How to exploit the Indiana Pacers pick and roll defense
The most recent post showed how the Pacers were so great at forcing low efficiency long jump shots. Part of this focused on the pick and roll defense of the Pacers and how their strategy forced these long two point shots. Is there a way to exploit the strategy employed by the Pacers to consistently score?
The most effective way to exploit the Pacers pick and roll defense is to get Roy Hibbert more involved in the primary screening action. Hibbert rates as a good pick and roll defender, according to Synergy Sports, allowing 0.92 points per possession (76th in the league). However, further review of the video shows that on most of these plays, Hibbert was the help defender meeting the roll man at the rim and he was not defending the screener.
Teams will likely force Hibbert to defend the ball screen more often next season as they try to find a crack in the Pacers defense. As demonstrated yesterday, the Pacers sag the screener’s defender into the paint, which works in HIbbert’s favor. By not having to hedge, he can still control the paint and choke off any possible driving action.
Offenses can take advantage of this by using Hibbert’s man to set the ball screen, which forces Hibbert to be more involved in the action. This gives the offense a few good options to get high percentage shots. The open space on the court out of this action is usually centered around the foul line extended, which is where the Pacers want to force the offense in hopes of forcing a jump shot.
When Hibbert is guarding the roll man and not the rim, the Pacers are vulnerable. Hibbert is too slow to match up with a driving big man and there is no one left to protect the rim. Hibbert is comfortable in the paint, cutting off the dribble drive, but looks unsure of himself when he has to guard 15 feet from the basket. This allows the big man to cut to the rim or drive past Hibbert after receiving the kick out pass. It does take a skilled big man to be able to drive past Hibbert to the rim but it is one way the offense can find a seam in the pick and roll defense.
As shown in the last post, the strategy employed by the Pacers dares the offense to take long two point shots, especially by the screener. The examples yesterday also showed that the Pacers tried to defend the open jump shot by closing out hard on the shooter, often flying past them to make the offense take a two point attempt, as they were confident Hibbert would protect the rim.
When Hibbert is forced to defend the jump shooter, the offense gains a slight advantage compared to when other bigs (such as David West) closes out on shooters. It is still not a great shot for the offense and it would be great defense if the offense missed the shot, but the jumper is a little easier to convert because the shooter does not have a defender flying at them. Hibbert is not quick enough to close out like some of his teammates which means the jump shot that was contested turns into an open jump shot. He is slow on the close out and the shooter is not that bothered on the jump shot.
While having Hibbert’s man set the screen on the pick and roll seems like an easy idea to run constantly, the Pacers often put Hibbert on a lesser offensive player so that he is free to roam the paint and protect the rim. When that is the case, teams may design sets and alignments to draw Hibbert away from the action so he can’t have an effect on the ball screen.
This set that Miami ran a few times in the Eastern Conference Finals is a good example. Hibbert is guarding Udonis Haslem, who is positioned at the left elbow. As Chalmers brings the ball down the court, it looks like the Heat are set up to run something out of a Horns set.
As Chalmers brings the ball over half court, he immediately sprints into a quick pick and roll with Chris Bosh. The Pacers are caught off guard, as they were expecting a more intricate set out of this alignment. Roy Hibbert is close to Haslem and not defending the ball screen, but is out of the play due to the design and quick execution of the pick and roll.
Disguising the pick and roll and initiating it quickly will be one way teams will try to navigate around the rim protection of Hibbert when they don’t directly involve him in the pick and roll. By bringing him to the top of the key or the corner, he will not be able to have a major impact on the pick and roll and will give teams a slight edge out of this action.
The Pacers will likely be one of the top pick and roll defenses again next season so teams will continue to have to be creative to find holes in the defense. With Hibbert in the game, offenses should try to involve him more in the screening action and isolate him against big men at the free throw line. Smart teams will also design pick and roll sets to take Hibbert away from the rim so they don’t have to continue to rely on long jump shots, even though they will be open looks. It will be interesting to see what kind of alignments teams will run to take Hibbert away from the ball screen.