities for his teammates. That’s the job of a true point guard. George isn’t doing that and it’s starting to hurt the Blue and Gold at the worst possible time of the season.
Hill isn’t the only problem on the offensive end of the court though. The team isn’t getting all that it can out of superstar Paul George either. At 6-9, George should be used more in the low post and backing down smaller defenders instead of settling for jump shots. This added dimension would not only create opportunities for guys like Roy Hibbert and David West, it would also force opponents to leave guys like Hill draped on the 3 point line unguarded. This team has championship aspirations and if it hopes to fulfill them, it needs better play from guys like Hill, Hibbert and George as well as turning defense into instant offense from everyone else when possible.