The Indiana Pacers had begun their season with the hopes of being the Eastern Conference version of the Golden State Warriors, a team full of athletic wing players with the ability to score at a higher pace while retaining their defensive identity. With close losses to the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies, there were signs of progress on both sides of the floor but definite signs of room for improvement. With an unfortunate decrease in execution against the Utah Jazz on Halloween night, it is clear the whole team is not yet in sync on both sides of the floor.
On Wednesday, October 28th, the Pacers began the season on a great note on both ends of the floor. C.J. Miles caught fire in the first half as the Pacers led by 10 after the first period and eight at the half. As the second half began, a different Pacers squad showed up, one that was less attentive on transition defense and one that was overmatched on the high pick and roll by Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. The Pacers allowed 69 points in the second half and 45 percent shooting for the game. This second half trend continued for the next two games against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Utah Jazz.
Against the Grizzlies, the Pacers traded blows with the Western Conference powerhouse and only trailed by one at the half and even led by two going into the final quarter. The fourth quarter was a complete breakdown with the Pacers turning over the ball too many times (20 for the game) and allowed the Grizzlies to score 39 points in the fourth quarter and shoot 50 percent for the whole game.
Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol dominated the Pacers in the same high pick and rolls that doomed them down the stretch against Toronto. Against Utah, the breakdown started after halftime when the Pacers were leading by seven. The Pacers offense only scored 27 points in the second half and committed 24 turnovers, while allowing 55 points to the Jazz and allowing them to shoot 45 percent from the field.
At the end of week 1 of the NBA season, there are many categories that resemble an alarming trend that must be improved. While being first in the NBA in PACE (possessions per game) after the first game of the season which indicates a good amount of offensive opportunities; after three games, the Pacers have dropped to 20th in PACE. Also, Indiana is 28th in the NBA in turnover percentage (17.6%) which largely contributes to a bottom five offensive efficiency in the NBA (All stats courtesy of ESPN.com).
Some of this can attribute to a new system full of new players, but a team with as much firepower and ball handling should have at least a top-15 turnover ratio. With the exception of the Utah Jazz game, the previous two games were acceptable due to the offensive output increasing, and there was no significant drop-off in pure production for the majority of the game.
The offense is still a work in progress but could be fixed with a few tweaks in the rotation and philosophy, such as utilizing Joseph Young and Myles Turner more in the offense. The alarming factors that could be fixed more quickly are the problems on the defensive end.
Defensively, the Pacers were expected to have a slippage in defensive efficiency. The theory from this writer was if the Pacers could increase their offensive production by six points per game from last season and only have an increase in points allowed per game by two points that would make a significant difference and make the Pacers a true contender in the Eastern Conference.
Last season, the Pacers scored 97.3 points per game while allowing only 97.0 points per game, which was an acceptable amount of a plus-0.3 point difference, but not good enough to make the playoffs. By using last season’s differential stats as a guideline, if Indiana could achieve a point differential of plus-4.0, that would put them in the conversation with Atlanta, Cleveland, and Portland in terms of point production versus allowance.
This season, the Pacers have only managed to score 92.7 point per game and have allowed 105.0 points per game, leaving them with a differential of minus-12.3. The Pacers have never allowed this many points per game during the Frank Vogel era, so this is a trend that can be expected to be fixed sooner rather than later. The coaching staff has focused largely on the new offense and for good reason. However, defense carries at home games and on the road, so a more concentrated focus is needed in this area.
There were not too many bright spots on either side of the ball from an individual standpoint, except for one player who was not expected to make much of a contribution at draft night and that is Myles Turner.
The rookie big man has impressed during his first two games of his career after he missed the first game due to a sprained ankle. A concern for Turner at the draft was his full court mobility and his ability as a low post threat, but those can seemingly be ignored at this point. In 20.5 minutes per game, he has averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game in his first professional week. He has averaged 15.8 points per 36 minutes, which stands at fourth on the team.
He has also displayed an accurate shooting touch that Pacers fans hoped he would possess. Turner is second on the team in field goal percentage at 57.1 percent, and he has displayed multiple post moves that have looked very smooth and fundamentally sound.
If he continues this production in small playing time and usage rate, then Coach Vogel will have to consider inserting him in the starting lineup, possibly at the power forward spot and allow Paul George to return to his natural position.
Many players have struggled for the Pacers thus far this season, but the most disappointing so far is Monta Ellis. The Pacers' hottest free agency acquisition has been the coldest this season, only scoring 10.0 points per game on 29.7 percent shooting overall and only 14.3 percent from three pointers.
Ellis seems to be trying to involve the players around him too much to the point of him taking difficult shots outside the offense if the play breaks down. He may be better suited either attack earlier in the shot clock or to allow George Hill to facilitate a bit more and focus more on slashing to the hoop or working the pick and roll efficiently when the ball is in his hands.
Some of the struggles to Ellis are a result of the system being a work in progress. Once Paul George, George Hill, and Monta Ellis learn each other’s tendencies, the offense will increase its efficiency more quickly.
The Week Ahead:
The Pacers kick off the week with a visit to Detroit to face the Eastern Conference leading and 3-0 Pistons on Tuesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills where the Pacers will need to limit Andre Drummond’s effectiveness on the glass if they want to leave Detroit with a victory.
Next, Indiana returns home to have a two-game homestand against the 1-2 Boston Celtics and the 2-1 Miami Heat. Against Boston, Indiana will have to execute offensively at an efficient rate as Brad Stevens has turned the Celtics into a high energy and great defensive team. Against Miami, Indiana will have their hands full with Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, and Chris Bosh. If Paul George does indeed start at the power forward position, he will have to contend with Bosh’s immense length on both ends of the floor.
The Pacers will have an inspired performance and will win their first road game of the year and will win a close battle against the Pistons on Tuesday. Detroit’s lack of speed at key positions will allow the Pacers to create deflections and get easy baskets during the game.
The Pacers will also enjoy their first winning streak of the season and will put together a well-rounded performance on Wednesday against the Boston Celtics. However, Miami seems to be ready to make a charge for a top-three seed in the East this season and will defeat the Pacers with a strong performance by Chris Bosh and the others.
The Pacers will end the week with a 2-1 record and will answer some questions about the new offense and how their new weapons can be better utilized.