There’s a reason the Eastern Conference elite should be scared of the Indiana Pacers, and it’s not because Frank Vogel’s team is off to a 16-7 start.
As dominant as the Chicago Bulls and Miami HEAT have looked so far, they’ve arguably been playing their best basketball. Perhaps the HEAT could tweak their defense (although they presently rank eighth in defensive efficiency in the entire NBA), but the point is, these are known quantities throughout the league.
The Pacers, meanwhile, rank just 19th in offensive efficiency, which means any further offensive development by swingman Paul George, point guard Darren Collison or center Roy Hibbert turns Indiana from a fourth-seed threat, into a second or third-seed contender.
“We definitely can,” swingman Dahntay Jones told HOOPSWORLD. “I think we’re one of the better teams in the East and we just have to keep getting better on a daily basis.”
The challenge doesn’t come on the defensive side of the ball, where Indiana ranks fifth in defensive efficiency. The Pacers are even making 37.5% of their 3-point attempts (tied for eighth in the NBA) on the offensive end.
The problem is that Indiana is hitting 43.5% of its 2-point field goals, which ranks dead last in the NBA.
So what can the Pacers change to revitalize their interior and mid-range games?
“I would like to say our offensive execution,” forward Danny Granger told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s what we probably need to improve on the most. We don’t execute right now at the level that we would like to. It’s definitely our offensive execution. We’re the top team in defense right now, so that’s carrying us right now but we still need to execute on the offensive end better and I think we’ve been growing that over the past month or so.”
Granger has a point. Since January 20th, Indiana has averaged 95.7 PPG during a 7-3 stretch that included road wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Bulls, Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks.
The strength of the Pacers over the last 10 games has been the team’s depth, which is particularly beneficial in this season’s condensed schedule.
“I definitely think we’re deeper,” Granger said. “We’re probably eight or nine deep talent wise as far as we’ve got guys that would start on other teams coming off the bench for us, so I think we’ve done a good job of drafting because right now we’ve got a lot of guys for cheap and that’s the way our team has been built so far.”
And the players aren’t just carbon copies of each other. The Pacers have versatility in Granger—who can play both forward spots—power forward/center Tyler Hansbrough and George, who is as tall as some centers while moving better than most shooting guards. That means Vogel can utilize both big and small lineups.
“(It’s) a huge advantage because, like I said, we can adapt to other teams and it’s hard for other teams to adapt to us,” Granger said. “We can go big and other teams can’t match up with us and then if we have to go small, we have that ability to and I think that’s a huge advantage.”
The Pacers even have an advantage at point guard where Vogel can pick his poison with Collison (who Granger describes as a “facilitator”) and George Hill (who Granger says is more of a “scorer”).
While Indiana’s point guards might not stick out on a roster sheet, they do have a 2.0 Player Efficiency Advantage over opponents’ point guards (according to 82games.com), which is a stathead’s way of saying that Vogel gets more out of that position than his adversaries do.
Indiana’s greatest advantage, however, remains its defense.
Opponents are hitting just 41.7% of their field goals against the Pacers while attempting just 23.2 free throws per game.
“We played (solid defense) right before the playoffs of last year,” Jones said. “We’ve been doing a solid job on our defense and growing as a defensive unit and we just carried it over to this year.
“We take pride in being a defensive unit, everybody knowing where their next man is going to be, where the help is going to be and trusting each other,” he added.
Nothing happens overnight in the NBA, but the Pacers are dangerously close to joining the league’s elite, whether the HEAT and Bulls are ready to believe it or not.
“We have so many young guys and if we keep getting better I think we’ll be able to compete with anybody,” Jones concluded.