Can the Pacers Last Until Granger Returns?
Defense may win championships, but it’s not doing much for the 5-7 Indiana Pacers in the regular season.
Indiana has allowed a league-low 95.5 points per 100 possessions (also known as “defensive efficiency”), largely because it’s the only team in the NBA holding opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field.
The Pacers have been particularly good in the paint, where only four NBA teams have allowed fewer points on average, and they’ve kept opponents off the free throw line. In fact, the Pacers have been unlucky in that department. Despite yielding just 20.2 free throw attempts per game (tied for seventh in the NBA), the Pacers’ opponents have hit over 80 percent of those shots, which is well above the league average. So if that trend were to normalize, Indiana’s defense could be even better.
But as glowing as the reviews of Pacers head coach Frank Vogel’s defense have been, the offense has been equally dreadful.
The easy culprit is the absence of Danny Granger, the team’s All-Star forward and best offensive weapon, who is suffering from patellar tendinosis in his left knee and hopes to return in early February.
The cupboard wasn’t bare when Granger went down earlier this month — point guard George Hill, swingman Paul George, power forward David West and center Roy Hibbert are all respected offensive weapons — but the Pacers have remained completely lost on that end of the floor.
Indiana ranks 28th in offensive efficiency, true shooting percentage and assist rate. Exacerbating issues, the Pacers are in the bottom half of the league in free throws made per game and their 30.1 percent mark from three-point range ranks 27th in the NBA.
Perhaps the only compliment one could pay Indiana’s offense is the way it has performed in the paint. The Pacers average 38.5 points per game in the paint (11th), but they’ve hit just 43.5 percent of their shots in that area (26th), so any success they’ve had there has taken considerable effort.
Some of the problems have just been bad luck. As Joel Brigham explained in last week’s piece on George, the third-year player’s shots haven’t been falling so far this year (George has hit just 38.1 percent of his field goals), but the larger issue has been about continuity.
“Yeah, our system changed a little bit,” George told HOOPSWORLD on Sunday. “We just recently changed it again to now we’re a team that has a lot more movement, not so much being stagnant in the post. We’re still playing in the post, but we’re just moving a lot now.
“It’s had an effect,” George continued. “First game we introduced it, it was against Dallas and it was the first time all year we scored in the hundreds.”
The Pacers did well against the Mavericks on Friday, winning for just the second time in seven games, but the problems returned on Sunday against the Knicks. Indiana showed all the signs of a visiting team playing a noon start in New York — shooting 39.4 percent from the field and committing 19 turnovers.
In reality, the Pacers’ performance against the Mavericks might have been a mirage. Their other wins have come against such middling teams as the Raptors, Kings and the winless Wizards, who’ve fallen to the Pacers twice.
There is some reason for optimism. Indiana has a handful of new faces this season (center Ian Mahinmi, point guard D.J. Augustin, swingman Gerald Green and small forward Sam Young) and it takes time to get everyone on the same page, particularly when the offense changes multiple times in the first month of the season.
“That has a lot to do with it as well, just getting familiar with one another, but I think our chemistry is there and I think once everything and everyone gets comfortable, we’ll be able to turn it around,” George said.
That might be a big ‘if.’ The Pacers’ opponents have a combined winning percentage of 43.4 (26th in the NBA) and their immediate schedule over the next few weeks includes games against the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets and Thunder. So, while George admits that the Pacers “gave up a few” to teams they’re “capable of beating,” they’re now in a position where they have to beat teams that are perceived to be superior.
So even if they are playing elite defense, players like Hibbert (whose scoring has fallen from 12.8 points per game last year to 9.5 points per game this year) will have to improve on offense or the season could be over before Granger even gets a chance to return.