By the Numbers: At the All Star Break (through 33 games)
Who’s up for another installment of the By The Numbers series? The All Star break is always a good time to take the team’s temperature, and in an odd confluence of events, the break actually coincides with the precise midpoint of the Pacers’ season. Indy has played 33 of their scheduled games, so let’s look at the big numbers.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would be disappointed in a 21-12 record for the Pacers at this point, if looked at in the macro sense. There’s a temptation to look at their 16-6 start, then see the 5-6 record over the last 11 games, and feel a little uncomfortable. However, it’s tough to tell how valid this is. Teams aren’t machines, and seasons are made up of peaks and valleys.
That’s not to say that there weren’t certain flaws in the Pacers’ structure that got exposed recently, but the team remains in a good place. This record is currently good enough for third best in the Eastern Conference, and sixth best league-wide.
The area worthy of most concern long term is the decline in the Pacers’ defense. They have dropped from Top 5 to hovering around 10th in Defensive Efficiency. Over their 5-game losing streak, Indiana allowed almost 113 points per 100 possessions. While there were signs of improvement over the 4-game winning streak heading into the break, it is still not back to where it should be. Slow defensive starts in three of the four games put the Pacers in the trail position after one quarter, and Indy allowed 122/100 in a win over New Orleans, before allowing 108/100 to Charlotte – the worst offensive team in the league – in the final game before All Star weekend.
The bellwether metric for the Pacer defense is Field Goal (and eFG) Defense. Indy’s actual FG% allowed has increased from .417 to .429, dropping them from the best in the league. During that time, the Pacers overall defense has dropped from 5th to 10th.
Offensively, the Pacers have finally peaked above average at 103.8 in offensive efficiency. They still don’t shoot well (.464 eFG%, 24th), but they are above average-to-good at the other three four factors. The offense is coming along, but they need to get that defense back on track.
Those two numbers represent the Pacers’ shooting at the rim and from 16-23 feet according to Hoopdata. This is a mixed bag.
The .556 at the rim remains dead last in the Association, and they’re going backwards. When last we visited, they were shooting .564 and had three players at or above the league average of .629. Since then, both Jeff Foster and Paul George have fallen below the new average of .621. This leaves only George Hill and his .622 as “above average.”
At .344, Indy has managed to put two more teams – Cleveland and Sacramento – between themselves and the bottom of the league, but they’re still well short of the .375 league average. David West is climbing quickly, up to .458, bringing the kind of mid-range accuracy we’d hope to see when the Pacers signed him. Tyler Hansbrough hovers at .341, which I believe is killing his offensive game. Last season, when things turned around for him, he shot .439 from this distance.
Still, Tyler is not alone in this, as no one outside of West and Roy Hibbert is shooting well from this area of the floor.
The Pacers’ “SoSHR,” which is settling back towards the bottom of the league, where it is expected to finish. This is basically the Weighted Strength of Schedule – Home/Road in Pacers’ games thus far. This is a metric I use regularly, and you can find a more detailed explanation here.
In my last edition of By The Numbers (through 25 games), I had cautioned that the metric didn’t contemplate the seven-game-in-ten-nights wrinkle of the lockout-compressed schedule, which will end up playing a meaningful role. The Pacers lost five of those seven game, bringing them back to earth.
Still, the schedule should be an ally for the Pacers the remainder of the season…something I’ll discuss more in a more detailed analysis piece later today.
That’s the number of wins I had projected at the mid-point as part of ESPN’s pre-season predictions. The full season number was 37, but I think that probably should be adjusted upwards. Finishing on my projection of 18-15 for the second half puts them at 39 wins, but 40+ needs to be the goal
The Pacers have only deployed “small ball” for 33.5 minutes thus far this season, mostly to good results (outscoring their opponents 81-66 during this time). “Small ball” was loudly blamed for a fourth quarter collapse against the King, but that was largely without merit. That game can be laid entirely at the feet of the players simply not getting the job done, and the fact that the Pacers were completely incapable of dealing with the zone defense.
Over the prior four seasons, Indiana played, 1,684, 1,675, 1,536, and 1,063 minutes of small ball, respectively. While a lot was philosophy, a not-insignificant driver in this was the fact that the bigs on those rosters were, by-and-large, bad.
Also, while Indy has largely eschewed the use of Danny Granger at the four (only 30 minutes) this year, they haven’t played “big” all the time, strictly speaking. Ultimately, this is a small roster. Hibbert and Foster are the only real centers on the roster, so there have been over 400 minutes (about 27%) where the Pacers have played with two “bigs”, but no center.
In the 70% of the time that the Pacers have Hibbert or Foster on the floor with another big, they are +4.2 points per 100. Playing two bigs without a center is a mixed bag, as the team has done OK (+1.0 per 100) in the 17% of the minutes with Amundson playing the 5 next to West, Hansbrough, or Pendergraph. However, the Hansbrough-West combination that was talked about in preseason has struggled, posting a -5.4 in 162 minutes of play.
-30.7 per 100
From a Net +/- perspective, the George Hill/Paul George combination has been the worst backcourt the Pacers have put on the floor this season. They’ve played 97 minutes, and while that’s not enough to draw final conclusions, it is enough to be at least mildly concerned.
And while it would be convenient to move further up the lineup, and blame this on the 61 minutes played with Dahntay Jones, that doesn’t clear things up. It’s true that they’ve been worse with Dahntay (-32.2/100), but they’ve been pretty terrible with Danny, too…posting a -27.8/100 in that 36 minutes, scoring only 69 points per 100.
+1.29, +52.64, 42.57, +12.50, -8.11
Those represent the overall net ratings for the five different backcourts featuring A.J. Price at the point. The first represents the 86 minutes he’s played with Paul George, where the offense has been bad, but the defense has been better. The next one (+52.64) is his pairing with George Hill, but – like the next two – need an asterisk related to sample size. Price has only played 38 minutes with Hill, then 12 minutes apiece with either Dahntay or Darren Collison.
The -8.11 represents the 125 minutes he’s played with Lance Stephenson. It’s hard to lay that all on the pairing with Lance, as in the 54% of that time where it’s been all bench players, they’ve been -12/100.
I continue to watch the Pacers’ accumulated rank in the Four Factors, and it continues to be the most encouraging thing to me. The Pacers’ continue to stay in the 90s, which historically puts them in a group that has won 63% of their games. As long as Indy can keep their production in this range, I will feel relatively confident projecting 40 or more wins for them in this lockout-shortened season.