The Plato Model: Plagiarizing the Pacers’ Late-game Philosophy

February 9th, 2012 | by Evan Hall

Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

If the final few possessions of the Indiana game were any indication, the Jazz are clearly the frontrunner for any competition in Late-game Offensive Ineptitude. This is not to criticize any profound, irreversible flaw in the constitution of the team. On the contrary, that the Jazz had fought back into late-game contention with one of the best teams in the NBA is evidence enough of a quality, if overachieving, roster of players.

Conventional wisdom would say that the Jazz owe their late-game struggles to the lack of a go-to guy. Without an alpha male scorer, a team won’t be able to slow down the game, value each possession, turn busted plays into scoring opportunities, etc. Or so says conventional wisdom. (Important clarification: the Go-to Guy is not necessarily the team’s best player; just the player most likely to create his own shot or be used as the decoy in the creation of a shot for a teammate in a late-game scenario). Any analysis of this Jazz team’s Go-to Guy Role would yield ambiguous results at best. Is it Paul Millsap, the team’s only chance at an All-Star this season? Is it Al Jefferson, the high-volume shooter and the default scoring threat when the shot clock is low? Is it Gordon Hayward, the Heroic Symbol for Hope and Future Glory? Or is it Earl Watson? C.J. Miles? (No.) Or even (gasp!) Josh Howard? (Super no.) The mere fact that such an argument would need to occur refutes any potential claim of an existing Go-to Guy. For teams that actually have an Alpha Male Scorer, questions like that are irrelevant, even insulting. If anyone on the Lakers asked that question in the Lakers locker room, he’d instantly wilt and die under the jaw-jutting, soul-piercing glare of one Kobe Bean Bryant.

This leaves Jazz fans, particularly those searching for an optimistic answer to the question, only two options. One, the team needs to acquire or develop such a player, a Clutch Guy. Or two, consider the possibility of late-game success without one. It’s an interesting question, to be sure. Does a team even need a Go-to Guy to contend? As far as I see it, the arguments for and against would break down something like this:

FOR: Every championship-winning team in recent memory had a Go-to Guy. The Mavs had Dirk, the Lakers had Kobe, the Celtics had Pierce, the Spurs had Ginobili, and the Heat had Wade. Even the Pistons, probably the most offensively balanced team to win a championship in the last ten years to win it all, had Chauncey Billups (may his career rest in peace). Furthermore, a go-to guy eliminates confusion in situations where a time-out is impossible or at least impractical. Even without a drawn-up play, every player on the Bulls knows that Derrick Rose is at least going to start with the ball and create the offense in any half-court, late-game situation. For what it’s worth (which probably isn’t very much), the Go-to Guy also adds to the sentimental drama attached to potential buzzer-beaters. Call it the Hollywood Factor.

AGAINST: Statistical evidence, specifically that of TrueHoop creator Henry Abbott, shows that shooting percentages for seemingly “Clutch” players does not actually increase at the end of close games. So despite the aforementioned advantages, having a go-to player in the clutch doesn’t seem to produce any statistical advantage. In response to the litany of championship teams, each of which had such a player, most of those teams enjoyed late-game heroics from their non-go-to players just as often as not. See: Jason Terry during last year’s finalsDerek Fisher against the Spurs in 2004Robert Horry in 2002,

Those arguments are theoretical and abstract, but the concrete facts are thus: Someone is going to take the last shot. Or even the last few shots. In the NBA, where often the seemingly erratic pulse of of the score loses its energy and flat-lines by the late-fourth quarter, this question matters. On Tuesday night, the only difference between the Utah Jazz and the Indiana Pacers was late-game execution. Interestingly, probably distracted by the offensive failures of the Jazz in the clutch, I initially overlooked that the perfect prototype for a late-game strategy for a team like the Jazz was being executed by their opponent. Consider the Pacers: Sure Danny Granger may be the Go-to Guy, but that’s a “may” at best. The team is built around offensive balance. Down the stretch, I had no idea where the ball was going. If I had been forced to guess, I would have said to Hibbert in the post, because he had been humiliating Big Al all night long.

From the point the Jazz took a three-point lead with 3:47 left, three different Pacers scored (Hibbert, George, Granger and Collison). Two of those buckets were based on the penetrate and kick-out model, one was a post-up by Hibbert, and the other was a mid-range jumper by Granger. What does this show? Versatility. Diversity. Changing the looks. Forcing the defense to respect every player on the court. Especially for a team like the Jazz, this is where conventional wisdom fails and the Go-to Scorer paradigm fails. The Jazz don’t need a Go-to Scorer, they just need offensive sets that will take advantage of defensive miscues. When the defense collapsed on Granger, he kicked it out to a WIDE-OPEN George for a three (a very high-percentage shot for Paul George).

As @Clintonite33 pointed out after the game, this was a learning experience for Corbin as well as the players. He’ll learn, and so will the players. Maybe a Go-to Guy will develop, but even if one doesn’t, this roster is deep, and when the clock is running out, that should be the one advantage Corbin rides.

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One Comment

  1. Craig says:

    Millsap … from OUTSIDE. He can shoot the three, but for good reasons, that isn’t and shouldn’t be his role in the normal offense. Late game, however, he gets less defensive attention from outside, so should be able to get good looks from behind the arc. No opponent will ever plan to defend him on this, so get him the ball OUTSIDE late in the game. I like those odds better than any player in their “normal” roles, which defenses are more ready for. Am I crazy?

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