Category Archives: Indiana Pacers

Revisiting if Roy Hibbert could block more shots than an entire team

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Zach Primozic | Flickr

Once in a while I’ll revisit weird accomplishments I thought might happen, like a team winning more games than the Celtics and Lakers combined, or impressions left on me in the beginning of the season, like Josh Smith’s once-promising shot selection. Today I’ll revisit the possibility I brought up over two months ago of Roy Hibbert blocking more shots than an entire team.

If that sounds like a lofty accomplishment for the Pacers center, that’s because it is, but it’s not impossible. The last time a player recorded more blocks than another team was in 2009 when Dwight Howard had 231 blocks to the New York Knicks’ 204. New York, coached by Mike D’Antoni with a starting frontcourt of David Lee and Al Harrington, set the record for the least blocks during an 82-game season, though it wasn’t much better the season before when they were coached by Isiah Thomas. The Knicks of 2008, with a frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, blocked just 213 shots. Josh Smith (227 blocks) and Marcus Camby (285) outswatted that squad and then some.

At the time of the first post, two squads this season were in danger of becoming like the Knicks of the late-2000s: the Kings and Timberwolves. Hibbert had 62 blocks to Sacramento’s 48, though Minnesota was within distance without Ronny Turiaf and their starting frontcourt of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic not posing much of a threat above the rim. As for the Kings, they had frontcourt depth consisting of DeMarcus Cousins, Chuck Hayes, Derrick Williams, Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson. They come in all shapes and sizes, but none are elite shot blockers. Hayes and Patterson would eventually be traded for Rudy Gay.

Meanwhile, Hibbert was also just coming down to earth after recording 4.3 blocks per game over 30 minutes in his first 13 games. His block percentage while on the court, 10.2, had only been done over a full season six times with five coming from Manute Bol, and the most minutes played during any of those seasons was 26.1 during Bol’s 1986 campaign. Naturally, Hibbert’s block totals started to average out. He only had seven over his next six games and just two combined against the block-prone Bobcats and Timberwolves (Hibbert was also blockless Wednesday night in his second matchup against Minnesota). His block percentage during that six-game span was 2.7, right around the same percentage Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh have recorded this season. That’s not bad, but it’s also not even half the frequency Hibbert logged last season.

Note: Now is probably a good time to mention I’m not saying Hibbert or anyone else is a bad defender if/when they don’t block shots. They obviously don’t measure everything about inside defense and the same goes for looking at steals to evaluate perimeter defense. In fact, it’s pretty noticeable that Hibbert would rather be in position to use verticality to his advantage than go for a block and risk fouling. I’m also not exactly rooting for Hibbert or anyone else to block more shots if it comes at the expense of good, sound defense. It’s not the end of the world if someone does or doesn’t block more shots than an entire team, but it would be fun to talk about if it happened. Obviously, for me it’s been worth dedicating at least a couple posts just about the potential of accomplishment it.

So Hibbert went through a heater of some sort in the block department and then hit his version of a valley, averaging out to a block percentage of 8.1 through his first 18 games, according to Basketball-Reference. That rate, or one a sliver below it, would have to be sustained for a whole season to outblock a whole team. Howard, Camby, and Smith were 1-2 percentage points lower, but all played a handful more minutes per game and Camby’s Nuggets played at the league’s fastest pace in 2008. Indiana’s currently in the middle of the pack this year at 96.08, according to NBA.com, but no faster than the Kings or Timberwolves.

Hibbert’s block rates couldn’t hold up over his next 36 games, however, blocking only five percent of opposing shots in the same 30 minutes per game. For the season, his block percentage is 6.1. He’s been surpassed by a few other players in total blocks, and teams he once competed with such as the Kings and Timberwolves have since upped their blocks. Every team but Minnesota has totaled more than the 2009 Knicks did over 82 games.

Below is a table with Hibbert, a few other leading blockers, and four teams with the least blocks per game.

Player/Team Total Blocks BPG Games Block%* Minutes per
DeAndre Jordan 135 2.4 56 5.1 35.9
Roy Hibbert 133 2.5 54 6.1 30.4
Serge Ibaka 139 2.5 55 6.2 32.6
Anthony Davis 140 3.1 45 7.3 35.8
Minnesota Timberwolves 197 3.6 54 48.2
Cleveland Cavaliers 215 3.9 55 48.8
Sacramento Kings 214 4.0 54 48.5
Dallas Mavericks 228 4.1 55 48.1

* – according to Basketball-Reference.

Minnesota’s still far behind even the second-worst Cavaliers but they’ve blocked 5.4 shots per game in February, a top-10 mark in the league. They’re also in the top five in opponent field goal percentage around the rim at 57.4, though they allow the fourth most attempts so I’m not sure that’s worth the tradeoff (as well as playing without Pek). Indiana, meanwhile, has been suffocating as they’ve held opponents to just 49 percent. I’m pretty sure Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers will take that in exchange for less blocks.

Cleveland’s lacked in blocks lately, just 2.8 per game over their last 20. As nice of a player as Anderson Varejao has been, he’s never been much of a blocker yet he leads the team in that statistic. Spencer Hawes will be suiting up for them in the near future and he’s averaging 1.3 blocks per game, but the Sixers’ pace and defense have to be taken into account. Philadelphia’s the fastest team in the league by a wide margin and this month they’re flirting with last in both attempts at the rim and field goal percentage from there, all according to NBA.com. (Also, I doubt blocks are the main reason Cleveland traded for him, but this post is dedicated to those and not everything defense or the other side of the court.)

As for the players listed, it would’ve been fun if Anthony Davis were healthy the whole first half of the season. Add another 30 blocks to his total and it at least makes things interesting, especially if Cleveland continues their recent low tally in that statistic.

I guess the Brow made up for it though with this commercial:

Going forward, Davis and Jordan look like the best bets to block more shots than a team. As mentioned before, Hibbert has understandably looked to use verticality to his advantage rather than get a hand on the ball and risk foul trouble. Davis and Jordan are far more mobile and freakishly athletic to recover from situations where they’re either beat or hair late on a rotation to a driving guard. They also play in that 35-minute range that allows them more opportunities to tally blocks.

If I had to choose one or the other, though, it’d be Davis because of the likelihood his minutes not only stay the same next season but also increase. He’s also basically untradeable, something Jordan can’t say himself. Who knows if Jordan plays 36 minutes under most other coaches, which would keep him from flirting with 200 total blocks in one season.

Potential wildcards next year: JaVale McGee, Andre Drummond, and Larry Sanders. I like all of them when given the playing time and good health by the basketball gods. This season seems like a lost cause, though, which means the search for other weird stats continues.

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Paul George and his hot hand from the corner three

It seems like Paul George takes that “next step” every season. He was the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season, but like Kevin Love in 2011 and 2012, there’s always curiosity about him winning it a second-straight time.

Arguably this season’s most obvious improvement in George’s game has been his comfort handling the ball while attacking just about every area of the court. That’s huge when he’s taken on a bigger load of the offense. He’s upped his usage rate from 23.5 percent in 2013 to 28.1, but trimmed his rate of turnovers from 15.2 percent to 11.8. He’s also been scoring more efficiently with an increase in his true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, and free throw rate. In particular, measuring his usage and true shooting puts him in company with only nine other players this season.

While a lot of that has been aided by a mid-range jumper that makes George a handful to guard, he’s also been red-hot from the corners where he’s shooting a ridiculous 59 percent. That’s surprisingly not first but second-best in the league, minimum 20 attempts. (For Paul George’s complete shot chart, click here.)

Here are the top 10 shooters. I only included usage rate because I needed another category to help fix formatting issues, but that statistic will come in handy later.

Top 10 Corner Shooters


Player
 
C3FGM
 
C3FGA
 
C3FG%

Usage
Mirza Teletovic (BKN) 13 21 61.9% 19.3
Paul George (IND) 32 54 59.3% 28.1
Mario Chalmers (MIA) 20 35 57.1% 17.0
Andre Iguodala (GSW) 17 32 53.1% 13.3
Marco Belinelli (SAS) 18 34 52.9% 19.6
LeBron James (MIA) 11 21 52.4% 29.5
Omri Casspi (HOU) 12 23 52.2% 18.9
Mike Miller (MEM) 14 27 51.9% 13.6
Darren Collison (LAC) 15 29 51.7% 19.9
Damian Lillard (POR) 15 29 51.7% 24.8
Anthony Tolliver (CHA) 18 35 51.4% 10.5

Over the years, other elite wings have been up and down with how many corner threes they’ve taken. That isn’t surprising when expanding players like George to that area takes away the impact of role players who specialize in shooting corner threes. (You could also say this about LaMarcus Aldridge, who has Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum taking plenty of shots from the corners, and Dirk Nowitzki throughout his career.) Kevin Durant doesn’t take many shots from the corners at all while Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have been hot and cold throughout their careers.

George is an exception along with LeBron James, who developed a killer right corner three last season. For George, he’s averaged about one corner three attempt per game since 2012, and though he tends to favor the right corner he’s been equally good (or in 2012, bad) from either side. He’s currently 13-for-24 from the left corner three and 19-for-30 from the right side with most makes coming from spotting up in transition, being the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks, and capitalizing on meltdowns from opponents while defending Indiana’s inbound plays.

90 percent of George’s corner threes this season have been assisted, a standard mark for that area of the floor. Lance Stephenson has been his main feeder, responsible for nine out of 29 assisted threes, according to NBA.com. That’s no surprise when Stephenson’s become capable (and sometimes obviously confident) of running the offense and finding shots for not only himself but everyone else. George Hill has been another primary passer to Paul George, responsible for seven assisted corner threes. I expected Roy Hibbert to have a similar impact, which he has been but primarily when George is either going to the hoop or on the left side of the arc. The difference in where each player assists to another is interesting in itself.

Is George’s current percentage from the corners sustainable? He’s on pace to take 116 attempts this season, or about 1.4 per game if he never took a game off. Mitch Richmond’s the only player to make over 50 percent of his corner threes, take over 100 attempts, and carry a similar weight of a team’s offense like George currently has, according to NBA.com. (Edit: Here’s a player comparison between that season and George’s 2014 campaign, via Basketball-Reference.)

Otherwise, shooting around 50 percent from the corners is usually reserved for role players, but ones that become incredibly valuable when defenses have to adjust for their shooting. Here are some players who came close to matching each criterion, sorted by the season. Richmond’s hot shooting is also included:

100 attempted corner threes, nearly 50 percent made, with a usage rate near 28%
(according to NBA.com)

Player Season C3FGM/C3FGA C3FG% Usage
Paul George (IND) 2013-14 69-116* 59.3 28.1
Joe Johnson (ATL) 2005-06 55-119 46.2 24.6
Rashard Lewis (SEA) 2004-05 66-134 49.3 24.0
Latrell Sprewell (NYK) 2002-03 54-116 46.6 22.6
Jamal Mashburn (MIA) 1999-00 74-157 47.4 23.8
Ray Allen (MIL, SEA) Any from 2000-07 A lot-A lot 40-45ish 27.0
Mitch Richmond (SAC) 1996-97 56-103 54.4 29.4

* – projected if George played 82 games.

In the second half of this season, variance will probably rear its ugly head towards Paul George’s corner threes. It would take him out of the hunt for the rare accomplishment previously listed, but it’s nowhere near the end of the world if that really happens. The corner three is a nice weapon for George just like it was last season, but it’s the other improvements like tightening his handles and adding a mid-range game that’s placed him among the league’s elite.

Danny Granger gives Indiana new possibilities, but also tough decisions (Part 2)

This is the second of a two-part series about the return of Danny Granger. For part one, click here.

In an hour or so the Celtics will tip off against the Pacers, who recently got back Danny Granger after he missed the first 25 games with a calf strain. Indiana seemed just fine without their small forward who started 423 of 510 games from 2006 to 2012, but he can provide a major boost off the bench and allow Frank Vogel to experiment with some new lineups.

Granger looked better on Friday night than his numbers might indicate. He shot 1-for-7 from the field but the attempts were open and in rhythm, ones that will fall in time. There were also five turnovers, but a few of them were typical of a player in their first game of the season, turnovers everyone else (hopefully) got out of their system in the pre-season. It seemed like he has yet to get his legs fully under him, which is understandable. He blocked Dwight Howard from behind but there were also times when he didn’t elevate well. Overall, it seemed like a typical night for someone playing in their very first game of the season.

If he can stay healthy and work out the kinks, Granger can bolster an already improved bench. Their offensive efficiency is still in the bottom-10 among NBA benches, according to NBA.com, scoring 96.7 points per 100 possessions, but the shooting is much improved, up from 39.4 percent last year to 43.8. The bench’s defensive rating has remained top notch too, going from 97.2 points allowed per 100 possessions to 96.6. Granger’s a solid defender when healthy, so the Pacers shouldn’t take a hit on that end of the court.

Offensively, Granger’s certainly an upgrade over someone like Orlando Johnson, and the second unit already features key cogs with the likes of C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Ian Mahimni, and sometimes Lance Stephenson. Without Granger, that’s still miles ahead of what the Pacers had to work with last year with D.J. Augustin, Sam Young, and Gerald Green, among others. With Granger as the sixth man, Indiana shouldn’t miss a beat when the most of the starters get their breathers.

Note: I should add that I’m expecting Granger to come off the bench because their starting lineup has a plus-minus differential of +5.3 per game. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Aside from being a sixth man, Granger could provide for some interesting lineups. This is especially when he’s paired with Paul George, who at times can run the point or move to shooting guard where he started his first two seasons. Vogel has already experimented with that super tall wing duo, pairing Granger and George with Hill, Scola, and Roy Hibbert for a few minutes as well as using the same starting lineup from 2012. Granger and George logged six minutes together on Friday night, according to NBA.com. The plus-minus differential was zero.

Along with going tall, a healthy Granger also makes for some small ball units. In 2012, Vogel used 17 of those lineups that placed George and Granger with only one power forward or center, according to NBA.com. The results were hot and cold, posting a plus-minus differential of plus-22 in just 59 minutes but shooting just 40 percent from the field. Of the time Granger was on the floor in 2012, three percent of it was at power forward, according to Basketball-Reference.

Houston, with the likes of Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi at power forward, provided an opportunity for Vogel to go small on Friday night, but only Granger played with those kinds of lineups when the game was well out of hand. Going forward, small lineups against New York and Miami, for example (especially when Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James play power forward), could be possible. Miami’s crunch time lineups often consist of consist of LeBron with Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, and Chris Bosh, but it’s unlikely Vogel would show that kind of card to Miami during the regular season.

Besides, going big is why Indiana does so well against Miami, among other teams. It’s obvious, but experimenting with Granger at power forward with the starters would mean sitting one of David West and Roy Hibbert. West would seem like the odd man out, unless Indiana wanted to gamble without one of the best rim protectors in the league. In that case, going small with George and Granger at small forward and power forward, respectively, might be better with the second unit and Ian Mahinmi at center.

Regardless, Miami’s preparing Greg Oden for the playoffs but Indiana has their own ace up their sleeve in Danny Granger. If he doesn’t get traded Frank Vogel has four months to find the best situations for him, and as long as he can stay healthy he could make an already great Pacers team even better.

For part one of this series about the cloud hanging over Danny Granger’s expiring contract, click here.

Danny Granger gives Indiana new possibilities, but also tough decisions (Part 1)

This is the first of a two-part series, this one featuring the cloud hanging over Danny Granger’s future with Indiana. Click here for part two.

With already 21 wins, it’s easy to forget that the Indiana Pacers haven’t been at full strength this season. That is, until Danny Granger came off the bench last night after missing the first 25 games of the season with a strained calf. In a contrast of styles, the Pacers beat the Rockets by 33, coincidentally the number on Granger’s jersey.

Granger finished with only two points on 1-for-7 shooting, but he showed the potential of getting back to the player he used to be. Not since 2012 has he looked like himself, when the Pacers were nearly 12 points better per 100 possessions when he was on the court, according to NBA.com. He led them both in scoring and usage rate for both that season and, at the time, their most memorable playoff run in years. Indiana wasn’t the same when he was on the bench, a bottom-five team in scoring efficiency and mediocre defensively. 

But that was 2012. Look around the league and you’ll notice every team has gone through major changes over the last two seasons, and Indiana’s no different. Some Pacers on the 2012 roster were Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Foster, and Jeff Pendergraph (who’s now Jeff Ayres). Back then, Collison started ahead of George Hill while the rest made up a good chunk of the bench, one that’s now revamped with newcomers like Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, among others.

Indiana has also improved from within. This is no longer the Granger-led team from 2008 to 2012, the latter season being the one when Lance Stephenson was a go-to guy in garbage time (he even had a 45.8% usage rating in the playoffs). He’s become a proven, reliable shooting guard since then and can compliment the starting lineup and/or leads the second unit. Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert has become a defensive monster that’s lived up to his new contract.

The improvement that impacts Granger the most, though, comes from Paul George who, after faltering in the 2012 playoffs but breaking out in 2013, is now Indiana’s starting small forward until at least 2018. It’s an awkward spot for Granger who was Indiana’s first franchise cornerstone after they traded away nearly everyone involved in the Malice at the Palace. They’ve become a title contender without him and, in the process, have a small forward who’s having a better season than he ever had.

And Granger might not be around much longer, currently in the last year of a five-year deal worth $60 million. Given his recent injury history, his likely role off the bench this season and the $14 million he’s making this year, his next contract will certainly be cheaper. Indiana has only so much room to maneuver without dipping into the luxury tax, and any money thrown at a Pacer this summer will likely be given instead to Stephenson (which has been discussed here). He’s seven years younger than Granger, the only other impact player coming off the books, and the only starter without a long-term deal. Given the improvements Stephenson’s made in his first four seasons, Indiana might not even be able to afford him either.

Losing either one of those players, let alone both, would be a bummer given how much they’ve developed with Indiana. Stephenson has become a key piece to a title-contending team despite 39 players taken ahead of him in the 2010 Draft, but Granger led the franchise from their rock-bottom seasons in the mid-2000s to when they gave the Miami Heat their first major scare of the 2012 playoffs. Indiana’s been a thorn in the Heat’s side ever since, but Granger’s been an afterthought. That is, until last night when the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse welcomed him back with a standing ovation. They did the same when he made his first field goal:

But Paul George had some highlights of his own, including a fast break dunk that brought the house down. He led the team in scoring all while hassling James Harden on the defensive end, a typical night from one of the premier players in the league. At one point, Granger was one of those guys.

How much of Granger’s future involves Indiana remains to be seen. He might even be gone before the trade deadline. It would be a cruel ending to his career as a Pacer, but the NBA is nonetheless a business.

The best scenario for both sides? Indiana lets Granger walk this summer, but only after he plays a pivotal role in helping the franchise win a championship. It would be a fitting end for a player who helped rebuild the Pacers from the bottom up, even if they may have won without him.

Just another reminder: This post isn’t meant to crap on Indiana’s great start by looking ahead to the trade deadline and summer. The next post will be devoted to some interesting lineups Danny Granger can be featured in. 

Lance Stephenson remains unpredictable

Mark Runyon | BasketballSchedule.net

Photo: Mark Runyon | BasketballSchedule.net

I’ve been posting little things about the Pacers lately, so I’ll try not to go overboard with them. I can’t resist talking about Lance Stephenson though.

Lance Stephenson’s progression, along with a couple other Pacers in their starting lineup, is one of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed watching Indiana this year. Their starting shooting guard has gone from rarely playing two seasons ago to a key, important cog. It’s a nice story by itself, considering how great the odds were against him carving out a solid career in the NBA when he was drafted 40th overall in 2010.

The all-around numbers are there for Stephenson: 12 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, all nice upticks from last year. He’s also had more time with the ball in his hands, 2.6 minutes compared to 1.5 last season, the latter stat according to a piece on him from Grantland. It made me draw a comparison to a higher-paid shooting guard.

Lance Stephenson is Bizarro Tyreke Evans.

But even with the improved stats, Stephenson is still as unpredictable as last season, in my couch potato opinion. Granted, I don’t watch every Pacers game just like I don’t catch every game from every team minus the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I never know what to expect from the Indiana’s starting shooting guard whenever I happen to be watching them.

Stephenson’s unpredictability still leaves two sides of him: Good Lance and Bad Lance. Both are entertaining because neither seems all that conventional. Given how badly he misses some of his shots, I assume he shoots with his eyes closed and more than a few plays he’s made have led to “noooo…YES!” moments like what I wrote about Corey Brewer recently. And ever since Stephenson brushed off his teammates multiple times in the Eastern Conference Finals to take LeBron James one-on-one, I assumed he didn’t have ice in veins but mustard instead. It’s like he was in the film 300, waving off the Spartans so he could take on the Persians himself.

That confidence might not have worked out well nearly six months ago but, like Paul George and Roy Hibbert, you could sense Stephenson was going to make a bang the following season.

And he seemed like an early candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year through the first eight games, averaging about 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists. His turnover rate was only slightly up from 2013, which was even more of a positive when his usage rate went from 15.2 to 19.5 and the total number of assists he accounted for while on the floor nearly doubled, according to Basketball-Reference. He even had a triple double against Memphis with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists while turning it over just once. Stephenson’s progression seemed very encouraging, except for the fact it raised his value six months from now.

But the shooting splits through the first eight games remained bizarre in typical Stephenson fashion: 47.9 percent from the field, 51.4 from three and…42.9 percent from the line. That doesn’t exactly add up.

And then came Bad Lance, who’s just as entertaining as Good Lance but nowhere near as efficient. In the next 10 games, Stephenson shot 10.5 percent from three on nearly two attempts per outing, creating one of most hot-cold shot charts in the process. His offensive rating went from 111 through the first eight games to 93 over the last 10, but he made 72 percent of his free throws and recorded yet another triple-double.

But the turnovers and assists went up and down, respectively, with the turnover rate in the last 10 games up to 24.3 percent and the assist rate at about 20, according to Basketball-Reference. If those rates happened all season they would put Stephenson in similar company as awkward wings like Gerald Wallace and guards like D.J. Augustin.

But that hasn’t been the case all season and at 16-2, Indiana has been fine regardless of whether Good Lance or Bad Lance shows up, the frequency of each nearly split in half.

Sooner or later, though, the Pacers will need the more efficient version on a consistent basis.

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