TrueHoop: Frank Vogel

How to be Frank Vogel

March, 19, 2014
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Pacers coach Frank Vogel explains how he got his big break in the NBA by writing letters.


'We're all chasing the Heat'

February, 27, 2014
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel talks about how the Pacers have emerged as a powerhouse.

East-leading Indy stays home for Christmas

December, 23, 2013
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
NEW YORK -- When the NBA schedule came out last summer, the Indiana Pacers players first looked for their opener, then they looked at Christmas Day.

Surely they would've graduated to Christmas Day status -- a trademark sign of national respect in the league -- after going to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat last season.

But Dec. 25 was blank.

"No comment," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "I’m going to leave that one alone."

"We expect stuff like that," David West said. "It was the same reason that at the start of the season I saw us getting picked like fourth in the East."

"I wasn’t expecting to play that day, to be honest," Paul George said. "It’s just the way it’s been for us being here."

Ten teams were picked to play on Wednesday, generally the 10 teams the league expected to generate the most excitement on one of the season’s marquee days. The small-market Pacers didn't make the cut.

They will play in the featured game on Thursday night only once this season, in mid-January. They are not currently scheduled to play in a Sunday afternoon national-television game. Of the four games they play against the Heat this season, two were not initially scheduled to be on one of the league’s national broadcast partners.

Monday night they took apart the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets 103-86. The Nets are the inverse of the Pacers. After their offseason of flashy moves, they received a huge amount of attention and were given a full slot on the national platform, kicking off Christmas Day against the equally disappointing Chicago Bulls.

The Pacers’ payroll this season is a little less than $70 million. The Nets are paying $80 million … in luxury tax. After blowing a late lead in Miami last week put them on their first losing streak of the season, the Pacers have now come back to win three in a row to improve to 23-5.

"We let our play do the talking," West said. "We understand who we are. We’re still growing our names. Even Paul, he’s getting some attention, but people are just starting to get to know him."

The Pacers, who are about five years into a plan that has seen them build primarily through the draft, may get a taste of revenge when the All-Star Game arrives, though. They might as well book a block of rooms in New Orleans for President's Day weekend now.

With the win over the Nets, coach Frank Vogel suddenly has a magic number of 10 to clinch being the All-Star coach for the East. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is ineligible because he was the coach last season and the Pacers have an eight-game lead on the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Vogel could clinch the honor by the middle of January if the team keeps on this pace.

George appears headed to be voted in as a starter; he would be the first Pacer to get that honor since Jermaine O'Neal in 2003. Hibbert probably won’t get voted in -- the ballot no longer has a center designation -- but is nearly a lock to get there.

"LeBron can start at center," Hibbert said. "He can play all five positions."

West, a two-time All-Star, will get strong consideration, and even Lance Stephenson -- a player who would've drawn laughs when mentioned in All-Star talk a few months ago -- is gaining traction. Or at least the Pacers are trying to give it to him.

Indiana might not lead the league in attention, but it is among the leaders in confidence. Hibbert has been on his own campaign to win NBA defensive player of the year. Teammates have mentioned George as an MVP candidate. And now the vogue idea is to pitch Stephenson as an All-Star.

"He should be in the conversation," Vogel said. "He’s got to be in the conversation."

Stephenson had his third triple-double of the season Sunday against the Boston Celtics, then Monday he put on a show in his hometown in front of about 30 friends and family. He had a career-high 26 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

With each basket, his buddies sitting above the Pacers bench would jump up and pump their fists. As the game got out of hand and Nets fans started leaving, the Stephenson section became more and more audible.

"I was pretty emotionally hyped for this game," Stephenson said. "I couldn't really sleep last night."

In the end, perhaps the Pacers ended up with the best deal in it all. The schedule has them off until Saturday, a break that allowed the team to give the players two days off over the holiday. Stephenson stayed in Brooklyn with family. The rest of the Pacers, at least according to Hibbert’s Twitter feed, spent their bus ride toward their Christmas vacation arguing over who has the better career: Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus.

Meanwhile, the Heat complained in a recent meeting with incoming commissioner Adam Silver that they had to travel to L.A. for Christmas when they’re the defending champs. Flying under the radar can, it seems, have its perks.

"Everything has played perfect for us. We didn’t get distracted with too much attention," said George, who had 26 points of his own in the win. "I feel like that’ll change in the future."

Killer Lineup: The Pacers' stingy starters

February, 25, 2013
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Miami Heat
George Hill | Lance Stephenson | Paul George | David West | Roy Hibbert
Minutes Played: 877
Offensive Rating: 107.7 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 93.6 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
Pacers coach Frank Vogel is a man who appreciates uniformity. Last season, his team’s primary lineup logged 1,000 minutes. No other unit in the NBA topped 750 minutes. This season, the Pacers’ starters once again lead all five-man units in minutes played -- only this time it’s George Hill and Lance Stephenson in place of Darren Collison (traded during the offseason) and Danny Granger (made his debut Saturday after missing the first 55 games of the season because of patellar tendinosis).

When newly assembled units struggle to find themselves offensively, coaches often will preach patience and time. In the case of the Pacers this season, that largely has worked. With each passing month in Granger’s absence, Indiana’s starting five have grown more comfortable as an offense, and they’ve been impressively efficient in the past 20 games or so.

For one, they get into their stuff more quickly. That swing sequence at the top of the floor that opens many of their half-court possessions -- wing-to-big-to-wing -- happens promptly and crisply. From here, the Pacers generally go one of a few different ways.

First, there’s George, who’s the unit’s most effective (and only true) creator off the bounce. The Pacers might isolate him inside the arc on the left side and let him work over a smaller defender. They’ll also use Hibbert to pin down for George to pop out to the perimeter. With enough separation, George will take the shot, but if his defender is close, he’ll put the ball on the floor.

Comparatively few of George’s possessions originate from high pick-and-rolls. Every once in a while in early offense, West will set a little step-up screen, but George clearly prefers to rub his guy off West or Hibbert at the foul-line extended area about 15 feet from the basket. Overall, George is a player who likes a layer of space around him while he’s working on offense (it’s not unusual to see George politely wave off a pick). Given that tendency, it’s an interesting exercise to imagine him playing alongside some guys who can actually shoot the ball from distance.

With West and Hibbert on the floor, the Pacers look inside a fair amount. There’s a certain obligation to feed Hibbert if his defender ends up on the high side. He’ll also see the ball if the matchup advantage is wildly in his favor. Despite Hibbert’s struggles to find his hook shot, there’s been no detectable fall-off in his touches.

West at the elbow is a higher-grade option. Big men with the ability to control a possession from the high post are becoming a less common breed. From that spot, West can turn around and fire a jumper, but more often than not he surveys the scene. As West watches the defense, he’s patient, scanning the perimeter. Who’s cheating? Who’s inclined to cheat if I get into my move? If West finds something, he’ll kick the ball out. If not, he might unleash a ball fake or just return it to the top of the floor.

The Pacers do a nice job of using West on the weakside elbow as a sensible release option. When teams load up on George on one side of the floor, the Pacers have increasingly looked West’s way as the logical counter. George is getting better and better at reading the court for his next best option, in large part because he’s learned that looking to West at that spot is generally the answer.

The ball doesn’t spend a great amount of time in the hands of Hill, who’s far more of a cutter than an initiator in the half court. Defenses have universally run under any ball screen set for Hill, and he’s become considerably more willing to shoot the 3-ball if given sufficient space. A couple of times a game, Hill will dribble left of one of those picks, then launch a shot from distance. Overall, he’s 36.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The unit generally plays together in six-, eight-, sometimes even 10-minute stints, and at some point, Stephenson will get a chance to initiate in the half court. Stephenson probably will never be a guy with whom you can create beautiful basketball, but playing with this unit has refined him as a player. It’s not just the shooting percentages, which are way up. Stephenson is a better decision-maker, a better mover and still a beast on the break. Sometimes when a player goes from a bench mob to the junior member of a five-man unit, all of the manual labor and errand-running that come with that job make him value his time with the ball more.

How it works defensively
Exceptionally well, which is an affirmation of some traditional truths about basketball. Even as the NBA undergoes a radical sea change with respect to size and position, being big is still an asset. Virtually every single night they take the floor, the Pacers’ starters have an enormous advantage -- literally. With the 6-foot-2 Hill replacing the 6-0 Collison in the first unit, the Pacers have legitimate length at all five positions and tower over opponents. Logically enough, this group works its strength.

It’s tough to move downhill against the Pacers in the half court because everywhere an offensive player turns, there are limbs blocking his path. For similar reasons, it’s also difficult to shoot over the top, move off the ball and more generally, find open parking spots anywhere on the floor. As a result, defenses have to work hard to get clean looks against the Pacers’ first unit.

Strong defenses tend to rotate well, but the elite ones don’t have to rotate at all. We can confidently place the Pacers’ starters in that group. Individually, each perimeter player contains his man at the point of attack, while West and Hibbert can handle just about any one-on-one matchup they’re assigned. Hill, Stephenson and George don’t have to worry about finding shooters because they’re already on top of them anytime they’re within a couple of feet. Opponents get fewer than 15 3-point attempts per 48 minutes against this unit (among the most frequently used lineups, only Chicago’s top two units do better), and converting only 31.3 percent of them.

George is a useful case study in why opponents can’t access normally reliable second and third options after the Pacers stop the ball on the first. It’s fun to watch George defend on the weakside. When he’s off the ball covering a stationary player on the perimeter, George will confidently run through a sequence of motions -- move toward the action on the ball side, dance back a couple of steps when a passing lane to his man opens up, cheat again once that window closes but not without a quick look back to make sure his guy hasn’t moved to a different spot where he could hurt the Pacers.

There’s no science to measure off-ball defense, but when you observe a player make every step toward and away from the action with so much purpose, when bad gambles and iffy decision occur so rarely, it becomes easy to understand how a unit is surrendering only 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Now, is this a case of a wing player like George having the luxury of playing alongside two big men who can handle the pick-and-roll? Or do the big guys excel because they play with a point guard like Hill who can corral opposing point guards and fight over screens when necessary, and wings like George (6-8) and Stephenson (6-5) who can hold their own against attackers who might post up or drive against lesser defenders?

In the case of Indiana’s featured lineup, the answer is both. There’s a mutual benefit between big and small that carries over from the perimeter to the basket area. Guys remain in their area, but Hibbert has a lot to do with that. He rarely leaves the paint, and why should he, because at 7-2 he’s far more effective playing goalie than he would be commuting from the top of the floor off a hard show or jamming a screener.

If a guard is able to beat Hill or Stephenson, Hibbert lies in wait and can contain him with his outstretched arms, all the while shading his man, which allows West or a weakside defender to stay at home. With few open targets surrounding him, the guard now has to find a way to magically deliver the ball to the hoop against a deceptively quick-footed, lurching giant -- and if he gets close enough, probably a second long-armed defender.

West might be even be a worse candidate for exploitation in the pick-and-roll for an offense. West meets the ball handler way up at the top of the floor, then chases down his original matchup (or other big man if Hibbert picks up West’s guy, sometimes the case when it’s a power forward with some skills). This is an exhausting anaerobic workout for a big guy, but the 6-9 West never stops moving for a second. His gift is knowing how to time his departures and arrivals. West can launch an all-out blitz on a point guard if Jason Maxiell is his man. But if he’s guarding someone who could potentially cause some trouble, especially as a popper, West will temper his attack.

Sometimes, a frustrated offense will all but abandon a pick-and-roll attack against the Pacers, which is why you see opponents stagnate. If you can’t get anything against the pick-and-roll, can’t capably penetrate by isolating your perimeter guys, and if Hibbert is going to confront anyone who gets within 8 feet of the basket, then what do you have?

Finally, with Granger active again, does Vogel take minutes away from this unit to accommodate Granger's return? The more difficult question to answer for Vogel is whether he can afford to.

What's going on with Wade?

May, 18, 2012
Mason By Beckley Mason
Dwyane Wade
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade was uncharacteristically hesitant in Game 3.

There's been lots of speculation as to why Dwyane Wade was so painfully ineffective in Game 3 -- including reports that he may actually be in pain.

On the NBA Today podcast, Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute attributed some of the Heat star's struggles to the absence of Chris Bosh.

Later in that same podcast, David Thorpe notes that Wade simply looks like he's lost a step, and Paul George is doing a great job of using his incredible length and quickness to cut him off in isolation sets.

But Wade is also one of the best in the league at using pick-and-rolls to feast on defenses, and it's on those opportunities that his lack off aggressiveness is truly puzzling.

Perhaps we should doff our caps to Pacers coach Frank Vogel for designing a sharp strategy to neutralize the dynamic wing on this action.

Or maybe not.

Over on Pacers-themed blog Eight Points, Nine Seconds, Jared Wade goes to the tape, and finds no such wizardry.
An overwhelming majority of the times that LeBron, Wade and Chalmers have dribbled off a high screen, they have found themselves open. The guy defending them is busy fighting through the screen and the big man, as previously mentioned, is hanging back five feet in “free-safety/rim protection” mode. So they are open. It’s just that they are open in a way that they are unaccustomed to being open.

That has generally not deterred LeBron from being effective. He has still found many ways to score and create for teammates. Most impressively, he has resorted to a little running floater in the lane that I have hardly ever seen him take. It really is amazing. To deal with an unfamiliar way of being defended, he has basically created an entirely new weapon.

LeBron has also consistently found other ways to ensure that the Heat’s pick-and-roll attack — one of the most vital aspects of Miami’s offense — continues to be productive regardless of how it is defended.

In striking, baffling, puzzling contrast, Dwyane Wade has shown no such ability to adapt.

The video above is a horror flick for Heat fans.

Throughout the series, he has been confounded while coming off the screen with the ball. He has turned it over repeatedly, missed pull-up jumpers, missed floaters, missed layups, thrown poor passes and generally just been useless leading the pick-and-roll in all three games.

There really is no good way to explain exactly why such a talented player is having so much trouble making the right decision when he finds himself virtually unguarded dribbling off a screen. In this respect, two Wades are baffled.

In the clip above, just look at how many little hiccups there are in his attack and how indecisive his actions generally look. LeBron’s hesitations, on the other hand, are measured, change-of-pace moves that help create more space to attack.

Dwyane's hesitations just look like a guy who is clueless on what to do next.

It doesn't sound good, but we've seen this number before from Wade.

He struggled to do much of anything against the Celtics -- a team renown for its consistently excellent pick-and-roll defense -- throughout the regular season last year, then torched them on 52.5 percent shooting in five games during the playoffs.

For all the speculation about LeBron James' mental makeup, Wade's inconsistent effort (not to mention that blown layup at the end of Game 2) has largely gone uncriticized. The hometown hero with a ring to boot, Wade has escaped the sort of inspection many feel LeBron demands.

Maybe Wade just needs a day off to uncork another vintage performance.

But if the Heat can't recover from his current funk? Then, for the first time since he and James joined forces in Miami, it may be Wade who has to do the explaining.