By the Numbers 2012: The Pacers' First Ten Games

It’s been a while, but we here at 8p9s have decided to dust off our By The Numbers series…or…rather…see if we can’t actually get it rolling. The purpose was to have periodic posts where we would throw out a few numbers that interested us as a means to help understand the season as a whole. Jared and I both really, really liked the idea. For some reason, though, I only managed to produce three editions, the last of which being in February, 2010.

Not sure why this happened. The only things I’m sure of are that it is probably Jared’s fault, and it most certainly had nothing to do the fact that I kept forgetting to put them together, eventually forgetting about the series altogether. That was clearly a non-factor.

So, here we are now, and ten games into the Pacers season seemed to be a good time to give this another try.

7-3

We’ll always start with the Pacers record. This 7-3 start is Indy’s best performance over the first 10 games since the 2005-2006 season. That team finished 41 wins after enduring the Ron Artest trade saga, and was probably the least likable, least watchable Pacer team I have ever seen. They also started 7-3 the year before that, but they elected to include a brawl in those first 10 games, which kinda put a damper on things.

I’m gonna hafta hope history doesn’t repeat here, and go ahead and mention that the Pacers are on pace to win 46 games this year – the lockout-shortened equivalent of 57 wins! Huzzah! (Now would also be a good time to mention that with only 10 games played, all of these numbers could be features of small sample size theatre – to one degree or another.)

4th, 18th

Win-Loss Record is the ultimate arbiter of a team’s regular season success, but Offensive and Defensive Efficiency – points scored or allowed per 100 possessions – are good barometers. Each must be looked at in the context of not only the rest of the league, but also in relation to each other.

The good for the Pacers is that they are allowing only 97.1 points per 100. That’s 5.3 points below the league average and good for 4th.

The not-so-good for the Pacers is that they are only scoring 100.6 PP100, which ranks them a middling 18th in the Association.

5th & 5th

One of my go-to sets of statistics is the “Four Factors of Winning.” For those unfamiliar, it is a set of four metric that measure what are considered to be the most important drivers of performance – shooting, rebounding, making/forcing turnovers, and drawing/committing fouls (as represented by FT/FGA). There is a set of four for each offense and defense.

Teams have become good at either end by balancing these four factors, and while there is no single way to succeed, history has shown the shooting category (eFG%) as the single most correlative to success at both ends, and ultimately, winning. Over the past 30 years or so, a team’s rank in eFG% (or DEF eFG%) has had a 0.8 or better correlation to that team’s rank in Offensive or Defensive Efficiency. Further, it has hovered around 0.7 in terms of that team’s rank in Winning Percentage.

And here we can see the strength and the weakness of the Pacers so far. The Pacers defense has been the 5th best in DEF eFG% – allowing only .454 vs. a league average of .480)  and when coupled with above average performance in the other factors, they have established themselves as a top defensive team.

However, the Pacers have also been the 5th worst shooting team – only .451 eFG% – which largely explains their below average offense. The Pacers are a good example of “balancing” the four factors. Indiana has been able to approach being an average offense team (in this year’s NBA) by being very good on offensive glass (7th in ORB% at .279) and by getting to the line (7th in FT/FTA) at .244.

Still, these last two items -ORB% & FT/FGA – have been the least correlative to success over the years (0.2 and 0.3, respectively). Therefore, unless Indy starts hitting more of their shots, there’s a high risk that their overall Offensive Efficiency rank will start gravitating down towards their eFG% rank.

.544, .289

Those two numbers represent the Pacers’ shooting at the rim and from 16-23 feet according to Hoopdata. Indy is dead last in both. Why does this matter? Because these two areas are Nos. 1 and 2 for both the league and the Pacers in terms of frequency of shots.

The .544 at the rim is .085 below the league average, and cleaning that up would go a long way towards stabilizing their shooting . I’m looking at you: pretty much everybody not named George Hill (.650).

Meanwhile, David West has started to make strides in his 16-23 shooting as he’s at about 43%, hopefully on his way back up to matching his 47% mark from last year. It’ll take a lot though, to overcome the efforts of Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, and Dahntay Jones. Those four have combined to take 122 of the Pacers’ 197 shots from this range, but only hit .238 of them.

.420, 27th

The Pacers’ “SoSHR,” which is one of the lowest in the league, but you play who the schedule maker puts in front of you.  This is basically the Weighted Strength of Schedule – Home/Road in Pacers’ games thus far.  This is a metric I use regularly, and you can find a more detailed explanation here.

7 of 10, 17, 2

Seven of the next 10 Pacer games are on the road, played over the next 17 days, with two back-to-backs.  The SoSHR of those 10 games is only .510, but there’s a five game stretch starting at the Lakers on the 20th (vs. ORL, @ CHI, @ BOS, @ ORL) that may be the toughest stretch of the season .

37

That’s the number of wins I had projected as part of ESPN’s pre-season predictions. I still think that’s a pretty solid number, but it’s worth mentioning that I had them only at 6-4 through 10 games, and at 10-10 after 20. Based on what I’ve seen, I think 12-7 or 13-6 is possible, and the 40-win mark (the rough equivalent of a 50-win 82-game season) may be attainable.

9 of 14

From Elias: Danny Granger scored nine of the Pacers’ 14 points in overtime as Indiana topped the Cavaliers (on 12/30) after Kyrie Irving‘s missed layup at the fourth-quarter buzzer resulted in the NBA’s first overtime game this season. Granger had never before scored as many as nine points in an overtime period during his NBA career. His previous OT high was seven points on Halloween night in 2007.

5 by 5

Paul George hit all five of his three-point field-goal attempts as the Pacers rolled to a 108-94 victory over the Nets in Newark. Troy Murphy went 6-for-6 from three-point range for the Pacers in a game in 2009 and Danny Granger went 5-for-5 from downtown in a game in 2007; but George became the first Pacers guard to have a game in which he took at least five three-point shots and hit them all since Reggie Miller did if for the fourth and final time in his career in 2004. (from Elias)

.296 to .640

In his first three games playing for his hometown team, George Hill hit only 8-of-27 shots. Since then, he has hit 24-of-43, including seven of 13 three pointers, for an eFG% of .640

97, 7th

I feel I’ve lingered a bit on some of the less flattering numbers, perhaps a bit more than is warranted with a 7-3 team. Some of that is due to the nature of my day job, and some of that is reflexive after watching the Pacers over the years. Still, it’s important to look at the one big number that I think indicates a sound foundation for the Pacers.

A couple of years ago, I began aggregating the team rankings in the Four Factors, which I blatantly stole from SI’s (who was then-Celtics Hub’s) Zach Lowe. Here’s a (not-so-) brief explanation I used in a piece trying to determine if the 2010 Pacers were the worst Pacer team ever.

Back in November, Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub did a really interesting piece called “Pushing the Boundaries of the Four Factors” in which he was trying to understand if a team could contend for a title if it was sub-standard in certain areas of the Four Factors.  In essence, Zach took the the team’s ranking in each of the Four Factors and added them together to create a number. This game himan accumulated rank. If a team was ranked 10th in each of the Four Factors for offense, for example, it’s total accumulated rank would be 40. Simple enough. And logical enough to yield some interesting analysis.

Stealing the use of this mechanism, I took the results of all of the teams from the 1980 to now and ranked them on their Four Factors for both offense and offense.  Then, by adding these together, we get one accumulated ranking number for each team on the “Eight Factors” (four for offense, four for defense). So here, a team that was 10th in all the offensive Four Factors and all the defensive Four Factors would have a total accumulated rank of 80.

(For reference’s sake, the lowest possible accumulated rank for any team is 8, which would mean it was ranked 1st in the NBA in all eight categories. That has never happened, obviously, and it turns out that the best teams in NBA history rank in the 50s. On the other end of the spectrum, the highest possible accumulated rank is 240, which would mean a teams was 30th in all eight categories.  No team has ever been this bad — although the Nets this year are trying — and the worst teams in NBA history have come in around 190.)

In any case, at that time, that Pacer team had an accumulated rank of 165. This Pacer team has an accumulated rank of 97.

Why does this matter? It matters because during all of the false springs (that the Blue-and-Gold usually have in November) of the past three years, this accumulated ranking always indicated the collapse to come.  Those teams had cumulative rankings between the 130’s and the 150’s. The statue had feet of clay.

At 97, the Pacers are 7th overall in a gross aggregation of arguably the most important statistical categories. In that study I did two years ago (regrettably, not updated for 2010 or 2011), there had been 67 teams from 1980 through 2009 that had posted cumulative rankings in the 90s.

Overall, those teams won 63% of their games (~52 wins in an 82-game season). Of those teams, only one had a losing season, while 42 won more than 61% of their games. There were even three champions: the ’82 Lakers, the ’89 Pistons, and (a portent, perhaps?) the ’99 Spurs.

During that time, only five Pacer teams compiled accumulated rankings in the 90s. You’ll like the list:

  • 1994 Pacers – Eastern Conference Finalists
  • 1995 Pacers – Eastern Conference Finalists
  • 1998 Pacers – Eastern Conference Finalists
  • 2000 Pacers – NBA Finalists
  • 2003 Pacers – 48 wins*

(* – Isiah Thomas-coached)

Ten games is only ten games, but Indy’s performance in some ways could be more real and more meaningful than anything about the Pacers for several years. Given their room for improvement offensively, it seems realistic that the Pacers may be able to maintain at or near this level over the course of the season.

If they do, then that really is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As with almost all of my other work, the marvelous Basketball-Reference.com was indispensable in my research and analysis on this piece.

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Tags: Stat Talk

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