A Look at the First Week for the Pacers
The 2010-2011 version of the Indiana Pacers were unveiled to a sold-out crowd in Conseco Fieldhouse Saturday night, and they opened to rave reviews. OK. So maybe not rave reviews, but everybody went home happy after getting to see a Pacer win and some crowd pleasing aerobatics. The win put the first week’s tally at two wins against one loss.
With this post, I’m going to outline some of the ways that I analyze the performance of the Pacers. The first two ways are straight forward – observation and communication. That’s a pretentious way of saying that I watch the games, and I gather input from others through discussion or reading or listening to reports. The third, as you already know, is by following the numbers closely.
The Big Picture Numbers – featuring the Four Factors
I’ll pretty this up some in future editions, but here is a shot of a “Fact Sheet” that I use to look at the Pacers’ performance statistically. I try to update this after every game to get a sense of where the Pacers are in relation to the rest of the league. Three games in is too small of a statistical sample to make any definitive conclusions, but the numbers can help lend some perspective.
There are a lot of numbers, but reading it is pretty simple. The “Other Stats” at the bottom are your basic box score statistics. They’re decent benchmarks, but limited What I like to focus on are the top 3 boxes – specifically the Offensive (OffRtg) vs. Defensive (DefRtg) Ratings, and the “Four Factors.”
For me, numbers are a language, and the context of them is as important as the fact. Keeping in mind the limited sample involved, the numbers above tell me the following things:
- The fact that the OffRtg is higher than the DefRtg is a clear positive. It’s the first thing I look at, but it’s only a starting point. What worries me a bit here is that the Pacers are essentially keeping the positive Net Rating by being significantly above average offensively. This is a team that was 26th in offense last year. While there are reasons to believe that they should be greatly improved – namely Darren Collison and the new, improved Roy Hibbert – I’m not sure how realistic it would be to jump from bottom five to top ten. On the positive side, the 108.6 points per 100 possessions scored are not historically high (Pacers posted 108.1 two years ago ), and the league average of 104 seems low (lowest since the pre-rule change 2004).
- The OffRtg does not seem sustainable based on the Four Factors, or at least the mix. It’s skewed toward the higher eFG%, and the.518 would match the Pacers highest in their NBA history (achieved in 1990). If the Pacers want to maintain or improve on their current level of offensive efficiency, they’re going to need to improve in the other categories. ORB% (Pacer Off Rebs/(Pacer Off Rebs + Opp Def Rebs) is probably as high as can be expected – O’Brien’s system emphasizes transition defense over offensive rebounding. However, they should improve their FT/FGA up to league average levels simply by hitting their normal 78% instead of the 74% on FT’s that they’ve hit thus far. The biggest offset to the expected drop in eFG%, however, has to come by taking care of the ball.
- The biggest reason I expect the eFG% to fall off is the Pacers’ shot selection. Hoopdata.com tracks something called XeFG%, which basically takes the shot locations for a team and multiplies them by league averages. The Pacers are shooting .518 on a shot selection that would produce an eFG% of .484 based on league averages. The “ORatio” of 1.07 is abnormally high, and would have been Top 3 in any of the last four seasons. The best way to mitigate the potential decline in eFG% is to get better shots. Specifically, they need to get more at the rim and fewer mid-range (11 to 23 feet).
- The Four Factors for Defense are more concerning. The eFG% is pretty bad, but there’s hope there as the XeFG% for the Pacer opponents is only .491 vs. the .504 actual. Historically, eFG% is far and away the most important factor for DefRtg (and OffRtg, for that matter), so they need to focus on driving down the XeFG%, and the eFG% will follow. More problematic are the low DRB% (Pacer Def Reb/(Pacer Def Reb + Opp Off Reb)) and the really high OppFT/FGA. The rebounding bears watching, as it’s largely driven by a poor performance in the Charlotte game. However, the fouling issue has been persistent as they’ve been in the bottom five in each of the last four seasons.
Again, it’s only three games, but at this point, the winning percentage is not in sync with the advanced statistics. Basically, the Four Factors say that the Pacers are a mid-30 win team. However, nothing is set in stone. They can – and should – improve in most of these areas, but the question is how much and how fast? The 2-1 start is great, and their schedule is pretty favorable over the next two weeks. However, it’s worth noting that the last three seasons, Indiana has started 3-0, 4-3, and 5-3, and ended with 36, 36, and 32 wins.
Plus/Minus is a simple stat that a invokes the gag reflex for a lot of people. It is the classic example of something that generates more questions than it answers. Still, it is worth looking at, provided you keep it in context.
The Plus/Minus for a single player in a single game is almost completely without value. In fact, it’s preferable to look at groups and units than individuals. However, I like to look at individuals over extended periods of time. I also like to look at “stint” or rotations.
BasketballValue.com has some great detail, but for this exercise, I’m using some information from another fantastic site – Popcorn Machine. The chart below lists each player, shows their overall +/-, then takes a look at how the Pacers did in each of their “stints” on the floor.
This is something I’m sure that coach Jim O’Brien looks at in some form. The biggest thing that jumps out is that Tyler Hansbrough – our “Buckaroo Banzai” – has had a hugely positive impact when he’s been on the floor – with the lone negative stint being a -1 in the final 1:38 of the second quarter against Philly.
The second thing that jumps out are how poorly the Pacers have fared with either Solomon Jones or James Posey on the floor. O’Brien continued to dabble with Solo and Posey in the 2nd half at Charlotte and the first against Philly, but the evidence is pretty damning.
For another slice, I looked at the same information for the Fourth Quarter.
Once again, Buckaroo Banzai as the hero here, but there’s also some support for the way that O’Brien is using T.J. Ford. Ford is +10 in 26 4th Quarter minutes, while Collison is -17 in his 12 minutes.
There are two potential problems, however, with this situation. First is the fact that Collison is unquestionably the future at point guard for the Pacers, and the finisher role is one that will need to become his. The second is that, as well as Ford has played, he is still who he is. He’s overly ball dominant, and that will be exploited by better teams in tight games. It also has another effect as you’ll see in the next section.
“Usage” tries to determine how involved a player is in a team’s offense during the time he’s on the floor. Thus far, the usage looks like this:
In order for a team to work – to blend – you need a mix of high usage and low usage guys. The Pacers starting five has three moderately high usage player in Danny Granger (27.56), Darren Collison (25.61), and Roy Hibbert (22.36). Josh McRoberts (17.23) and Mike Dunleavy (16.52) complement those three nicely, and it shows in the performance on the floor. In 46 minutes of playing together, this unit has scored 110 points while allowing only 96.
One of the things I wanted to look at was usage by quarter. Noam Schiller, a contributor to Both Teams Played Hard and a pretty smart guy despite that fact, expressed concern over the fact that Roy Hibbert’s shots had essentially dried up after the first quarter of the Charlotte game last Friday. He has a point. First let’s look at Hibbert’s usage by quarter:
The decline, while disappointing, isn’t necessarily a surprise. First, addressing Noam’s question, the issue was not that the Pacers “forgot” Hibbert – though they are still prone to settle for jumpers a little often. The main driver was Larry Brown and his defensive focus. Brown has spent his career dictating what shots the opposing team gets from what players. After the first quarter, Charlotte consistently denied the post and pushed Hibbert out beyond the free throw line.
Another thing to look at is the Usage by Quarter for all of the players:
The thing to note here is that all of the players have a lower usage in the 4th Quarter, with two exceptions – T.J. Ford and Solomon Jones. Jones is an anomaly based on his low minutes and low overall usage, but Ford’s increase is reflective of him playing the role of finisher. As I noted above, it’s working in the short term, and he deserves a lot of credit for helping the Pacers get both of their wins. However, most teams are going to be quite comfortable have T.J. with the ball in his hands down the stretch – particularly if it’s taking touches away from Danny Granger or Roy Hibbert.
Thinking (Maybe Too Much)
This was a bit of a glimpse into how I think about the Pacers. Mostly, it’s a process of moving onto the next question. I’ll track all of this throughout the season, just to see what it tells me.
Right now, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George and Josh McRoberts offer plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Pacers. The next question is, “how far away are they from being who Pacer fans hope they can be?”
Yo, Dahntay! Over here.