What's Wrong With the Pacers?
If you've watched the last couple of Pacer games, you know things have been bad. On Sunday, they got blown out in Cleveland, only posting 76 points against a defense that's been nothing but mediocre all season long.
No, wait. That wasn't a blowout. That word should have been reserved for the utter beat down Monday night at the hand of the Spurs. The damage there was 103-77, and honestly, it didn't even seem that close.
What in the world is going on? The team that was considered a shoo-in for the Eastern Conference Finals and the only team that could dethrone the defending champs doesn't look so hot right now. Their offense is a complete mess.
Just how bad is it? Let's look at the numbers.
|Pre All-Star Break||102.2||19||1.33||24||54.0%||12|
|Post All-Star Break||98.6||29||1.24||28||52.0%||27|
There are only two teams since the All-Star Break with ORtg's below 100 - the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. The difference between those two teams? Well, one is actively trying to lose every night and is playing with mostly D-League players, while the other one has aspirations of an NBA title.
The question is - is it redeemable? We've seen the past couple of years how the Miami Heat have an "on switch" that they flip once they hit the playoffs, despite largely coasting during the season. Since they're the back-to-back champs, we rightfully give them the benefit of the doubt.
Should the Pacers get a similar pass? Is it likely that they can correct their offensive woes prior to the beginning of the playoffs? Do they even need to with a historically great defense? Looking at the last two seasons may give us some answers.
2012-2013 Indiana Pacers
|Pre All-Star Break||100.0||24||1.35||28||51.0%||26|
|Post All-Star Break||104.7||11||1.32||30||54.1%||16|
2011-2012 Indiana Pacers
|Pre All-Star Break||101.0||13||1.21||24||51.7%||20|
|Post All-Star Break||106.0||6||1.46||18||53.5%||13|
The data here is pretty interesting. Their current offense, since the All-Star break, is the worst it's been since the playoffs two years ago. However, it's not that much worse. Their true shooting percentage (TS%) has been at 52.0% since the break, and that's pretty close to the 52.8% mark they had during the playoffs last year. Not to mention it's pretty close to their whole average over the past couple of seasons.
One of the reasons for the media panic is the eye test. Sure, they've never been a great offensive team and they're statistically close to their average. But they showed so much potential at the beginning of the year! Paul George was the next NBA superstar! We all saw it!
That's pretty much the definition of regression to the mean. Statistically, if a team is way outperforming their average, sometimes it's a stark improvement that's here to stay. Most of the time, however, it's an anomaly - a myriad of factors - that is causing this statistical outlier. This is what we're witnessing with this year's Pacers.
When you go through a grueling 82-game NBA schedule, you're bound to go through some peaks and valleys. Every team has them - even the best of the best like the Heat and Spurs. The media has been so quick to want to find a team worthy of dethroning the champs that every statistical regression or digression has been discussed ad nauseam. Sometimes teams play four games in five nights. Yes, sometimes even world class athletes get tired.
Perhaps Indiana looked at the landscape of the Eastern Conference and realized that they were busting their tails early in the season when no one else was really in contention with them and Miami for the top two seeds. Once they hit All-Star Break, they, along with Miami, were so far ahead of the rest of the conference, so can you really blame them for coasting a bit? The Heat have been doing it all year, maybe the Pacers decided to join the strategy.
So, I set you up with the thought of whether we should be worried about the Pacers and haven't exactly explicitly answered that question. I think the answer depends on your thought process. If you believe that the Pacers can't win a championship with a bad offense, then you've been "worried" about the Pacers for several seasons now. However, if you watched them go at it with the Heat last year and thought they were a bounce or two away from going to the finals, I don't think you should panic.
They've never been good offensively. They probably never will be with this current roster. But they've shown us over the past several seasons that they don't really need to be. True, if they continue at this league-worst offensive pace, that probably doesn't bode well for the playoffs. However, if they regress back to their mean (admittedly they've been all around that mean) again - this time towards the positive in order to become even an average offense again - we won't even remember these worries a month from now.