The Pacers have made some big changes to their roster. Will the final result be any different?
Last season by the numbers
- Record: 45-37 (7th East)
- Offensive rating: 102.4 (23rd)
- Defensive rating: 100.2 (3rd)
- Pace: 99.0 (10th)
- True shooting: 53.6% (19th)
- Turnover rate: 13.5% (19th)
- Offensive rebounding: 23.4% (20th)
- Defensive rebounding: 76.0% (15th)
- Giveashitameter: 22nd
- Highest PER*: 20.9 (Paul George)
(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.
At a glance
(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).
I bet you didn’t think that the Pacers had the league’s third best defense.
How could this have been possible with Monta Ellis playing over 2,700 minutes? The answer, of course, was George Hill. While only 6’3”, Hill was capable of defending either point guards or shooting guards, which allowed Ellis to take the weaker assignment on the night. Thankfully, Golden State only came up twice on the schedule. While Ellis had more defensive win shares than Hill, this was only made possible because of Hill’s ability to take the heat. That said, Ellis has definitely surprised everybody here and deserves some credit.
As for the rest of the roster, George returned from his broken leg and continued his lockdown defense on the wing, while Hill, Mahinmi and Turner were solid contributors down low.
As a team, the Pacers excelled in forcing opponents into bad three point shots, ranking 19th in attempts allowed and 3rd in accuracy allowed (33.4%). Also helping things were the Pacers’ abilities to force turnovers (7th) and block shots (9th). Turner in particular was a revelation when it came to patrolling the paint, blocking an insane 3.1 shots per 100 possessions, while also maintaining a healthy defensive rebound rate of 21.0% (ranked 22nd out of 72 power forwards) – a rare combination for a big man.
Everywhere else, the Pacers were more or less average, but importantly not below average. All up, it meant that they had no discernible defensive weaknesses.
The bad news was that the Pacers were well below average on offense. The playmaking was poor (19th on turnovers) and, even when the shots finally went up, bricks were getting hurled (19th on true shooting percentage). A big part of the problem was the Pacers’ inability to get enough good three point looks as they ranked 20th on three point attempts – a figure which was even worse in reality when factoring in their above average pace (10th).
The three point accuracy was also nothing to be proud of either (14th). While George (210 makes @ 37.1%), Hill (128 makes at 40.8%) and Miles (142 makes at 36.7%) were all very good, Ellis was disgraceful and undid a lot of their hard work (87 of 282 @ 30.9%). Meanwhile, Budinger, Stuckey and Solomon Hill were even worse, each shooting under 30% and collectively making 50 out their 198 bricks (25.3%) hurled at the ring.
Reasons to be optimistic
Paul George now has a full season back from his horrific injury and doesn’t appear to have lost much, if anything. He managed to play 81 games and over 2,800 minutes last season and produce at more or less an All-star level. He should be able to kick it up another notch this season.
The Pacers have unearthed a gem in Myles Turner. The big fella can flat out knock down his midrange jumpers (watching the stunned reactions from opponents in his first few games as he did this was priceless), swat shots, rebound and defend. His microscopic turnover rate of 9.7% was also very impressive for a rookie. If he can build on his rookie PER of 15.5, then big things could happen. One area for improvement will be to turn those 16-20 foot twos (which he shot at a very respectable 42.5%) into threes.
The Pacers offense will almost certainly improve. Teague is a massive upgrade on the placid Hill, while Jefferson and Young provide credible scoring options the Pacers simply didn’t have last season.
Reasons not to be
The Pacers will miss Mahinmi’s defense down low. While Jefferson and Young will provide a new scoring dimension, they won’t replace his defense and shot blocking. A lot will be resting on Turner here. Is he ready? And what if he goes down with an injury?
While Teague is no slouch on defense, he’s not George Hill and won’t be able to make up for Ellis’ physical shortcomings. Who are the Pacers going to match up on the league’s best shooting guards? CJ Miles? Or will George have to slide down to the two and leave a hole at the three? The Pacers’ defensive options are now more limited without Hill and the better teams will definitely be able to take advantage.
Watch for the Pacers’ perimeter and overall defense to regress. The question is: by how much?
Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks.
George Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Solomon Hill.
The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup
I’ve never doubted ‘The Basketball Jesus’ throughout a glittering Celtics career, successful coaching stint and as a Pacers front office executive, and while Larry Bird’s off-season roster moves make a lot of sense for a team whose stated goal is pushing the pace, the decision to turn the team over to Nate McMillan leaves me scratching my head.
Not withstanding the fact that he was fired from his most recent head coaching position in 2012 and hasn’t taken a team past the first round of the playoffs since 2005, McMillan’s history is littered with slow-it-down offenses.
Maybe Larry knows something we don’t? Maybe the Pacers are implementing Affirmative Action? Maybe this is the first sign of early onset Alzheimer’s? Only time will tell.
Forecast record: 48-34
The Pacers were incredibly good on defense last year and incredibly poor everywhere else. Over the summer, Bird acted decisively to make the Pacers more balanced on offense and he’s definitely succeeded. The question is whether the offensive gains coming from Jefferson, Teague and Young will outweigh the departures of Hill and Mahinmi on defense.
The Dunkyard says they will but only by a little bit. From there, the Pacers will need George and Turner to reach their next levels… and stay healthy. If they can, then a 50 win season wouldn’t be out of the question.