Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

 
INDIANA PACERS
56-26
Central Division
Coach: Frank Vogel
Power Ranking: 22




It's awfully tough to have an off-season much worse than the Pacers had in the summer of 2014.  First, they lost their crazy, do-it-all SG, Lance Stephenson.  Although Stephenson had become a lightning rod for criticism due to his antics, he was the clear cut second option on the offensive end.  He was also the best perimeter defender on the league's best defense, drawing assignments on the other team's best scorer night-in and night-out.  Despite a loyalty to the organization, Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets, after the Pacers refused to meet the demands of the dynamic, short fused wing.  That was only the start of the bad news for the Pacers this summer.

The Pacers off-season got worse with an injury to their bona fide superstar.  At a televised, late Friday night, pre-FIBA World Cup U.S. Men's National Team scrimmage in early August , Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury after colliding with the stanchion attempting to block a shot.  Now George will likely miss the entire 2014-15 season with an open fracture of the tibia and fibula.  While Stephenson was important to the team's offense, George was the lifeblood that made it run.  Without Stephenson, a poor Pacers offense figured to get worse.  Without Stephenson AND George, the Pacers offense will likely be the worst in the league (unless Philly has something to say about that). 

Now the Pacers turn to off-season acquisition Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles to fill in on an offense suddenly without its two best options.  Stuckey never established himself as a go-to player with the Pistons, and that's not likely to change with Indiana, and Miles isn't exactly the kind of player you can run an offense through.  With Roy Hibbert attempting to rebound from a horrific second half of the season and playoff run, the Pacers offense likely falls on the broad shoulders of David West.  The 34 year-old West was reliable yet again last season, but with no threats on the perimeter this season, defenses may be able to key in on the only player on the roster who can score off of his own efforts.  The Pacers will need to band together to keep an already sinking offense afloat in 2014-15, a task that may be well out of their reach.


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STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
101.5 (22nd) 96.7 (1st) .290 .235 53.5% 24.9% 76.8% 14.3%

The league's best defense succeeded both inside and out, but the Pacers' calling card was interior defense.  Indiana led the league, allowing opponents to only shoot 44.3% on two-point attempts and finished 2nd in DReb%.  The Pacers were also a successful defensive unit on the perimeter, boasting the league's 10th best opponent 3PAr, at .247.  Pacers' opponents only shot 34.5% on three point attempts, good for 4th best in the league.  With George and Stephenson gone this season, the Pacers may see a serious decline in this area.  Indiana was also proficient when it came to defending without fouling, finishing 9th in the league with an opponent FTr of only .197.  The one weak spot on the defense is in the area of forcing turnovers; Indiana ranked 22nd in opponent TOV%.

On offense, the Pacers were one of the 10 slowest teams in the league, ranking 20th in pace at 92.5 possessions per game.  Indiana was below average in just about every statistical category on offense, with the exception of FTr, where the Pacers ranked 9th.  The Pacers struggled with turnovers (27th in TOV%), offensive rebounding (21st in OReb%), and shooting efficiency (19th in TS%).  Losing your top two offensive players is a bad strategy for fixing the offense.

STYLE OF PLAY

Rob Mahoney took a look at what makes the Pacers defense tick in a feature for SI.com during the early parts of last season when Indy was already suffocating its opponents.  Bad news Pacers fans: he attributes part of that success to the injured Paul George.  The other half of the duo that Mahoney mentions is the maligned Roy Hibbert, whose lack of contribution on the offensive end has become a running joke on NBA Twitter.  Seeing as Hibbert is the part of the duo that's going to see the floor for the Pacers this season, let's take a look at how he helps make Frank Vogel's defense the best in the league.

The first thing that Mahoney credits to Hibbert is his dedication to improving his ability to defend without fouling.  Hibbert cut his foul rate down to 3.0 fouls per 36 minutes in 2013-14 from 4.4 in 2012-13.  Mahoney points out that Hibbert's sudden aversion to fouling is rooted in his ability to get to his spots quicker and to simply challenge shots that he knows he isn't going to block, by making his 7'2 frame as tall as possible.  Another reason Mahoney cites for Hibbert's improvement is his reputation as a defensive stalwart, which has given him the benefit of the doubt on close calls.  While this theory isn't exactly easy to prove, Mahoney may be on to something.  In a league that slants calls toward its best known players, maybe one of the league's better defenders is getting similar preferential treatment?  Hibbert's ability to rotate will likely be tested more stringently this season without two solid perimeter defenders around to limit wings crashing in on him.


PERSONNEL
Acquisitions: G Rodney Stuckey, G/F C.J. Miles, F Damjan Rudez
Departures: G/F Evan Turner, G/F Lance Stephenson, F Rasual Butler, SF Paul George (Injured)


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

PG: George Hill
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%3PAr
10.3
13.4
14.8%
56.3%
17.2%
.422
Everybody's going to have to pick their game up with George out, but Hill especially needs to help create offense on the perimeter.  Specifically, he needs to do more for his teammates.  As a PG, his 17.2 AST% should be embarrassing. 

SG: Rodney Stuckey
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%FTr
13.9
14.0
24.3%
51.6%
12.7%
.342
Stuckey finally will get the chance he wanted in Detroit to be the guy the offense runs through on the perimeter.  As the only player on the team who can consistently get looks at the rim off the dribble, he'll need to be a better finisher than he was with the Pistons.  He may lead the team in scoring, but I doubt he does it efficiently.

SF: C.J. Miles
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
9.9
16.0
22.0%
56.9%
39.3%
.516
Miles and Chris Copeland are the only proven outside shooters on the team, and they'll need to be consistently reliable in order to keep the defense from collapsing on West and Hibbert.  Miles is a talented shooter, but with little else to offer, he'd be better suited coming off the bench.

PF: David West
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
14.0
17.5
21.9%
53.3%
12.3%
.267
West is still a solid player, but he's not good enough to carry an offense.  If Stuckey doesn't lead the team in scoring, he likely will.  He needs to do more on the glass, especially since HIbbert isn't a dominant rebounder either.

C: Roy Hibbert
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
10.8
13.5
19.4%
49.9%
12.5%
2.7
Hibbert is massively important to what the Pacers do on defense.  He's also largely responsible for why the offense is so horrid.  How you can be 7'2, 280 and be unable to amass a TS% above 50% is beyond me.  He's a poor rebounder for his size too, something that he needs to improve, especially on the offensive end.  His 9.9 OReb% is a joke.  Possibly the most undeserving All-Star in the history of basketball.

BENCH
PG: C.J. Watson
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
6.6
13.0
16.6%
55.5%
36.6%
.434
Watson is a solid, steady backup.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The Pacers may choose to play him in lineups with George Hill, with Hill off the ball. 
SF: Chris Copeland
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%MP
3.7
17.6
23.7%
62.1%
41.8%
265
Copeland struggled to get off the bench last year, but will be called into action more frequently this season.  Any offense he can give the Pacers will be greatly appreciated.  His ability to stretch the floor will be more important to Indiana this year than it was last year.
F: Damjan Rudez (Liga ACB stats)
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
10.7
14.0
20.3%
61.5%
47.3%
.497
I don't really know much about Rudez, but if his performances at the FIBA World Cup were any indication, he won't make an impact.  26 of Rudez' 31 FGA at the FIBA WC were 3s, yet he only shot 31% on is 3PA.  If that's an indication, he won't contribute.
 
PF: Luis Scola
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
7.6
13.4
23.8%
50.5%
15.7%
.243
Scola isn't the player he used to be, but with the lack of options on this team, he may still be relied upon for offense off the bench.
C: Ian Mahinmi
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
3.5
10.2
11.4%
53.8%
11.6%
2.1
Mahinmi gives the Pacers a defensive option off the bench, providing poor-man's Hibbert minutes.  Except he may actually be more useful on offense.

 
SEASON EXPECTATIONS

With no Paul George and no Lance Stephenson, the Pacers will be hurting even more on offense.  Considering the improvements made by other teams in the Eastern Conference, they could find themselves out of the playoff picture come March and April.  If they're going to earn a playoff spot, they'll have to hope Hibbert can carry the defense and that their off-season acquisitions provide enough offense.  I doubt that happens, so I'll predict 27 wins for the Pacers, with a playoff berth well out of reach by the time the All-Star break rolls around.

SUMMARY

I hope Pacers fans have enjoyed the past few years, because they've gone from being the best team in the conference to being possibly the worst or 2nd worst team in their own division.  With no George or Stephenson, the franchise may be well-served to turn their focus towards the future and hope that they can pair a top three pick with Paul George moving forward.  In a draft heavy on big men, could you blame the Pacers for tanking, and trading away West and Hibbert, so they can draft a young player like Karl Towns or Jahlil Okafor?  With Paul George a year away from recovering from his horrific leg injury, the good new for Pacers fans, is that hope is only a year away.  For now, they better hope the Hoosiers rebound and make the tournament, or they won't have any meaningful basketball to watch come springtime.

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