Stray Pacervations is intended to shed light on small things and possible trends that happen during Indiana Pacers games. Some good. Some bad. Some in between.
1. Domas Sabonis rebounding and pushing the pace. There are so many things to love about Sabonis’s game already, but this might be my current favorite. When Sabonis grabs a defensive rebound and no defender is near, instead of pausing and finding the outlet pass, Sabonis will immediately turn into a dribble while looking for an open man. It’s a small thing but it helps the Pacers gain a little bit of extra time for their budding transition offense.
This happens about once per game and has led open shots on a few occasions. Here’s an example below as Sabonis ends up being the beneficiary with the open dunk.
He’s also set up a Bojan Bogdanovic 3-pointer and an Oladipo layup on similar plays.
2. Ike Anigbogu should get some run before Al Jefferson. Medium Al’s time on the court is always danger zone. A chance for opponents to gain ground or further build their lead, against the Spurs, the Pacers were outscored by 19 points with Jefferson on the court. He only played for 15 minutes. Unfortunately for Al, he just doesn’t fit in today’s NBA and can’t play a lick of defense. Meanwhile, the Pacers have the youngest player in the league that desperately needs time on the court to develop in Ike Anigbogu. The one thing that he currently does right now is block shots. There’s no way the Pacers defense could be worse with Anigbogu over Jefferson, so why not give the rookie some run whenever a third center is needed? I should mention that somehow Jefferson has the team’s best rating in NBA Math’s defensive TPA metric. This does not match up with what the eye test tells you, but maybe Jefferson or the Pacers schemes with Jefferson on the court have improved.
3. Dipo bouncing back in second half. Twice in the past three games, Oladipo has looked like he was going to have his first bad game as a member of the Pacers. Against the Spurs, he bounced back after only 10 points in the first three quarters while struggling to find any rhythm and scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 10.3 seconds remaining.
Then, last night, Dipo had just three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers. So, what’d he do in the second half? He made 8 of 13 shots (including four second-half 3-pointers) and scored 20 points.
Every game that goes by with Oladipo continuing his torrid streak makes it more and more likely that this isn’t just a nice start to the year for Victor, but a sign that he’s taken a leap with his increased responsibility and role with the Pacers.
4. Lance Stephenson struggles. Lance has yet to have a single game this season where he’s shot even 40% from the field. Last night, he went scoreless with four missed shot attempts. Stephenson is currently making only 25% of his field goal attempts and 13.6% of his 3-pointers. His free-throw shooting isn’t helping him either at 43.8%.
To his credit, he’s still making timely passes to teammates in position to score, is hustling as much as ever and hasn’t shied away from taking shots, but Stephenson will need to snap out of his funk soon. He once had what was considered the worst 3-point shooting season in NBA history with the Charlotte Hornets, so Stephenson can be prone to prolong shooting droughts. He can’t afford another season like that with the Pacers having a team option of the final year of his contract.
He struggled badly while playing with Al Jefferson in Charlotte and has been playing alongside him once again with Myles Turner’s injury moving Jefferson into the rotation. Let’s hope getting Stephenson and Sabonis running pick and rolls again will kickstart Lance, so he can make us dance.
5. TJ Leaf’s off-the-bounce game. Pacers first-round pick Leaf continues to show a lot of polish on the offensive end. He’s been surprisingly adept at attacking off the dribble. He’s great at attacking overly-aggressive closeouts and driving to the basket. Once teams are prepared for his drives, the next challenge for Leaf will be passing once a defender helps onto him. Leaf’s crafty and creative when finishing at the rim, able to shoot at different angles. Knows how to score is a perfect description of him. His defense is another story, but right now his offense is strong. The Pacers bench should probably look to him or utilize him in pick and pops more often rather than just have him standing in the corner.
6. Dipo gets a little sleepy on defense. Oladipo’s great start to the season hasn’t been without any negatives, though it’s been pretty close. About two times per game, Oladipo seems to be beat on a backdoor cut where he falls asleep while guarding his man off-the-ball. This happened on the Spurs basket that gave them the lead before Oladipo’s heroic shot.
7. Maybe the Colts should turn to Domantas Sabonis at quarterback. Thad Young called Sabonis a quarterback for the offense last week, and the offense has been running through him the past two games as he’s added 11 assists in those games. Sabonis is always under control and ready to move the ball where it needs to go on offense. He’s showing shades of his legendary father, Aryvdas Sabonis, as a passer. He’s one of only three players in the NBA to average 13 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. The other two? Nikola Jokic and DeMarcus Cousins. It’ll be very interesting to see how Sabonis is used once Myles Turner returns and how often they play together. That’s probably the most important thing to watch this season for the Pacers future.
8. Joe Young gets a chance as an off-the-ball player. Against the Spurs, Joe Young got meaningful minutes for the first time this season. Playing alongside Stephenson and Cory Joseph, Young had zero ball-handling responsibilities and managed to hit an open three off the catch. If the Pacers choose to go this route again, I’d like to see Young get opportunities running open off of screens. In the second half of the Spurs game, Young attempted a couple of shots off the dribble and was unsuccessful on either attempt. If he isn’t successful in this style of role, it’s hard to see him ever figuring it out at the NBA level.