The Pacers are amid a rare four-day break in the schedule, with the opportunity for three consecutive days of practice in advance of Friday's game against Miami.
They have plenty to of things to practice, to say the least.
They rank 28th in the NBA in rebounding, pace, and free throw percentage, all vital elements of winning and all points of emphasis in Tuesday's workout at St. Vincent Center. The greatest issue, though, the one that nearly overwhelms all others, explains some of the individual deficiencies and most succinctly relates to game performance is shot distribution.
Victor Oladipo, their lone All-Star, averages more than twice as many shots per game (20) as any of his teammates. Consider that Oladipo also has the worst shooting percentage (.450) among the starters, and second-worst among all the rotation players, and the reason behind the Pacers' offensive inconsistency becomes obvious, despite coach Nate McMillan's calls for more pace and ball movement.
"We haven't had a good rhythm or continuity together," Darren Collison said.
Which is why McMillan broached the subject with Oladipo before Tuesday's practice.
The disparity of the Pacers' current shot distribution would be historic if allowed to carry out through the rest of the season. No team in franchise history has had one player dominate the offense to the current degree. The closest would be the 1974-75 team on which George McGinnis, the clear star of a rebuilt team and the co-Most Valuable Player of the ABA, 1,934 shots that season (24.5 per game), but Kevin Joyce (curiously) took 1,245 and rookie Billy Knight took 1,087.
Even the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 championship team, one that was led by a singular player as much as any in league history, had better balance. Kobe Bryant averaged 20.9 shots that season, while Pau Gasol averaged 12.9.
The catch here is that nobody on the team is accusing Oladipo of being selfish.
Oladipo brought up his usage rate, which measures how often he has the ball in the offense, to President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard in their first meeting following the trade with Oklahoma City two summers ago. He's also athletic and ambitious, and has clearly stated his desire to become a great player.
That doesn't mean he has to dominate the offense, however. Cory Joseph, remember, stated, "there isn't a selfish soul on this team" following last week's homecourt loss to Philadelphia in which Oladipo attempted 30 shots, and none of the other Pacers has uttered a complaint about Oladipo's shot selection. Instead, they speak of a need for better ball movement.
Oladipo, meanwhile, isn't calling for more shots, or even as many as he's getting.
"We have to find better ways to attack," he said on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
The best way for the Pacers to attack has been to contain Oladipo's shot attempts, as the following breakdown clearly indicates. Dating back to the start of last season when his Pacers career began:
- They are 24-3 when he takes 15 or fewer shots. In those games, he has shot 58 percent from the field and averaged 19.7 points per game.
- They are 22-12 when he takes between 16-20 shots. In those games, he shot 46 percent.
- They are 10-18 when he takes 21 or more shots. In those games, he shot 42 percent.
The Pacers are 3-0 this season when Oladipo has taken 15 or fewer shots, with the victories coming over Memphis, San Antonio, and Cleveland. It's highly unlikely they would continue to win 24 of every 27 games if he did so the rest of the season, but they likely would win far more frequently than while compiling their current 8-6 record.
Is the burden on Oladipo to shoot less, or on his teammates to get open for good shots?
"It's both," McMillan said. "We talk about execution, and execution is working to get a good shot. It is on Victor...when he feels he has a good shot, we want him to take that - but also create opportunities for other guys when that defense is committed to him. Part of this process of establishing our style is trusting each other; recognizing a matchup and trying to take advantage of that and get those guys the ball.
"When you're a young team and one guy is taking 30 shot attempts, all it takes is one guy to start thinking (you're selfish). That's not him. I know that's not him. I also know what he's trying to do. But if we continue to play the game the right way and play together, the results will come. We might lose this one. We might lose the next one. But eventually you're starting to win."
McMillan's conversation with Oladipo Tuesday morning focused on one word: efficiency. He wants Oladipo to focus on taking good shots within the flow of the offense and utilize his athleticism to create easy shots for teammates.
Oladipo has an ability to take over a game offensively, as he did after the Pacers fell behind 13-2 to Philadelphia last Wednesday. He brought them back to a five-point lead in the second quarter and a tie at halftime, with an outstanding individual performance. But that approach was unsustainable. He missed seven of his final eight shots and the Pacers faltered down the stretch in a six-point defeat.
Sunday's loss at Houston followed a similar dynamic. The Pacers fought back from an early 12-point deficit to lead 28-26, but didn't finish well. Over the final 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter he hit just 1-of-5 shots and committed a turnover, an uncharacteristic finish for one of the league's better clutch players. He wound up taking 24 shots, hitting seven. Bogdanovic had the second-most shot attempts, 11, and hit six.
It wasn't efficient. Nor was it necessary, as McMillan told Oladipo Tuesday morning.
"You don't have to do it," he said. "It looks bad on you. You continue to play the game the right way and trust your teammates. Don't put that on you, that you have to do something. You don't. Taking 30 shots is not (what will win games). That's going to make you look bad.
"I know what you're trying to do, but that's not what works."
What works has been proven. When Oladipo limits his shot production, the offense flows like a river and the Pacers are practically unbeatable. When he shoots a lot, the offense becomes a stagnant pond and the Pacers are a losing team. But the responsibility for making the offense work, just like the ball, has to be shared.
"He's trying to get us involved; we have to take it upon ourselves to be more aggressive, too," Collison said. "With the shot disparity, you don't want him to have that early in the season. He'll wear down. Everybody has to take it upon themselves to help him out. And he'll do a better job distributing as well."
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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