Early in the year, we noted just how astounding the Pacers defense had been. That was just five games in, however, so obviously the absurd 86.5 points they had surrendered per 100 points would increase. But by how much?
Before we reveal the current number, let’s add some reference. Last season, Indiana claimed the Best Defense in the Land crown by allowing 99.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. In the three preceding years, the top spot belonged to the Celtics at 98.2 points per 100 (2011-12), the Celtics at 100.3 (2010-11) and the Bobcats at 102.8 (2009-10).
The average scoring per possession bounces up and down a bit per year and sometimes the best defense(s) are more or less elite than the middlings squads, but as we see here, giving up anything around 100 points per 100 possessions (or a point per possessions, obviously) is damn good.
Through 23 games, the 2013-14 Pacers are allowing just 96.1 points per 100. That’s ridiculous. And while the five-games-in number we cited earlier was clearly a sample-size outlier, we’re now talking about a defense that is more than one quarter of the way through the season.
And if this number holds, not only would it be impressive for 2013, it would be historically elite. Because right now this defense is one of just four to allow below 97.0 points per 100 since 1979-80, ranking below only the 2003-04 Spurs (94.1 per 100), 1998-99 Spurs (95.0) and 2003-04 Pistons (95.4). Impressively, this season’s Pacers may be the most balanced of these four heavy hitting defensive stalwarts, as it’s offensive rating (105.1 points per 100) outranks the rest.
There is still a lot of room for Indiana’s defensive rating to slide higher over the next 59 games, but it’s hard to believe it can move enough for Indiana to not finish with the stingiest D in the league this year.
Points allowed per possession is naturally the best way to measure defensive effectiveness. To weigh excellence, however, we can also look at how hard a defense is to make shots against.
As expected, Indiana also leads the league — by a huge margin — in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) allowed. It’s 44.6% allowed trounces the second-place Bulls’ 46.8% allowed. (League average is way up at 49.5%.)
Again, this is not only great for 2013-14, but excellent historically.
Only 20 teams have forced teams to shoot 45.0% or less (eFG) since 1979-80. Of those, this Pacers team ranks as the 15th best.
We’ll see if this holds up for a whole season.