Last off-season, Mike Woodson had a wonderful epiphany. He took a long, hard look at his best player in order to gain a deeper understanding about what it is that makes him special. He realized that the player is big and athletic, with a deadly jumper, and that could abuse his counterparts in the post.
The beauty of Melo is not his dripping wet, lighting quick one-dribble pull-up jumper. What makes him special is his dominating post-game. Melo's size, quickness and athleticism traditionally would dictate that he should play small forward. But small forwards can guard Melo on the perimeter. Small forwards cannot guard Melo in the post. No small forward in the league can. No one. Mike Woodson smartly recognized this and brilliantly devised a scheme to play Melo at power forward. Melo at power forward uniquely capitalizes on his entire skill set.
The best way to defend Melo is to have an athletic small forward harass him on the perimeter, and then pack the paint with bigs to bother him on the inside should he venture down there. But by playing Melo at power forward and surrounding him with perimeter shooters, you leave opponents in the quandary of either trying to defend Melo with a true power forward on the perimeter or a true small forward on him in the post. Neither predicament being very appetizing.
The Indiana Pacers have caught on, and they said eff it, we're keeping David West on the floor and we're gonna put him on Iman Shumpert. Beat us with Shumpert. Shump can't iso West and abuse him, and the Pacers can just load their defense to stop Melo. Woody has made no adjustment to force them to guard us the way we want them to. You HAVE to start JR.
Don't get me wrong, no one is a bigger fan of Shump than me. But right now, Shump just doesn't have the offensive arsenal to go into take over mode. Even if his jumper is working, he's only going to get you 15 or so points. Even if you're a JR hater, you can't deny that he can take a game over if he heats up. And the best way to get a player going is to get him a few easy opportunities. Let JR start. Give him the West match up. Let him know it beforehand. And tell him to attack. If West sags off him, shoot the three. If West gets up on him, blow by him to the rim. Force the Pacers to adjust. We have to force them to worry about covering up for West and put their defense into scramble mode.
The Pacers are beating us because they're playing these games on their terms. They are comfortable and relaxed. They know exactly how what we're trying to do on offense and they know exactly what we're trying to do on defense. So they can set up how they want to and let the possessions play out. They know where the jumpers are going to be, so they can get mentally prepared and step into them. They know exactly where Melo is going to be, and they can structure their defense to force him into a tough shot.
Make them pay for West. And EVERYTHING changes.