By J. M. Poulard

After giving up 47 points to Blake Griffin on Monday night, the Indiana Pacers  (16-22) will visit OracleAarena tonight with the hope of making this California trip a semi-successful one when they take on the Golden State Warriors (17-23). The Pacers have won games this year against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat; and yet they are unable to find a recipe that would have them win at least half of their games so far this season.

On offense, the Pacers produce 97.0 points per game (21st in the NBA) on 43.2% field goal percentage (28th in the league). Indiana’s biggest problem on offense is their inability to manufacture shots anywhere close to the basket. Their post players (Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert) are extremely comfortable with facing up their defenders and settling for jump shots as opposed to mixing things up in the lane. Also, the team’s leading scorers are not explosive players that can get to the rim at will.

Given the fact that teams know they lack the players necessary to attack them inside, opponents game plan to protect the driving lanes and allow them to fire midrange shots. As a result, the Pacers do a lot of screening off the ball and try to always keep some continuity within their offense, which typically leads to them creating long range shots. According to Hoopdata, this Indiana team averages 21.4 shots from 16 to 23 feet (11th most in the NBA). And just so we’re clear, not all of those shots are open ones. It seems as though they get caught often with the shot clock winding down and a player having to take a contested jumper from deep. The end result is a 36.9% shooting mark from 16 to 23 feet (27th in the league).

And yet, the Pacers do have some very capable scorers in Danny Granger and Darren Collison. They are able to create shots for themselves but are not dominant scorers that can create a variety of looks. Both players tend to run some pick and roll action where they come off aggressively off the screen looking to shoot the ball. Normally it results in midrange shot attempts because they do not look to get in the lane too much. Consequently, Jim O’Brien’s team only creates 19.6 shots at the rim (25th in the association).

Making matters worse, Indiana’s players are poor finishers at the rim. They only convert 59.8% of their attempts right at the basket (27th in the NBA).  Because the Pacers have trouble getting easy baskets, they go through stretches in games where they play Danny Granger at power forward where they ask him to post up his defender or take him off the dribble if he is a bigger and slower player. The strategy works in spurts but the Pacers’ offense just struggles altogether to score efficiently.

On defense, this Indiana team allows 98.0 points per game (14th in the league) on 43.7% field goal shooting (fourth best mark in the NBA). Ironically, their biggest weakness on offense happens to be their biggest strength on defense.  Indeed, the Pacers defenders typically all have one foot inside the paint in order to be able to provide help on drives. Also, the combination on Jeff Foster, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert all do a solid job of pushing post players further out than they wish to receive the ball. As a result, interior players have to start their moves from further out and are thus easier to defend and double team.

According to Team Rankings, this Danny Granger led squad only allows 35.6 points in the paint per game (second best in the association). Given the fact that Indiana seals off the lane, it’s tough for opponents get inside the paint with any form of regularity; thus the Pacers only allow 21.1 shots at the rim (11th best in the NBA).  Furthermore, even when opposing teams manage to get to the basket, the Pacers still manage to get their players to contest the field goal attempts at the rim. As a result, their opponents only manage to convert 58.3% of their shots right at the basket (second best mark in the league).

With  Indiana being so conscious of keeping teams out of the lane, they end up giving up a lot of midrange shots to their adversaries. According to Hoopdata, no team in the NBA allows more shots from 16 to 23 feet than the Indiana Pacers. Also, Indiana has trouble defending those shots as evidenced by their 40.0% shooting allowed from that distance (18th in the NBA).

A good shooting team should be able to exploit Indiana’s defense considering the fact that they allow their opponents to get a plethora of midrange jumpers. The ability to hit shots should help loosen up the Pacers defense and open up the driving lanes. For all of Indiana’s defensive schemes, they still allow opposing teams to shoot 26.9 free throw attempts per game (25th in the NBA). Given the fact that Golden State is the best shooting team from three point range in the league; they might be able to take advantage of Indiana’s defense and keep them off balance.

Indiana game notes: Roy Hibbert’s scoring , rebounding, field goal shooting and free throw shooting have all decreased progressively from November to December.

Golden State game notes: In his last meeting against the Pacers, Monta Ellis put up 45 points on 15 for 27 field goal shooting.