And I am … all alone.
The Pacers lost to the Sacramento Kings Friday night. Yes, they did. By 17 points, in fact. So, that makes the 25th double digit loss this year.
Each of their last seven (1-2-3-4-5-6-7) losses have been by double digits. Nine of their 14 losses under Frank Vogel have been by more than 10 points. With the arguable exception of the Utah loss, they have been competitive in none of them.
Through this morning, there have been 1,064 games played in the NBA this season. In only 80 of those games has one team never led — a wire-to-wire loss. The Pacers have had four (1-2-3-4) of those this month alone. Last night, they held the lead for only 51 seconds in the first half. In the only other game during this stretch that matches the monumental ineptitude displayed tonight — the 26-point loss at Minnesota — they led for only 48 seconds.
In those 6 losses, which is 288 minutes of game time, that equals 99.43% of pure Pacer losing.
Am I accentuating the negative? You bet. Am I being unfair? Not even remotely. There’s more.
Let’s talk about quality of wins.
Coming into last night’s game the Pacers had a WinFactor (WF) of .375, which is 24th in the league. They were 13-1 (now 13-2) against what I described the other day as “cupcakes” – teams with an SoSHR below .300. However, they were only 11-31 (.262) against team with SoSHR’s of .500 or better. League-wide, teams have had a .353 record against such teams. Of the 11 wins, 6 have basically been road wins against teams with overall losing records (Charlotte & New Jersey twice, Milwaukee, and New York).
The other five are quality wins, but each has troubling notes.
- November 22 @ Miami (.722) – Miami was in the midst of their 9-8 start
- November 28 @ L.A. Lakers (.765) – This was the second loss in a four-game losing streak, but the other three were on the road, while this one was at Staples. Still, any long-lasting statement was probably erased when the Lakers brutalized the Pacers in Conseco three weeks later.
- January 11 @ Philadelphia (.676) – The Sixers were eight games under .500 at the time, and Andre Iguodala was clearly limited in his first game back from injury.
- January 12 vs. Dallas in Conseco (.706) – Dallas played without Dirk Nowitzki.
- March 18 vs. Chicago in Conseco (.571) – Chicago playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without Carlos Boozer.
This is a continuing theme.
Every time you dig into the Pacer successes this year to see what was working, they either get warts or crumble to dust entirely. The Pacers were 9-7 at the end of the November, but they accomplished that against the 8th easiest schedule in the league during that stretch. Of their last five wins, two were against a collapsing Knicks team, one against Chicago without Boozer, and one against a Nets team that featured Sasha Vujacic and Sundiata Gaines.
Much has been made about this team’s performance under Frank Vogel. Hey, they’re 15-14 since they fired O’Brien.
I’ve already outlined how bad many of those 14 losses are. The wins aren’t all that impressive, either. Only two teams have had an easier schedule than the Pacers (.463) between January 30th and March 25th. They’ve won five of their last eight games. The five wins have been by a combined 49 points. The three losses have been by a combined 50 points.
The more you look at what’s happening now, the more you have to ask yourself if we haven’t seen this before. In 2008, the Pacers were 15-14 after the All Star break and won 11 of their last 16 ballgames. In 2009, Indy posted a 15-13 post All Star break record and won eight of their final 12. Last season, with one of the worst teams in franchise history, they won 10 of their final 14 games to go 14-16 after the break. These were all written off as a bad team playing hard after most other bad teams had pulled the chute, and broadly criticized as doing nothing but hurting their draft position.
Is what we’re seeing now really any different?
The immediate reaction will be to say, “Yes. They are going to make the playoffs, and that makes a world of difference.” Well, it does, and it doesn’t.
They are going to make the playoffs. They probably only have to win three or perhaps four games to lock it up, and there are only four teams it the Association who have an easier schedule between now and the end of the season. But, really, the Pacers (like the Knicks) are going to the playoffs because they have to take eight teams from the East, and there are only six non-train wrecks in the conference.
And going to the playoffs is a positive, both for the franchise and for the players. But this isn’t a “playoff team” by any stretch of the imagination.
Looking only at games played under Vogel, the Pacers have an Offensive Efficiency of 105.1 and a Defensive Efficiency of 106.6. That puts them as 22nd offensively and 13th defensively during that time. The 16 projected playoff teams have averaged fewer than 4 double-digit losses since January 30. The Pacers have 9, second only to Atlanta’s 10. No other playoff team has more than six.
Expanding to the full season, their WF of .375 is the worst among the 16 playoff teams — a full 20 points worse than the Hawks. Twenty-five double digit losses are not only the most among playoff teams, but it’s 7 more than Atlanta’s second-worst 18. No other playoff team has more than 13. Looking back at the prior 3 years, the 25 is more than any playoff team during that time. Only three teams have had 20 or more: 2008 Sixers (20), 2010 Bulls (21), and 2008 Hawks (24).
The overwhelming evidence provided by this team is that when they meet with difficulty, they will simply shut down. Twenty-five double-digit losses. Four wire-to-wire losses in March (and 5 for the season). In December and January, when they had the third toughest schedule in the Association (.544), they went 9-20. This is not real high on the list of attributes necessary to be a competitive playoff team.
It’s almost impossible not to accentuate the negative and downplay the positives. The positives are like those floaters around the edges of your vision that run away when you try to focus on them. The negatives, meanwhile, just sit there like large, unapologetic turds.
Two weeks ago, the Pacers were teetering on the brink of the abyss. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the only thing that kept them from sliding into that abyss is Tyler Hansbrough’s jump shot. God bless Tyler, but that’s far from building on solid rock.
Indiana has some decent pieces, and they have lots of cap room and flexibility this summer. But, as Alex Yovanovich pointed out, we still don’t know where we are going from here.
I find it hard to look at this season — in detail and from a high level, both analytically and intuitively — and not come to the following conclusions:
- The “best,” “second best” and perhaps “third best” players on a good team are not on this roster right now. Danny Granger could evolve the way Luol Deng did as the #3 in Chicago, but he’s regressed a great deal since 2009. Tyler Hansbrough will always play hard and always be a good guy to have on your team, but we saw last night that he just can be swallowed up by bigger, more athletic players. (The always astute Rob Mahoney has seen this, too.) Paul George is a great kid with flashes of incredible talent, but does he have any kind of foundation of winning to call on when things go wrong?
- This franchise does not have the coach who can provide both the blueprint and the direction to be a good team. Frank Vogel has performed admirably, given the situation, but what success the team has had under him has been low hanging fruit. He stabilized the rotation (with the exception of the Lance Stephenson boondoggle), but his second biggest quality was that he wasn’t O’Brien. As a leader in the locker room, he’s swung so far the other way from O’Brien that he’s been little more than a fluffer.
- More alarmingly, this franchise does not appear to have the man at the top who can find the people to address the first two bullets. In hindsight, there is simply no way that Larry Bird didn’t butcher the Jim O’Brien situation. Either he stayed with him too long and allowed him to stunt the players, or he failed to get O’Brien on the same page and provide him the support necessary to keep the players from rolling over on the season. It seems to be a very reasonable assumption that he forced Vogel — either explicitly or implicitly — to push Lance Stephenson into the rotation, clearly upsetting a fragile situation.
The end of the “Three Year Plan” was supposed to leave the Pacers with an All Star (Danny Granger), a good young core, and lots of flexibility to bring in “finishing pieces.” Well, they’ve got lots of flexibility, but it sure looks like the Pacers still need a foundation.
Because I am Tyler Hansbrough’s Jump Shot, and I am all alone … (and more than a little afraid if I don’t get help, I’m going to be eaten by Roy Hibbert’s Next Contract.)