By The Numbers: Comin’ Down the Homestretch
Time for another installment of the By The Numbers series? Indiana has a dirty dozen games left. It’s April, and the playoff race is in full swing, so let’s look at the big numbers.
After the win in Washington, Chris Denari mentioned something I had not realized – the 33rd win of the season for the Pacers guaranteed that Indy would be .500 or better for the first time since 2006. Good on them.
As I mentioned at the All Star break, the season has been a little uneven. Indy is only 17-15 after a 16-6 start, but to be anything less than thrilled with where the Pacers stand right now is more indicative of wildly inappropriate expectations than any shortfall by the Pacers.
Most impressive, the Pacers are 16-14 on the road. They are one game away from reaching coach Frank Vogel’s goal of a winning record away from home. To give you an idea of how big of a deal that is, the NBA has averaged fewer than 8 winning road teams per season over the last 12 years. The Pacers’ road record is sixth best in the league, and one of only seven winning road records in the league this year.
As it stands right now, the Pacers in are in the top ten in both Defensive (9th) and Offensive (8th) efficiency. Should Vogel’s squad finish the season this way, it will be the first time since 2004 that the Pacers have accomplished such a feat.
To further understand how impressive this would be, it should be noted that this would be only the fourth time Indiana has been in the top ten at both ends in their 37-year NBA history. Besides 2004, they also did it in 1995 and 1998. In all three of those seasons, the Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. That 1998 team, in my opinion, was the best NBA Pacer team ever.
Those two numbers represent the Pacers’ shooting at the rim and from 16-23 feet according to Hoopdata. This is a mixed bag.
The .579 at the rim is an improvement from the last time we spoke (.556), and Indiana is no longer dead last in the Association. They have clawed their way past New Jersey and even Charlotte to stand 28th! Yay! But, really, they’re still bad at the rim. Roy Hibbert (.557), David West (.560), and Darren Collison (.531) 40% of Indy’s shots here, and their collective .551 is worse than any team in the league. Paul George remains strong at the rim - shooting .638 on the second most attempts on the team (163) – and he’s joined by Tyler Hansbrough (.633) as the only Pacers hitting better than the league average .627.
At .362, Indy has creeped out of the bottom five, but they’re still well short of the .379 league average. David West is back to .470, matching last year’s sterling percentage. Darren Collison is up to .420, as that little pull up has become a reliable weapon.
Tyler Hansbrough is still at .340, which I still believe is killing his offensive game. Last season, when things turned around for him, he shot .439 from this distance. Joining Tyler in the gang that couldn’t shoot straight (from this distance) are Paul George (.340) and Danny Granger (.310 – GACK!). Roy Hibbert’s early season success seems to be sample size, as he’s slid back to .360.
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.
It’s interesting to break down the games in different strata. The Pacers have bullied teams who brought an SoSHR less than .400 to the game. They’ve won 17 of their 18 games against such teams, with the recent debacle in New Jersey being the lone exception. Toronto and Detroit will fall into this category when they visit later this month.
At the other end of the spectrum, they’ve actually been respectable, going 6-9 against teams with SoSHRs over .600. Starting with Friday night’s game against the Thunder, the Pacers play three of these games. The other two are at Philly on 4/17 and the season finale against Chicago in the Fieldhouse.
The other seven games the Pacers play are against teams with SoSHRs between .401 and .500, and they’ve been spotty against them. Indy’s lost five times against seven wins to this group. Overall, the Pacers’ remaining SoSHR is .460.
Looking at the teams around the Pacers in the playoff chase shows that only the Celtics have what you could describe as a “difficult” schedule. Their remaining games rate out at .541 – 8th highest remaining rating in the league. The Knicks (.492) and the Sixers (.485) have tougher remaining schedules than the Pacers, but they aren’t tough.
Orlando (.454) is comparable to Indy’s, but there is no way to factor in the fact that they may be eating themselves alive at the moment. Atlanta has the easiest remaining schedule at .399
That’s the number of wins I had projected through 54 games for the Pacers as part of ESPN’s pre-season predictions. I had them winning 9 of their last 12 games – losing on at home to the Thunder, at Milwaukee on 4/14, and at Philly on 4/17. Matching that projection, the Pacers would finish with 42 wins, or the equivalent of a 52-win season in a normal 82-game season.
Just for giggles, I took a look at how I actually am doing on my projections. Through April 4th, I correctly picked the winner in 522 of the 810 NBA games played, or 64.4% of the time. I have no idea whether that is good, bad, or indifferent.
From a macro forecasting perspective, I am doing OK. I had 18 of the 30 teams plus or minus three wins from their current total (roughly a 6% margin of error). In the East, I badly overestimated the Knicks – having them with 8 more wins at this point – and the Bobcats. The Bobcats, I thought would be merely terrible (14-38), not putrid (7-45).
In the West, I completely missed the boat on Minnesota, having them with 10 wins, 15 short of their current 25-win total. I can remember looking at the Minny number at the time, thinking, “Are they really going to be that bad?” My response to myself was, apparently, “Sure.”
I did nail the win totals exactly for Philly (29), Denver (29), and New Orleans (14). However, that’s actually proof that the practice of forecasting well is the practice of balancing errors. I only got 63% of the games right for both Philly & New Orleans – tied for 19th worst game-by-game performance. For Denver, I was actually only correct 56% of the time – 26th worst. My overall best prognostication was on Miami, where I picked correctly 81% of the time (43/53), and the worst was my 51% performance on Golden State (27/53 – though I projected 23 wins for the Dubs, and they have 21).
For the Pacers, I only chose correctly 61% of the time, or 33 of the 54 games. Hopefully, my percentage goes up over the final 12 games.
Leandro Barbosa has played 11 games for the Indiana Pacers, and the Pacers have gone 8-3 in those games. More impressively, their offensive efficiency – points per 100 possessions – has increased by 10%, going from around 104 to 114. Granted, it hasn’t been a murderer’s row of opponents (SoSHR of .442), and the defense has gotten about 7% worse, but it looks like adding Barbosa has had the desired effect at the offensive end.
I continue to watch the Pacers’ accumulated rank in the Four Factors, and it continues to be the most encouraging thing to me. It has slipped a little from its peak in the 9os, but it still points towards a group that won almost 60% of their games. The Pacers will have to go 7-5 to hit 40 wins, but that’s do-able given their schedule. Arguably, it should be an expectation.
This photo of Ballybunion is courtesy of TripAdvisor