With the offseason acquisitions of David West and George Hill, most Pacers fans were very excited about this Pacers team. But actually watching these guys play basketball — dress rehearsal or not — has considerably dampened the enthusiasm of many.
Of course, they have only played the Bulls, so it could just be a demonstration of something we already knew: Chicago is much, much better than Indiana.
Still, here are eight thumbnail thoughts on the Pacers’ two preseason losses.
1. Tyler Hansbrough is the Pacers’ best player right now — or, more accurately, he is playing better right now than anyone else — by a relatively wide margin. While that’s wonderful for Tyler, who has played very well, it is an open question as to how good a team with Tyler Hansbrough as their best player can actually be.
2. Paul George has been more aggressive offensively. That’s a good thing. In fact, he’s more assertive all over the court, which bodes well overall. However, he’s also a 21-year-old kid with fewer than 1,300 minutes of actual NBA court time, so he’s making a lot of mistakes (7 turnovers and 0 assists in two games).
This year, I’m going to use a cobbled-together number called “shots produced.” It’s basically FGA + 0.44*FTA, (which is the same denominator as used to calculate true shooting percentage). In this equation, Paul produced 18.8 shots per 36 minutes in the two preseason games — a mark he only reached 4 times last season. His TS% was .540, which is league average, but it’s dragged down by his (hopefully anomalous) 6-for-10 free-throw shooting last Friday. On the whole, his involvement and activity is very promising.
3. Danny Granger looked completely lost in the two games. Granted, this is a guy who has generally played poorly in the preseason and isn’t the most discriminating of shooters, but … these games were ugly. He followed up his 5-for-17 debut with a 4-for-11 encore, posting an eFG% of .393 and a TS% of .416. These are even worse than last December’s debacle, though such numbers clearly come from too small of a sample size for deep conclusions.
This roster has had less than two weeks of practices, so it’s understandable that they are somewhat out of sync, plus they were playing the Bulls. Still, it’s somewhat disconcerting that the guy the Pacers are expecting to be their leading scorer was so disconnected from the offense. Again, Danny isn’t the most discriminating of shooters even at the best of times, but the vast majority of shots he took over the two games were even more forced than usual.
Oddly, this wasn’t a case of indiscriminately chucking up threes. In fact, only 7 of his 28 shots were from beyond the arc (and he hit 4 of them). Unfortunately, neither Synergy nor Hoopdata broke down the preseason games, but it seemed to me that most of Granger’s misses came during abortive drives, resulting a paltry 22.7% shooting on his two-point FG attempts. To let you know how ineffective his drives were, he only took 2 free-throw attempts during Indy’s two preseason games.
Some of this may harken back to Danny’s first two years in the league, during which he would put up big games when guys like Jermaine O’Neal were out — then fade into the background when they returned. In Jim O’Brien’s system, the vast majority of the sets were designed for the 3. In Vogel’s system, there’s a lot more post action, but I can’t begin to guess at where Danny fits in the sets. This is a major concern. Points again will be hard to come by for the Pacers this year, and they can’t afford to have their best scorer involved in the offense on a seemingly ad hoc basis.
4. Roy Hibbert has been typical: frustrating. He played one solid, but unspectacular game Friday followed by one bad game last night. He is simply not strong enough to get and hold post position against a guy like Joakim Noah, and he still shoots mid-range jumpers like somebody dipping their toes into Lake Michigan in December. He was also a non-factor in the pick-and-roll. And the ball (and offense) still largely stops for several seconds when it goes to him.
5. David West didn’t play enough for a well-developed opinion, but I liked what I saw. He’s bigger than I remember, and I can only hope that he and Tyler can play extended minutes together. (Hope, not expect.)
6. I am concerned about the deleterious effect that playing with a collection of guys who seem to have no idea what they’re doing offensively will have on George Hill’s game.
7. The offense is still blah. The Pacers shots 33.7% and 35.8% from the field, respectively, during their two losses. They certainly will look better next week against the weak sisters they face (the first five games are against Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit again, and New Jersey), but there is still no real indication of a plan.
As further evidence of the preseason futility, the team assisted on only 50% of its made buckets in each of their games. League average is almost 58%, and the bottom of the league is somewhere around 52%. I know — preseason and small sample size — but, this is a continuation of a trend. Under Vogel last year, they assisted on just a tick under 50% of their made field goals. These are just really, really bad numbers.
8. My final impression? This team needs to play some bad teams so Pacers fans can regain their optimism.