Indiana Pacers: Despite Losing, Unselfishness Is Here

Nov 7, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; The Indiana Pacers huddle prior to a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; The Indiana Pacers huddle prior to a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

When the dust settled on the 2013-14 season for the Indiana Pacers, selfishness seemed to loom around the roster.

Lance Stephenson was fighting tooth and nail for a new, lucrative contract that would respect his worth. By doing so, he may have sparked controversy within the team because of his offensive techniques.

Despite Frank Vogel being a top three coach in the league in terms of getting defensive expertise each possession, he didn’t install much life into their offense last year. Possessions completely died down the stretch of games, and ball movement went extinct when they traveled on the road.

Take a glimpse at the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, and observe how stale and unenthused the offense was during the three losses in South Beach.

When tragedies occur, it takes proper reconstruction to get back to winning ways. At 14-23 this season, it’s extremely tough and somewhat false to say the Pacers have bounced back. Larry Bird is fully aware of the situation. He understands this is only a one-year journey that’s going downhill, and something that shouldn’t be repeated in 2015-16 when their five-star small forward is back in the lineup.

Indiana Pacers
Jan 5, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) reacts from the bench area during the second half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Indiana won 105-101. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

As strong as Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Toronto, and Cleveland look on paper, Vogel knows his team belongs in that mix, if not on top.

Getting everyone healthy won’t be the only key to getting back on top of the Eastern Conference, however. When they do re-install Paul George back into the lineup, everything will still have to be predicated on selflessness, desire to play with each other, and attacking the glass at a high rate.

This season, these overachieving Pacers (considering context) have relied on all three of those things, and it’s enabled them to be competitive. Although they’re still nine games under .500, the Pacers’ average point differential is just -1.5. Miami, currently owning the eighth seed, is five games under .500 with a point differential of -4.1. Brooklyn, three games under .500, is still higher than Indiana at -2.1.

It indicates Indiana is staying right there with the greatest teams, and primarily exceeding expectations. Since the Dec. 15 win over the Lakers (13 games), the Pacers have recorded an average point differential of +3.5. While going 7-6 during that time period, they’ve had their share of blowout wins and close losses.

A primary reason this team seems to be having a jovial time on the court together is their willingness to get everyone involved.

Last year, with George and Stephenson, the Pacers ranked just 14th in the league in passes per game, according to On average, they made 305.9 passes per contest. Indiana was also the third-worst assist team in the league, finishing 27th in total assists with just 1,651. To offer perspective, the San Antonio Spurs (1st) dished 2,064 assists last season and the Chicago Bulls (10th) were at the 1,860 assist plateau.

This season, Indiana has ranked 7th in passes per game, delivering 321.8. It doesn’t seem like a huge increase to improve by 15.9 passes, but it surely makes a difference in the overall play of the team. Put the unselfish role players of C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey on last year’s roster, and Indiana likely advances to the Finals.

Vogel’s tweaking of the offense this year has allowed for them to be a top 10 team in “assist opportunities per game,” which takes into account passes that turn into shots, but can also be missed. Indiana places 10th in this important category, with 45.7 assist opportunities per game. Seven of the top 10 are likely going to be high-caliber playoff teams this season:

Indiana Pacers
Indiana Pacers /

For the Pacers to be included in this good company — excluding Minnesota and Boston — it shows they’re playing the game the right way. The return of Paul George next season, along with a year where George Hill doesn’t have nagging injuries that cost him 32 games, must revolve around the same thing. It must incorporate better ball movement, more 3-point looks than last year, and a greater sense of when to speed up the game.

Even more impressive is the Pacers’ assist-to-field goal ratio recently. Since their Dec. 15 win over the Lakers, Indiana has recorded 302 assists on their 485 field goal makes. That’s a percentage of 62.2, which indicates they operate with very little selfish play or isolations. It’s an average of 23.2 assists per game on 37.3 field goal makes.

The pace in which they run with also matters if they want to transform to a playoff threat.

Indiana currently runs at the ninth slowest pace in the league, at 92.8 possessions per 48 minutes. Additionally, they are only traveling at 16.2 miles per 48 minutes, which ranks them 27th overall (per SportVU tracking). Last year, Indiana was just as slow in terms of possessions, averaging 92.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They also finished 29th overall in distance traveled per 48 minutes, at just 16.0 miles.

The advanced, deep numbers surrounding their speed may not seem significant because they haven’t budged much. However, they absolutely ARE important, because it’s two areas that keep them well below majority of NBA teams. When you think about their desire as being contenders next year, the offensive refinement needs to come. It begins with playing smoother, and a bit faster.

One area where Indiana has stepped up their game this season has been on the glass. Rebounding the ball is arguably the most vital aspect of the game, behind playing solid defense without fouling.

37 games into the season, Indiana is ranked seventh in the league in rebounds per night, at 44.8. The average pace ranking of all six teams ahead of them is 11.2, meaning most of them are grabbing a high number of boards with more possessions and faster play. The Pacers, on the other hand, have one of the slowest tempos and are still a top seven squad in crashing the boards.

An important metric to grasp is undoubtedly “percentage of rebounds per chance.” It determines the number of rebounds a team recovers, compared to the number of rebounding “chances” a team has. A “rebounding chance” is manufactured as “the number of times a player was within 3.5 feet of a rebound.

Last year, the Pacers finished the regular season with the fourth most rebounding “chances” per game. They had an opportunity to grab 77.8 boards per game in 2013-14. Nonetheless, their percentage of rebounds per chance was 57.5 percent. Meaning, they grabbed around 57 percent of those opportunities.

During the first half of the 2014-15 season (without Paul George), the Pacers are only having 74.0 rebounding chances per game. It ranks them 12th, which is eight spots lower than last year. However, their percentage of rebounds per chance has escalated to 60.7 percent. In essence, they’re grabbing more rebounds when they’re actually supposed to.

These guys play harder, despite the losing record, than they did majority of last year. The clawing and fighting are present.

Bring the same level of intensity to the revamped roster next year — because of someone wearing No. 13 — and the Pacers have a nice formula for a top seed in the East playoffs. It should’ve happened this year.

August 1st will always be the anniversary of a disaster.