Role Players Key to Pacers vs. Heat Series

By: Bryan Povlinski on May 17, 2012

Who is the biggest difference maker in the Heat vs. Pacers series? Surely it’s Lebron James right? He’s been playing incredibly well and the Pacers don’t really have an answer for him. However, when you look at the combined +/- data over the 2 games so far in the series the picture looks a little bit different. Take a look at this chart below:

Each of these tables show the opponent’s plus/minus rating when that particular player is on the floor. So in the case of Paul George, the Heat are -20 when he is on the court and +40 when he is on the bench. The difference is the point swing that occurs for the opponent with that player on the court. So the Heat are 60 points worse with Paul George on the court than if he were on the bench. Conversely, the Heat would love to see Leandro Barbosa on the court more often. The Heat are 60 points better when Barbosa is playing than when he is on the bench.

The biggest difference maker in this series may very well be Paul George of the Pacers. The numbers support his presence on the court has created the biggest swing for either team in this series.

This table gives us a few good insights into how Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra could improve their game plans:

Keys for the Heat

He’s been their best plus/minus guy in the series and he is able to effectively cover either Granger or George so that Lebron or Wade can rest or poach on defense. Zach Lowe pointed out how the Thunder were able to disrupt the Lakers game plan in the 4th quarter of the Thunder’s comeback win by ignoring the Lakers secondary players (World Peace and Blake) and denying the entry pass to Andrew Bynum. Unfortunately for the Heat the Pacers don’t have many guys you can just leave wide open, but allowing Wade to play Hill or Lebron to guard West in the post should conserve some of their energy that they would be spending chasing around shooters like Granger or George. Plus, look at Lebron and Wade’s minutes distribution. 89% for Lebron and 80% for Wade. I know it’s the playoffs and you have to play your stars more, but minutes that heavy may begin to wear on James and Wade.

Besides Battier, Anthony has had the best defensive rating against the Pacers. He is a liability on offense, but that’s not what the Heat need from him. He improves the Heat’s rebounding percentages (albeit slightly) when he’s on the floor, but he’s been much more effective overall than Haslem

Keys for the Pacers

This was pretty clear from the chart. Barbosa is absolutely killing the Pacers while George has been by far their best player in terms of +/-. George hasn’t been great on offense in the series, but his defense is light years ahead of Barbosa. The difference in defensive ability is magnified when the guys to guard are all-world players like Dwyane Wade and Lebron James. George has only played 61% of the minutes for the Pacers (lowest among the 5 starters, but partly because of foul trouble) so there’s room to get him some extra run.

This was a trend in the regular season against the Heat and it’s continued in the playoffs. The Pacers experience a huge drop-off in production when they turn to their bench. The plus/minus numbers are very clear cut. The Pacers starters have been great. The bench has been terrible. Miami has had a strong bench the entire season because of their ability to stagger rest for their stars and leave either Lebron or Wade on the court at all times. Coach Vogel needs to figure out a better way to integrate the starters in with the bench unit so that the Pacers don’t fall off a cliff when it’s time to give the starters a rest.