It’s going to take time, of course. Add nine new players to a roster, including three new starters, the offense isn’t going to flow like honey from a squeeze bottle from the season’s opening tip.
How long? Darren Collison figures it might be November or December before the virtual name tags come off and familiarity is established.
“With a new team it takes a while,” he said following Friday’s Pacers’ at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Only time can tell. Even the best teams, it takes them awhile to gel. I don’t expect to come right out of the gates playing together right away.”
Collison will have a lot to do with the adjustment process, being the starting point guard and all, but the plan is that the offense will be more of a group effort and responsibility this season. It won’t be a classic point guard-directed attack, as with those Nineties teams with Mark Jackson, and they hope it doesn’t turn out to be the ball-sticking one-on-one attack of last season. The plan is to have more ball movement, more people movement, and hopefully more movements of the scoreboard.
The Pacers ranked 15th in the NBA in scoring last season, averaging 105.1 points, about what you would expect from a team that finished 42-40. It wasn’t a question of shooting accuracy, but of execution. They had to do it the hard way, because didn’t score much in transition, off 3-pointers or off free throws. They ranked 26th in the NBA in fastbreak points, averaging 10.5 per game, 23rd in 3-point scoring (26.3) despite ranking fourth in accuracy and 23rd in free throw scoring (17.9) despite ranking second in accuracy.
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“The ball stopped a lot last year,” Myles Turner said. “We had some guys who could take (defenders) off the dribble, and I thought we relied on that too much. Too much one-on-one play. This year I feel we’re moving the ball a little better so far. The offense isn’t going to be as stagnant this year. There’s not going to be too much isolation basketball.”
That should please fans. It certainly would please McMillan, who has made several tweaks to the halfcourt offense to cater to this season’s roster, but hopes not to rely on it too heavily. He’d much prefer his team get out and score in transition before the defense sets up.
“Get something early,” is how he puts it.
McMillan began last season with good intentions for an uptempo, ball-sharing offense, but it didn’t work out that way. His starting lineup featured three players – Paul George, Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis – who needed the ball in their hands to be at peak effectiveness. Add the fact there wasn’t a low-post threat to attract double-teams that could lead to kick-out passes for open shots on the perimeter, and it made for a stagnant, frustrating exercise in inefficiency, but at least it took advantage of individual skill sets.
McMillan saw some of the same ball-stopping tendencies in Tuesday’s win over Maccabi, although to many observers the offense looked better than last season.
“When you’ve got a lot of guys who don’t know how to play without the ball, that’s when you get situations like the other night,” McMillan said. “Going one on one. My turn. I’ve got to do it while I’ve got it. The ball stops.”
The downside of not having “ball-stoppers,” however, is not having someone who can bail out an offense with individual talents. George saved a handful of victories last season with clutch scoring in the fourth quarter off one-on-one moves, and this team could miss having someone such as that.
“You don’t have that one guy you can give the ball to and create shots,” Collison said. “That’s probably going to be the most challenging part of the offense. We have to do it by committee.”
That can be a good thing in the long run, as it keeps everyone involved and makes an offense less predictable. McMillan was pleased with the flow of his team’s offense in the opening exhibition game at Milwaukee, but thought his players succumbed to individual temptations too often after that. That has been a constant emphasis in practice, and will continue to be leading up to next Wednesday’s season-opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Good offense requires defense and rebounding, though. The Pacers ranked 21st in the league in rebounds last season, and were worse than that on the offensive glass. You don’t often get easy transition points when you’re taking the ball out of the net. This season’s starting lineup is shorter than last – and 13 collective inches shorter than the conference finalists of 2013 and ’14 – so it will have to be a group effort. Collison and fellow guard Victor Oladipo will have to collect some of the missed perimeter shots that bounce long off the rim, as will their backups.
“It’s a group thing,” McMillan said. “Our guards have to come back and help.”
The need for rebounding and off-ball movement on offense bodes well for Domantas Sabonis. The 6-11 forward is the Pacers’ best screen-setter, and its most physical player around the basket. He’ll create openings for teammates and for himself on pick-and-rolls and get second-shot opportunities in the offense as well. Never a bad thing for any offense.
“He just plays,” McMillan said. “He’s screening, he’s rolling, he’s making the extra pass. Guys like that, they make players better.”
The need for 3-point shooting should bode well for Bojan Bogdanovic, but hasn’t yet. Bogdanovic hit just 2-of-15 3-pointers in three preseason games, but McMillan draws confidence from his forward’s body of work. Bogdanovic is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, and shot 39 percent in 26 games for Washington last season after the Wizards gave up a first-round draft pick for him to supplement their playoff run.
McMillan wants his halfcourt offense to begin with attacks of the rim, but hopes they lead to more open 3-pointers for players such as Bogdanovic, who was acquired exactly for that purpose.
“We know that shot will come for him,” McMillan said. “He better not hesitate. I’m not really too concerned about that.”
Nor is he concerned with the desire of his players to play hard and to play together. That will have to hold them until they find the formula to lubricate their offense.
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