The last two months have been something different. The Indiana Pacers have scored just 99 points per 100 possessions since early February, the second-worst mark in the league, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers. At this point, “ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers” basically translates to “you are the worst among real NBA teams.” The Pacers for the season have now scored 2.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league’s overall average, according to Basketball-Reference.
That is a big, blinking light screaming, “This team is no longer a title contender.” Since the league introduced the 3-point line in the 1979-80 season, 136 teams have appeared in the conference finals. Only two of those teams finished 2.5 points or more below the league’s per-100-possessions scoring average: the 1999 New York Knicks and 2012 Boston Celtics. Only 15 of those 136 teams sported offenses that ranked even 0.1 point per 100 possessions below average. And again: Indiana’s offense is worse than all but two of those teams, relative to league average.
This is not rocket science. To advance far in the playoffs, you generally need to be good at offense and defense. Some studies, most notably this one by FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine, have found that having an elite defense is slightly more important in building a championship team than having an elite offense, but some follow-ups have argued for the nearly equal importance of both sides.
The Pacers are almost the perfect team to buck these historical trends. Fifteen “exceptions” out of 136 teams is actually not a small number, though Indiana’s offense has gotten bad enough that the Pacers would be an extreme outlier even among these impotents. A bunch of the exceptions over the last decade or so have been Eastern Conference teams sporting stingy defenses during down years for the East. Sound familiar? That formula worked for the 1999 Knicks (a wacky lockout team), the 2002 Nets and Celtics, the 2004 and 2005 Pistons, the 2007 Cavaliers, and last season’s Pacers — all teams that got into the NBA’s final four, and sometimes further, despite below-average offenses. Grantland
Zach Lowe’s full breakdown of the Pacers is thorough and worth the read for any Pacers fan.
The Pacers biggest weakness last year was the massive amount of turnovers, an issue they never bothered to address in free agency or trades by acquiring a true point guard, which George Hill is not. A better point guard would alleviate most of the offensive problems that haunt the Pacers now.
I gave up on the Pacers during their 84-83 win versus the Miami Heat on March 26th. LeBron James had to do everything while his teammates barely helped out, but the Pacers still barely won the game. The Pacers’ crunch-time offense was hand the ball to Lance Stephenson or Evan Turner, isolate, and hope for the best. They won’t be going to the NBA Finals this year, but these are the same problems from last year. That’s what makes it disappointing. – AL