The Pacers’ Recent Past & Near Future: Part 3, The Core Six and What They Bring to the Table
(As his first contributions to 8p9s, Kevin Hetrick is digging deep into how the Pacers performed last year and what they can do to improve next season — whenever it begins. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of his series here.)
The Pacers currently have six young, quality players under contract. Each brings something to the table and building around continuity and chemistry is a good way for a small market team to gain success. Part 3 of this series offers a quick overview of these players’ pros and cons.
Five of the six players have proven to be capable of reasonably efficient, double-digit scoring in the NBA. Paul George should follow course in the near future. Most are capable rebounders and defenders. All six of these players should reasonably expect usage rates of 19%-26% and they cover an array of positions and talents.
Danny Granger will be 28 next year and has proven capable of being a quality NBA scorer. He peaked in 2008-09, with 25 points per game, a PER of 21.8, and true shooting percentage (TS%) of 58.4, (compared to NBA average for a SF of 54.2). This was great for a player using 3 out of every 10 of his team’s possessions.
Granger scored so much largely on the strength his outstanding long-distance shooting. He took 62.6% of his shots from outside of 16 feet and was an above-average shooter from mid-range and beyond; hitting a suburb 40% of his threes even while launching seven a game.
Due to minor injuries and other struggles, however, Granger has tailed off statistically. Last year, he notched 20 points per game and a PER of just 17.8. His shot distribution has not changed significantly; last year he still shot 59.7% of his shots from outside 16 feet. His free-throw attempts per field goal attempt also remain steady between 0.36 and 0.38 over the past three years.
Basically he has just become less effective as a shooter. His TS% was still slightly above average among small forwards in 2011, but his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) was below league average. He is also having increased trouble getting shots off, as 8.1% of his shots were blocked in 2010-11 (compared to 6% in 2008-09).
The amount of his field goals that were assisted has dropped from 55.7% in 2009 to 51% in 2011 (average for a SF is 65%). The proportion of Granger’s assisted shots is unexpected considering his usage rate dropped 3% from 2009 to 2011; if he’s shooting less frequently, it seems reasonable he was forcing less shots of his own creation. Instead he was scoring 3.5 assisted field goals per game last year compared to 4.7 in 2009.
When it comes to unassisted field goals, Granger has decreased only from 3.8 per game to 3.3. As discussed in Part 2, the Pacers were a very poor passing team last year. So if that could improve team-wide, thus increasing Granger’s amount of “easy” shots, perhaps his efficiency would rebound. Granger will likely never get back to his past scoring efficiency, but even last year he scored 20 points a game with an above-average TS%. This is not easy to find in a player who is a capable defender, an adequate defensive rebounder and a solid team player.
As we all now know, Granger will never be a #1 option for a contender. But he’s a high-level NBA player and the best the Pacers have available.
Roy Hibbert has been the Pacers most promising and most disappointing player over the last two years. He stands 7’2”, weighs 280 pounds and shows flashes of offensive potential. He will only be 25-years-old next year, and over three NBA seasons has always sported an above-average PER of 16. But he also plays “soft,” disappears for stretches and had some large statistical red flags last season.
He struggled offensively with TS% (50.7%) and eFG% (46.1%) that were 5 points below average for a center. This was a decrease from 2009-10, and part of that may be due to the Pacer’s use of Hibbert.
Two years ago, Hibbert had true shooting of 53.7% with a usage rate of 22%. In both 2008-09 and 2010-11, Hibbert’s usage was approximately 23.5% and his field goal percentages were low. While surely not the only reason for the decreased efficiency, this is typical of most players; the more offense a player is expected to create (Hibbert is assisted on 54% of fields goals, an average center on 65%), the less efficiently they do it.
Furthermore, there are few centers capable of efficiently scoring at the rate the Pacers use Hibbert. Hibbert’s usage is 8% higher than average for a center, and most teams that frequently use their center have poor offenses. Last year, Hibbert had the 5th-highest usage rate among centers; the offensive ranks of the four teams above the Pacers in this category were 20th, 27th, 10th and 14th.
On the other end of the floor, Hibbert made great strides as a defensive rebounder last year, becoming an above-average rebounder for the first time in his career (28th of 60 qualifying centers). Per 40 minutes, he blocked 2.5 shots (an average center blocks 1.8 shots per 40) while only committing 4.5 fouls (the average center commits 5.8) to anchor a top-five NBA defense in FG% at the rim.
Overall, lowering Hibbert’s offensive usage to encourage increased efficiency should greatly improve his outlook as a player. Hibbert may not have the “toughness” to be as proficient as either player, but this year’s most-sought-after free agents are low-usage centers (Nene and Tyson Chandler) who score efficiently, rebound and defend the paint. One final note on Hibbert is his excellent passing for a center; he ranks in the top ten for assists per minute and was 3rd for assists at the rim per minute.
Collison will be 24-years-old next year and may be the Pacers third best player. He is very fast and capable of getting into the paint, but struggled with his shooting and also running the Pacer’s offense. He was almost a perfectly average point guard with a PER of 15.6 and TS% (53.4%) and eFG% (48.1%) within 0.1% of league average for point guards. His turnover rate and assists per 40 minutes were also nearly at league average.
Collison struggled defensively last year. He has trouble defending in isolations and also in the pick-and-roll; the Pacers defense was 5.78 points per 100 possessions better when he was off the court. He needs to improve this aspect of his game and also re-find the shooting touch he showed in 2009-10 when he hit 45% of his shots from 16-23 feet and 40% of his threes (compared to 39% and 33% this year). Without these improvements, he will not be more than an average NBA point guard.
Tyler Hansbrough will be 26 next year and really came on strong last season. In March and April, he averaged 15.6 points per game while shooting 49.5% in just 29 minutes. Oftentimes, he was one of the lone bright spots for the Pacer’s offense.
Here are some reasons to not get overly excited about Hansbrough as more than a 6th man though: over these breakout two months, his eFG% (49.5%) and TS% (54.3%) were both slightly below league average for a power forward. And as discussed in Part 1, these metrics are the most likely to correspond with effective team offense.
Hansbrough’s rebounding also dropped during these two months, from 9.0 to 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. He is an above-average offensive rebounder, but out of 79 PFs who played 500 or more minutes last year, Hansbrough’s defensive rebounding rate ranked 59th. And since defensive rebounding correlates well with defensive efficiency, utilizing a power forward that can’t protect the glass hurts the defense.
In better news, he turns the ball over infrequently. But part of this is due to not making difficult passes, as he averaged just 1.0 assist per 36 minutes and his assists per used possession ranked 75th among PFs (out of 79 remember).
And he is below average as a defender. The Pacers were 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with him on the court. Perhaps worse still, for the months of March and April, he totaled 2 blocked shots. Hansbrough gives great effort and is definitely an offensive asset off the bench. He was effective from 16-23 feet last year, shooting 43%. If he could improve that accuracy to a David West/Kevin Garnett-level (47%) and improve his defensive rotations, his ability to efficiently contribute to a successful team would be improved.
Paul George may be the only Pacer’s player with a “ceiling” of All-Star. At age 20 and as the 10th pick in the draft, George caught people’s attention last year with his athleticism and defense, particularly on Derrick Rose in the playoffs. Given his youth, we’ll start by focusing on what he did very well last year. Of 107 “swingmen” that played 40 games last year (as per HoopData), George ranked 15th in defensive rebounding rate and 7th in defensive plays per 40 minutes. These are both items that correlate reasonably well with team defensive efficiency. The Pacers’ improvement at defending three point shots after George started seeing more minutes is also encouraging. Offensively, George was one of a handful of Pacer’s players that finished effectively at the rim with 65.6% shooting. This is even more impressive due to only 37% of these field goals being assisted (league average is 54% for a swingman).
George does have things to work on though. His three point shooting percentage of 29.7 needs to be improved. The poor long distance shooting offset his solid play from mid-range and at the rim, and resulted in true shooting (54.2%) and effective field goal rates (50.5%) very near league average (definite pattern of league average scoring efficiencies). There is hope though; George shot 45% on threes his freshman year at Fresno State. Finally, he turns the ball over too frequently and is a below average passer. As George gets older hopefully he can cut down on his turnovers and improve his shooting, because he has the tools to be a very good player in the NBA.
As the team’s newest addition, Indiana native George Hill increases the team’s perimeter depth and gives the Pacers three solid players in the back court who are 25-years-old or younger. He will play either guard position (last year for the Spurs, he logged 1,122 minutes at PG and 1,026 at SG), and is a great replacement for many of the minutes played by Brandon Rush and AJ Price.
With usage between 18%-19%, Hill was a well-used role player for the Spurs. So the Pacers now have a “core” player capable staying efficient even with a relatively high usage; Hill’s TS% was 5 points higher than an average NBA guard while being assisted on only average amount of shots.
While he is an average rebounder for a point guard, he is well below average for the most traditional point guard statistic; the last two years he has ranked in the bottom five of all point guards for assist rate. He does avoid turnovers, however, ranking in the top ten in turnover rate for point guards the last two years.
One interesting item regarding his point guard play is the Spurs performance last year. Overall, the Spurs were 3 points per 100 possessions better with Hill on the court — pretty impressive for a player on a 61 win team. Furthermore, with him at point guard, the Spurs were even better, improving by 4 points per 100 possessions — very impressive for a team with Tony Parker starting at PG.