INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- Since their 0-3 start to the season, the Indiana Pacers have gone 9-2 and have played at an elite level. Those two losses were both in close games and to high quality opponents. That first loss was a 101-97 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, then the second loss was a 96-95 loss to the Chicago Bulls. So there is plenty of reason for optimism in the Circle City.
It is important to take a look at Paul George's individual performance so far this season along with the team's performance, because the Pacers typically go as far as Paul George can take them. George has basically played quality all-around basketball in the past 11 games - the Pacers have gone 9-2 during that stretch.
According to the Pacers official website; over the last 11 games, the Pacers have seen tremendous success with Paul George, Monta Ellis, Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi on the court together. Indiana is posting a 127.5 offensive rating and an 80.2 defensive rating with this four man combination, which means that they have posted a 47.3 net rating. That just so happens to be the best net rating for any four player group in the NBA (50 minutes minimum) over the previous 11 games.
Paul George is playing some of the best basketball that the Pacers franchise has ever seen. Coming off a 40-point performance, George is averaging 25.9 points per game this season. According to Elias Sports, that is the second-highest scoring average in Pacers history through the first 14 games of a season. Adrian Dantley averaged 26.6 points per game during the 1977-78 season through the first 14 games.
According to NBA-Stats, the Pacers have had the second highest net rating in the NBA during the past 11 games. Their net rating has been 10.9 over those previous 11 games, which is second to only the Golden State Warriors at 13.7. The next best team is the San Antonio Spurs with a net rating of 9.5. This goes to show that the Pacers have been among the elite teams. This goes to show that the Pacers have had success on both sides of the ball, regardless of who has been on the court.
Paul George has been an early season MVP candidate so far. George is currently averaging; 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.1 blocks. George has been efficient shooting the ball as well; 45.8 percent field goal percentage, 45.7 percent from behind the arc, and 84.4 percent from the free throw line. George has shown no signs of slowing down either, in fact, he has shown signs of speeding up the pace.
George struggled to get acclimated to the teams new system and his new set of teammates in their 1-3 start, but he has been playing lights out ever since. Over the past 10 games, George is averaging; 29.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.1 blocks. George's efficiency scoring the ball has been impressive as well; 49.5 percent from the field, 52.8 percent from three, and 82.9 percent from the free throw line.
The Pacers have had the third best winning percentage (81.8 percent) in the NBA since the start of November. Indiana has also had the second best +/- at +11.0 since that time. The Pacers and Warriors are the only teams in the NBA with a double-digit positive +/- during November. It has been as simple as this, the Pacers have simply found a way to win games during this stretch.
Indiana hasn't been an elite team in any offensive area besides their perimeter shooting so far. So that actually is a great sign that there are greater things to come. The Pacers have the highest three-point percentage in the NBA at 41.6 percent. The Pacers offense doesn't rank in the top-10 in any other area, but that could possibly happen as they continue to get better in their offensive system.
The defense has actually been what has won the Pacers a lot of their games. The Pacers rank in the top-10 in the following opponents allowed categories:
95.3 points allowed (fifth), 18.2 opponent turnovers (sixth), 19.7 opponent assists (fourth), 44.2 opponent total rebounds (fifth), 33.4 opponent defensive rebounds (fifth), 22.6 opponent free throw attempts (seventh), 16.1 opponent made free throws (fifth), 71.2 percent opponent free throw percentage (third), 29.0 opponent made two-point field goals (fifth), 59.7 opponent attempted two-point field goals (fourth), 22.1 opponent three-point attempted field goals (fifth), 7.1 opponent three-point field goals made (third), 32.0 percent opponent three-point percentage (fifth), 81.8 opponent attempted field goals (third), and 36.1 opponent made field goals (fifth).
Here is what the numbers suggest that the Pacers could improve on:
44.1 percent opponent field goal percentage (15th), 48.6 percent opponent two -point percentage (17th), 10.8 opponent offensive rebounds (11th), 8.4 opponent steals (13th), 46.0 percent two-point percentage (24th), 71.5 percent free throw percentage (26th), 4.4 blocks (22nd), 21.9 assists (21st), 101.3 points (25th), 15.7 turnovers (15th), 74.8 percent defensive rebounding percentage (23rd), 24.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage (14th), and 14.3 percent turnover percentage (21st).
It appears that the Pacers have room for improvement at offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, free throw shooting, executing on shot attempts from inside the three-point line, and defending shots from inside the three-point line.
The Pacers have seen recent improvements in these areas because of better offensive spacing, offensive timing, offensive movement, better halfcourt sets, improved use of off/on-ball screens, improved defensive rotations, and improved defensive execution against off/on-ball screens.
This team should continue to see improvements in these areas since these are mainly issues that are caused by a lack of team chemistry and experience together as a unit. Indiana is still a work in progress on both sides of the ball, but they have still managed to win basketball games. This is why it is safe to believe in the potential of this team, because it appears that their best basketball is ahead of them.