The Indiana Pacers’ current defense is reminiscent of the Frank Vogel era. Indiana will hope to use it to gain the same ceiling as those elite teams of the early 2010s.
Every championship team this decade finished in the top-10 in defensive rating except one (the 2017-18 Warriors finished 11th, but two all-time great scorers leaves a team a little more wiggle room). It seems Bear Bryant was right, and the Indiana Pacers (21-10) will ride the mantra up the standings.
Coming into the season, many around the league did not have high expectations for Indiana. The team experienced a lot of roster turnover during the offseason and their best player was expected to be out until at least Christmas. Little was known about how the team would come together, but the play on the defensive end of the court quelled most of those questions.
The Pacers currently sit tied for fifth in defensive rating. The summer addition of Malcolm Brogdon gave the squad a player familiar with what it takes to be a member of the league’s top defense, as Milwaukee was last season. Even with the experience on that kind of defense, Brogdon is currently pace for a new career-high in defensive win shares.
The Pacers continued success is tied heavily to this process of seamlessly bringing new guys into their system each year. Dan Burke always gets his players to play above their expected pay grade on uglier end of the floor.
T.J. Warren joined the team as a below average defender on his good nights and a matador on his more common bad ones, but is currently posting a career best defensive rating and has already accrued more defensive win shares than any season in his career. Similar things could be said about Jeremy Lamb before this season. He is also posting a career best defensive rating and on pace to post a career-high in defensive win shares.
A key to both starters getting to their careers marks is the dominance of Myles Turner at the rim. Last year’s block champion, continues to be one of the best high-volume defenders at the rim the association has the offer. Turner continually erases mistakes at crucial times, like the game-saving block against the New York Knicks earlier this season.
Turner sometimes struggles with bigger, stronger centers, but he has more switchability than most of the players that can handle those guys. He holds the team’s best individual defensive rating this season and has blocked more than twice as many shots as anyone else on the team.
Many teams would fade defensively when an anchor like Turner takes a seat on the bench. The Pacers are different. Of the 14 teams with benches posting positive plus/minuses, only the Rockets’, Celtics’, and 76ers’ benches score fewer points. Their success is again tied to defense.
Everyone that touches the floor in the Indiana Pacers gold gives max effort. The weakest defender in the current rotation is probably Doug McDermott, but his move to power forward has allowed him to have a career year.
Pat Riley famously said, “You rotate eight players. You play seven, you use six, and you trust five.”
Knowing players six through 10 will defend with elite intensity allows the coach to feel better about resting his stars. Maybe if Riley was coaching this Pacers team, the numbers in that quote would be a little bit higher.