It ain't hopeless, folks - statistical analysis @ Pacers

Why did the game go to OT? Why did the Lakers win? What worked well, what didn’t from a statistical stand point? (Scroll down to lineup summary for a quick read).

Boxscore indications: close quarters throughout, only OT was a clear affair. Second half defense way better than the first half once again. Second unit was a big plus. Turnovers and rebounding even. +6 in free throws made was almost upset in 2 pointers: 27-58 vs the Pacers’ 29-58. Big edge in 3 point percentage, two more made 3s while taking 9 fewer attempts. Balanced bench scoring while the starters was pretty much all LeBron with some Westbrook mixed in, they carried the scoring load with that unit. Bradley doesn’t look good in the boxscore while LeBron, Monk and Ellington look awesome and Dwight looks efficient, DJ a rebounding force once more.

Advanced stats and four factors point to Bradley and the two bigs as weak spots. They are the only players with a net rating worse than -5. Ellington, Monk, Melo and Westbrook stand out in net rating. Surprise: LeBron’s a -4.5. True shooting has Ellington, Monk and LeBron as the standouts. Opponents score points in the paint primarily vs Russ, LeBron and Melo, though the value ain’t egregious here. The bigs do their job in that regard and as defensive rebounders. LeBron and Russ drew a combined 15 fouls (8 and 7).

Shot chart indications (team): according to shot charts, the interior defense stunk in the 2nd quarter. Pacers went 8-8 in the restricted area. In OT, it was all jump shots for the Lakers. On defense, they allowed just one bucket in the restricted area and the Pacers missed all of their 3s (6 total). Lakers won the 3 point battle on corner 3s: they went 5/5 from the corners (Melo 2, Ellington 2, Russ 1) whereas the Pacers shot 4/12.

Shot chart indications (individuals): Melo made his 3s from the corners, his 5 misses all come from the left wing. He was only 1-7 on jump shots after the 1st quarter. LeBron’s makes all come from the center of the floor or the left side, he didn’t make a single field goal from the right. He was a perfect 5-5 in the second quarter, gonna check which lineups may have helped him. Russ took a single shot (which he made) in the 2ndquarter. Is that a positive or a negative? THT’s shot quality looks much better in the second half (exclusively at rim plus 3s vs two shots at rim but 3 mid-range jumpers in the first half) – small sample size or purposeful adjustment?

Let’s check what’s up with the plusminus and what actually happened.

Play-by-play analysis:

Starters: Westbrook/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ +/- 0 in 5:06 minutes. On pace for a 26-26 quarter, good defense, underwhelming offense. Defense: balanced shot chart for the Pacers but they missed a lot. What stands out is that 3 of their 4 makes were layups and that the Lakers gave up 3 offensive boards. Offense: too many turnovers, 3 off bad passes (Russ 2, LeBron 1), one offensive foul by DJ. Pacers scored 0 points off those turnovers but it hurt the offense. Scoring: Russ a made 3, 1-2 at the line, LeBron a 3, 2-2 at the line, THT a bucket. Efficiency: Russ 1-2 FGA, LBJ 1-3, Bradley 0-1, THT 1-1.

Notes: solid, the Pacers’ starters had an awesome net rating of +32.6 per 100 previously. Clean up the turnovers and the team should be good. I’d expect this lineup to struggle vs the better defenses that shut down drives though, there’s close to no shooting for the playmakers and for both LeBron and Russ, those lineups don’t do well over a bigger sample size. Remains to be seen, so far, so good.

Monk/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ -6 in 1:58 minute. Quick 6-0 run for the Pacers. They go 3-3 from mid-range while LeBron goes 0-2 but what’s interesting here is the shot clock: Lakers struggle to beat the clock (0 and 2 seconds left), Pacers get their shots up with 6-16 seconds left and they’re much closer to the basket than LeBron on his attempts.

Monk/THT/LBJ/Melo/Dwight +1 in 1:05 minute. Nothing noteworthy here.

Westbrook/Ellington/THT/Melo/Dwight +/-0 in 3:51 minutes. Defense gives up 11 points over the first two minutes (66 pts/quarter pace), including an offensive rebound after a free throw, but only 2 over the final two minutes (12 pts/quarter). On offense, they go 2-6 from deep, both makes come from Melo, both from the corners, Russ and Dwight gave the assists. Dwight looks good here, gets two offensive boards after a missed 3 and a missed layup. Shot distribution rather balanced, except that Ellington has 0 field goal attempts. It’s 3s and layups, in theory highly efficient shots. Did they actually run into a good bench lineup here if they get the defense consistent?

Score after the 1st: 26-31, with either the Monk/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ lineup or the offensive execution there clearly being the biggest negative. But also the early turnovers and the first two minutes defensively of Westbrook/Ellington/THT/Melo/Dwight stand out here. Positives are probably the overall defense, especially to close the quarter and maybe Dwight’s play.

Westbrook/Monk/LBJ/Melo/Dwight -2 in 2:41 minutes. Defense can’t extend the good stint (36 pts/quarter pace). The Pacers score 3 consecutive layups, one in transition after a Westbrook turnover. Once again, the defense struggles early, giving up 6 of the 8 points in the first 65 seconds (66 pts/quarter). Good timeout and adjustment by Vogel here, they only give up one made jump shot in 96 seconds after it (15 pts/quarter). There’s potential here but they need to start better.

Offense goes 3-6 on field goals, with Monk missing 2 and Dwight cleaning up one on a putback and scoring another basket. The Pacers having possession to start the quarter and the turnover may keep the offense at a pace of 27 points/quarter. The makes are layups and a dunk, the misses are jump shots so there seems to be some gravity with regards to spacing. Also noteworthy that Russ is quiet/deferring over this stint.

Could this lineup be successful if it manages to play solid defense and either drives more or hits an occasional jump shot? Not sure. They were -52.6 per 100 prior to this game over 9:10 minutes, mostly because they shot horrendously bad percentages, committed fouls on defense, got blocked and had an awful assist-to-turnover ratio (didn’t move the ball?). The shooting is surely statistical noise and all the other values could be outliers over such a small sample size. During this stint, the lack of assists was the only trend confirmed. Previous strength: getting to the line – which they didn’t in this stint.

Bradley/Ellington/THT/LBJ/DJ +/-0 in 4:11 minutes. Defense and offense on pace for 34 points. Defense basically only gives up 3s over the first 2:52 minutes, Pacers go 2-7. Then Sabonis checks out, Pacers make 2 layups after that. Defense surprised? Offense balanced, solid shooting efficiency from others, LBJ goes 2-2 but just 1-2 from the line.

Westbrook/Bradley/Ellington/Melo/DJ +2 in 2:03 minutes. Defense 23 pts/quarter. Offense 35/quarter. Take the defensive value with a grain of salt though, Lakers had possession to start this stint and the Pacers scored two layups. Melo 1-3 on offense but converts an and-1 resulting off an offensive rebound by Ellington. Russ hits a jumper and draws a foul but misses one of the free throws.

Westbrook/Bradley/Monk/Melo/LBJ +2 in 2:40 minutes of small ball. Firepower: offensive pace 45/quarter, defensive 36/quarter. Brogdon hits two consecutive 3s, that may make the defense look worse. There’s noise on offense as well, Pacers gift them an extra possession on a turnover but Monk throws it away on the other end and LBJ commits an offensive foul. Even with that extra turnover, the offense looks spectacular! Russ draws a foul, Melo draws two, LBJ converts an and-1 and makes another layup. Easy points. Looks extremely promising, even though the Pacers are one of the better matchups to drive and draw fouls, especially as Sabonis was on the bench with foul trouble.

THT replaces Monk for 25 seconds, they give up another 3. 60-66 at half time.

Notes first half: I really liked the coaching in the second quarter. Lineups look solid to me, Vogel staggered Russ and LeBron, then put out some small ball, attacked the Pacers inside and hung 5 fouls onto their bigs. Got easy baskets there and almost everybody stuck to their role (with Melo maybe shooting a bit much and Russ a little too passive but that’s nitpicking). Vogel also called the timeout and nailed the defensive adjustment early.

The no-point guard lineups were iffy but it got better when Ellington played next to Bradley instead of Monk, on both ends. Vogel fixed another issue there and didn’t go back to the lineup that did them in in the 1st.

3rd quarter, Westbrook/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ. Good defense but turnovers and a struggling offense in the 1st, now +1 in 6:22 minutes. Offensively a 21 pts/quarter pace (anemic). Defensively 19/quarter (terrific). 1stquarter confirmed. Additional context: they went +1 vs a starting lineup that was +32.6 per 100 prior to this game, very solid. Details: they start the quarter with 2 steals by THT and one by LeBron but then the Pacers punch them in the mouth with an 8-0 run. Shot quality for the Pacers is high, a lot of 3s and some layups but they struggle to finish well and the Lakers rebound very well. On offense, Bradley travels (again). Still, they win the turnover battle by 2 here. Offense is make-or-miss for THT, DJ, LeBron, for Russ it’s just miss here (0-3, all jump shots). They run a ton of cutting actions but they don’t finish well. That and Russ’ misses seem to contribute to the overall poor offense. DJ’s rebounding is a big plus once again. Bron gets a block in addition to his steal.

Note: I like this lineup because it hasn’t come out flat on defense and cleans up the defensive rebounding weakness as well as providing a viable non-AD lineup, another issue so far. Keeping turnovers down is crucial for this lineup though and with no shooting around this could be much tougher vs different opponents.

Monk/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ, the lineup that struggled in the 1st on both ends. Once again, they go -3 in 1:18 minute, with poor shot quality on offense (3 pointer for THT, deep 3 pointer and super-deep clock for LBJ that gets blocked by Malcolm Brogdon) and a loose-ball foul by DJ to top it off. Maybe the final nail in the coffin for this lineup, hopefully Vogel was just checking to confirm.

Monk/Ellington/THT/LBJ/Dwight -3 in 1:41 minute but they get bailed out by two missed free throws there. Give up an offensive board and foul on the put back, give up another layup and foul once more. On pace for a 14-36 quarter, yikes. Late-clock fadeaway missed by LBJ, putback by Dwight. Late-clock mid-range jump shot Monk, missed layup THT, hope the offense didn’t look as ugly in reality because this is an eye-sore. Same lineup with Ellington replacing Monk, not Bradley, did okay in the 2nd on both ends.

Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/Melo/Dwight +8 in 2:30 minutes, quick 9-1 run. This lineup was +14.5 per 100 prior to the game (in 16:21 minutes). What happened? Duarte travelled, Russ aggressive and efficient, Monk hit shots – and the Pacers lineup wasn’t the strongest during this stint. Balanced offense, a 3 and a floater (Monk), a layup plus 2 free throws (Russ), great defensive rebounding.

Note: I think the examples of Malik Monk and DJ show that it’s not about not playing certain players, it’s about playing the right combinations. The same applies to the stars or the effectiveness of a low-usage player like Avery Bradley. Monk looks awful when given too much responsibility (primary playmaker) but pretty darn good as a secondary or tertiary playmaker, cutter and floor-spacer. DJ looks good when sticking to his role as a (defensive) rebounder and shot-blocker, especially when surrounded with guys who show effort on the defensive end. This is one encouraging key takeaway of the last few games.

Score 82-84, end of 3rd

Westbrook/Ellington/LBJ/Melo/Dwight -7 in 1:24 minute, 7-0 run Pacers. Russ gets blocked on a layup, Melo with the rebound but misses the ensuing 3 pointer which leads to a layup in transition for Indiana. Ellington misses a 3. Shot clock violation. They give up another layup and a 3 on the other end, Vogel rightfully calls for time. The adjustment got me curious though, he brings Monk for Ellington…

Westbrook/Monk/LBJ/Melo/Dwight +/-0 in 1:06 minute. 1-3 on jump shots offensively, Pacers miss two 3s and score off a Melo foul. This wasn’t it. Next substitution…

Monk/Ellington/THT/Melo/LBJ +4 in 3:12 minutes. All-in on offense with small ball, risky on defense. It pays off for the first 3 possessions where they hit three 3s (Ellington 2, Monk 1) and go on a 9-0 run (Pacers miss a jump shot and travel on the other possession). Game tied. Then LeBron fouls Brogdon, attacks the space provided by Ellington and Monk but misses two layups. Monk gets a steal but Melo misses the 3, leading to another transition basket for the Pacers, a 3.

Note: It looks to me as if the reason the Pacers could counter the run was maybe transition defense but mostly missed shots that are usually highly efficient (layups and 3s taken by good shooters). Would like to see more off this small ball lineup as well, especially when trailing in the 4th and offense is needed.

Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/THT/Melo. Really? Who played center here, Melo, Russ, THT? +1 in 55 seconds. Ellington hits a 3, Melo got blocked by Duarte trying to beat the clock. Duarte hit a mid-range jump shot later. Fortunately Brogdon turned it over.

Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/THT/LBJ +5 in 2:23 minutes. More small ball, this time with THT in the defensive role instead of Bradley and the hot hand in Ellington in the volume-shooter role instead of Melo who couldn’t hit anything from outside for a while. Great job, coach! Russ as the villain, Monk as the hero statistically speaking: turnover Russ, who played transition defense there? They prevented the layup and the putback, respect. Monk got the rebound. Russ with a missed layup. But an assist to… Monk for a 3. Monk misses one but gets another rebound and then draws a foul (apparently in transition), makes both free throws. Russ called for a flagrant foul. In between LBJ with two made free throws. Team gives up offensive boards but no baskets whatsoever. Another positive small ball lineup, another one that gets them to the free throw line and has them take efficient shots on average.

Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/Melo/LBJ +2 in 2:38 minutes. More small ball, all offense, risky defense. Results: offensive pace 41 pts/quarter, defensive 32/quarter. Though you wanna keep a lead here, the substitution makes sense as small ball has got them the lead in the first place and Melo should be trusted over THT to make a clutch shot, regardless of how he shot after half time. LeBron makes a layup after a steal by Melo, a pull-up 3 late in the clock and two free throws, misses two mid-range jump shots. Russ misses a jumper but makes two free throws. Sabonis called for a flagrant. Defensive issue is fouling here, they give up four free throws. Otherwise very little.

Clutch 3 by Duarte with Bradley replacing Ellington sends the game to overtime.

OT: Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/Melo/LBJ +8 in 4:56 minutes. This one looks very different: offense on pace for 29 pts/quarter, defense on pace to give up 10/quarter (!). Lack of size leads to two offensive boards for Indiana’s bigs but once again the Lakers defend 3s and layups well. How much of this was shooting luck or fatigue rather than good contests, what do you think? Team goes 2-5 on 3s and 3-3 on mid-range jump shots (another difference in the shot profile to previous small ball stints). They are a jump shooting team in OT but unlike a big 3 plus THT and DJ lineup, for instance, they have the personnel to be one. Everybody but Melo gets a defensive rebound, Russ gets an offensive board and a block in addition to it, LeBron with a block, the defense is clearly there. Monk with one turnover but that’s it. Lakers win!

Lineup summary:

Small ball lineups +22 in 16:44 (Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/Melo/LBJ +10 in 7:34 minutes, Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/THT/LBJ +5 in 2:23 minutes, Monk/Ellington/THT/Melo/LBJ +4 in 3:12 minutes, Westbrook/Bradley/Monk/Melo/LBJ +2 in 2:40 minutes and 55 seconds without LBJ, with the first 3 lineups all looking extremely good).

No-point guard lineups with Monk as ‘point guard’ and a traditional big: -11 in 6:02 minutes. This lineup looked much better in the non-Westbrook minutes: Bradley/Ellington/THT/LBJ/DJ +/-0 in 4:11 minutes with better defense. Small ball looked way better as well, with or without Russ (but not without LeBron).

Westbrook/Bradley/THT/LBJ/DJ looks good on defense, non-AD lineup there. Could struggle with lack of spacing, remains to be seen.

Westbrook/Ellington/Monk/Melo/Dwight +8 in 2:30 minutes. Non-AD, non-LeBron lineup that looked good.

Westbrook/Ellington/THT/Melo/Dwight +/-0 in 3:51 minutes. Another one without LeBron or AD. Defense was high variance but looks promising, offensive firepower is obvious.

Opinion: thought Vogel did an EXCELLENT job with lineups and timeouts overall. He adjusted to poor shooting or defense, he got a second look at the poor lineups but kept a short leash on them, he stuck with what worked (small ball) to close the game, he got guys maximising their value by sticking to their strengths, the shot quality was there, he adjusted to individual performances (playing Bradley less and the bench guys outside of Dwight more) and he figured out successful rotations where LBJ played a not-too-bad 38:30 minutes in regulation and Russ a lower-than average 34:30 in regulation. Westbrook’s usage was also lower, the team got better over the course of the game (7 turnovers first half, just 4 in the second plus OT) and he fixed the rebounding, turnover and spacing issues in this game, all while missing AD and still fielding a solid defense. The look at lineups was incredibly encouraging this time because there are several lineups for non-LeBron minutes that have done well, there’s at least three lineups without AD that might work (the biggest issue so far), there’s a new one without either LeBron or AD, one without either Russ or AD and at least three small ball lineups that looked good.

Moreover, I loved the more balanced offense (apart from the – depleted – starting lineup) where shooters show up, guys stick to their roles, you get the more efficient shots on average, easy baskets, get to the free throw line (which diminishes the impact of shooting variance, see field goal percentage vs effective field goal percentage LeBron, Melo, Westbrook for reference) and run a more versatile offense that’s tougher to defend, likely to decrease turnovers and could get opponents into foul trouble.