How the Indiana Pacers succeed on defense through the long two
Indiana rode the best defense, in terms of points per possession, all the way to the brink of the NBA Finals. They posted a 99.8 defensive rating and one of the main reasons they were so successful was their tendency to force the opponent off the three point line and into long two point attempts.
According to HoopData, the Pacers led the league in forcing two point attempts from 16-23 feet, as opponents attempted 23.5 per game while making only 39.4%. They also led the league in opponents two point attempts from 10-15 feet at 7.6 per game, with opponents shooting 38.6%. Conversely. they allowed the second fewest three point attempts per game at 16.6.
One of the biggest factors for this is the Roy Hibbert effect. When you think of a defense led by a premier shotblocker, the tendency is to focus on the blocks or altered shots at the rim. However, this negates the effect he has on taking away the penetration to the lane or passes out of dribble penetration.
The clips below highlight this effect but it will also be prevalent in the other clips presented to show how the Pacers force long jump shots. Coming off a screen, Dwyane Wade looks to have a nice lane to drive into the paint. However, with Roy Hibbert patrolling the paint, Wade pulls up for a long two point attempt. Although this is an open attempt, the Pacers are happy with this attempt instead of Wade driving into the lane to create.
Offensive players are hesitant to drive into the lane if Hibbert is in the area and instead settle for pull up jump shots. Hibbert doesn’t get any credit in the boxscore for this missed shot but he one of the main reasons that Wade took this shot instead of driving to the rim.
Due to being aided by Hibbert, the rest of the defenders can take risks they normally wouldn’t be able to in order to slow down jump shooters. This means that the defenders close out hard on jump shooters to deny the three point attempt and force the offensive player to take a dribble or two inside the three point line before they shoot.
On this play, David West leaps on his close out on Chris Bosh and flies by him, allowing Bosh the space to take one dribble in for an open jump shot. Normally, this would be a terrible close out, as West has taken himself completely out of the play.
While this results in the defender that closed out terribly out of position, the gamble pays off on a regular basis. Even if the offensive player makes the open shot, it is only a two point attempt instead of a three point attempt. It’s clear that the Pacers would rather give up an open two point attempt than a three point attempt, which is why they close out so hard on the three point line. Plus, the Pacers are confident the offense will pull up for a jump shot instead of going all the way to the rim due to the Hibbert effect, which allows them to be more reckless on the perimeter.
The Pacers pick and roll defense also forces the offense into long jump shots. The on ball defender forces himself over top of the screen and the screener’s defender usually sags off into the paint (although they do hedge hard at times). This takes away the opportunity for a three point attempt if the defender would go under the screen while conceding the jump shot.
Again, the Pacers are conceding the mid to long range jump shot if the ball handler wants to take that shot. If the second defender sags into the paint, the area in front of the defender is open. If they hedge hard, the guard is usually quick enough to get around that defender and find some space for the shot. The key again is chasing the ball handler off the three point line and into the two point area, where the Pacers think they have the advantage.
This defensive strategy also means that when the roll man’s defender sags into the lane to take away the dribble penetration, the open space for the roll man is a long jump shot. While this relies on the offense missing an open shot, the Pacers are content with this outcome, instead of a closer two point attempt or a three point attempt.
Overall, the Pacers do all they can to force the defense to take jump shots from 10-23 feet. They know that the best shots are at the rim and three point attempts which is why they are willing to concede open jump shots, instead of allowing the high percentage shots at the rim and from beyond the arc. Roy Hibbert’s effect on these shots doesn’t show up in the box score but his presence allows his teammates to be more aggressive on the perimeter to challenge three point attempts and makes the offensive player think twice about driving to the rim. The Pacers have figured out the secret to forcing the offensive into the lowest percentage shots which is why they were the best defensive last season and look to be one of the best ones in the upcoming year.