The night of December 1, 2012, was not very kind to Paul George. After a promising playoff run, this Indiana Pacers squad entered a new season primed to take a spot among the Eastern Conference elite. But Danny Granger hadn’t played a single game yet, and the Pacers were struggling instead. They entered Oracle Arena to play the Golden State Warriors sporting an 8-8 record, having won only four of 10 road games in the young season.
With Granger out, the Pacers needed someone to step up and shoulder the scoring load in a hostile environment. That night, Paul George was not ready to be that guy.
George only took seven shots in the game. Five of these shots were behind the arc. He never took a free throw. He was passive and off target.
The result? Zero points, one night after a different road game where he managed to squeeze out only four points against the Kings. Indiana lost both of these games en route to a losing record on the road. They would eventually earn the third seed in the playoffs, losing Game 7 on the road in Miami.
If the Pacers wanted to win a title, they needed to get the Eastern Conference’s top seed — and home-court advantage. To achieve that goal in the 2013-14 season, the Pacers needed to be a much better road team. They needed a guy who they could count on offensively on an opponent’s court.
Paul George has become that guy.
The Pacers currently own the best net rating in the NBA. Per 100 possessions, the Indiana Pacers are outscoring opponents by an average of 9.0 points. The sixth-best Houston Rockets are only outscoring opponents by 4.9, almost half the rate Indiana has established. In general, the Pacers are very good.
Much of that excellent margin has been accrued at home, where Indiana has been routinely blowing teams out. In the last ten games alone, Indiana has outscored opponents by an average of 20.6 points. On the season as a whole, the Pacers win games at the BiLF by an average of 15.7 points. The second highest margin of victory at home belongs to the Los Angeles Clippers (+11.0).
All that adds up to a 21-1 home record, best in the NBA. The 2013-14 Indiana Pacers are very good at home. They are murdering teams on their floor.
But what happens when the Pacers hop on a plane and play outside of Indiana? Are they also the beasts of the NBA?
The Pacers have won 14 games on the road this season, which is very good if not great. The Clippers have 14 road wins as well, and three teams (Portland, San Antonio, and OKC) have won 15 or more away games. While being fifth in the NBA in road wins is nothing to sneeze at, it stands in stark contrast to that stellar 21-1 home record. The Pacers win a touch less compared to their peers when traveling.
Going further, the Pacers are only outscoring opponents by 1.3 points per 100 possessions as visitors. That efficiency differential is only good for tenth in the NBA. Remember, the Pacers are far and away the best home team. All teams face the same challenges on the road – the plane rides, the hotel rooms, the screams of drunken court-side fans. It is no surprise that games are a bit closer on the road for contenders. It just hasn’t affected the other top-tier teams as much.
The three teams that have won 15 or more road games (the Spurs, Thunder, and Trail Blazers) have outscored road opponents by 8.2, 5.6, and 3.6 points respectively. All three teams are in the top four in point differential. The Pacers are winning games, but they aren’t playing at the same level of these teams when traveling.
When looking for a person to blame, can we cast our eyes at Paul George again? Or has he shaken the road woes that haunted him last season?
Cue up some Roger Miller, and let’s take a look.
Paul George scores 21.5 points per game at home. On the road? George pours in 25.0. That’s a big jump, and a complete reversal of the 3.7 fewer points he scored during away games in the 2012-13 season. But is that a function of superior play, or an increase of offensive responsibility when traveling?
Frank Vogel likes to ride his starting five a little harder on road trips. Vogel plays his starters an average of 168.5 minutes outside of Indiana, an average increase of 10.7 over home games. Paul George himself stays on the floor an extra 2.3 minutes on opposing courts.
Not only does Paul George get a few extra minutes during away games, his teammates rely on him more offensively as well. Here is a comparison of the usage rates of Indiana’s starting five, split by location:
Paul George gets more minutes per game on the road, and touches the ball more during those minutes. In short, the Pacers are leaning on George on the road.
Here are two sets of shooting splits:
- FG%: .451 / eFG%: .523 / TS%: .580
- FG%: .457 / eFG%: .525 / TS%: .580
One of those stats lines is Paul George at home, the other is Paul George on the road. Can you tell which is which? Does it really matter? (For the record, the slightly better second stat line is PG’s road splits). You can set your watch to George’s scoring efficiency, no matter where the game takes place.
Paul George takes on more minutes and offensive responsibility when the Pacers play away games. His shooting numbers stay virtually the same, and that leads to an increase in scoring on the road. His ability to take on a heavier load without losing a step offensively makes him a rarity amongst his teammates and the NBA’s elite.
Paul George’s eFG% goes up during away games, barely. Compared him to his fellow Pacers, and he becomes a rock of stability:
- David West: .510 (home) / .454 (road)
- Lance Stephenson: .568 (home) / .516 (road)
- George Hill: .548 (home) / .503 (road)
- Roy Hibbert: .477 (home) / .447 (road)
Each of these players takes a dive in shooting efficiency on the road, with West and Stephenson being the biggest plungers. Paul George’s splits, by comparison, are much better – simply by remaining static. His ability to score at the same rate outside of his home court becomes a major achievement in light of his teammate’s struggles.
Does Frank Vogel have a problem here? Does he need to enact an earlier road curfew or something to straighten out the other Pacers? No. Playing on the road usually has a negative affect on NBA shooting rates. Make so mistake – Paul George is the outlier here. In general, his peers in the MVP race also struggle on the road.
Using NBA.com as a resource for determining the current top five contenders for the MVP award, let’s look at the home/road eFG% of the NBA’s best:
- Kevin Durant: .605 (home) / .529 (road)
- LeBron James: .656 (home) / .583 (road)
- LaMarcus Aldridge: .467 (home) / .475 (road)
- Paul George: .523 (home) / .525 (road)
- Tony Parker: .553 (home) / .494 (road)
Only Aldridge is able to increase his road shooting rate. James, Durant, and Parker take big hits to their shooting rates outside of their home arenas. Let’s be real here: LeBron’s .583 road eFG%, while much lower than his rate at home, is still much better than the .520-ish rate Paul George shoots every day. But we are looking at consistency here, and Paul George has a steadier hand than Mr. James or Mr. Durant.
Guys, the road is hard. The road don’t take no guff. Paul George does have his struggles on the road still. He commits a few more turnovers per game outside of the BiLF, and his defensive rating takes a dive (the Pacers as a whole give up 12 more points per game outside of Indiana). His three point touch goes a bit askew as well.
But George makes up for it by getting to the stripe more often (and shooting a better FT% while he is there). Bottom line? Paul George is the same guy offensively for the Pacers no matter what area code hosts the opening tip. That makes him the best Pacer weapon on the road, and one of the more consistent traveling scorers in the NBA.
In a year when his teammates are still struggling on the road – and with every road win highly important in Indiana’s quest for the East’s top seed – Paul George’s newfound steady hand has made that zero point night in Oakland seem like it took place in a different millennium.
Tags: Road Warrior