Facing a tough start, the 2021-22 Indiana Pacers have no identity to rely on

Rick Carlisle - Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Carlisle - Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Few people expected the Indiana Pacers to come out roaring to begin the 2021-22 NBA season, especially with the Eastern Conference being home to new up-and-coming teams, but even fewer could have foreseen them slipping up so bad in their bounce back campaign after missing the playoffs a season ago.

Touting an underwhelming 13-18 record so far, the Pacers have lagged behind their competition for the most part, failing to get close to .500 after kicking off their season with 1-7 slate. Injuries have once again pushed them down the drain, but the problem goes way beyond their bill of health.

While most teams have had the backing of a certain play style to resort to and win games, Indiana has been rather stale in nearly all departments. With each passing loss, it’s becoming clear that this year’s iteration of the Pacers have one glaring disadvantage—they have no identity to rely on.

This season’s Indiana Pacers may have embraced being average too much

In nearly all statistical categories, the Indiana Pacers rank in the middle or near the bottom. From both surface-level statistics and the advanced ones, there is not a particular strong suit that the Blue and Gold can rely on to win games, especially the close ones. Perhaps that’s why it’s no coincidence that they are the worst performing team in the clutch, going 4-13 in such contests.

Really, the only area where they stand out among the rest as a team is in the blocks category, which is certainly catapulted by the presence of the league’s best blockers in Myles Turner, who is once again leading all players in the department.

Even the implementation of Rick Carlisle‘s spread-out offense has not given the Pacers a clear edge in hoisting threes, with the team ranking 17th in attempts and a paltry 27th in accuracy. Indiana has also been a much less ball movement-reliant team, as they now sit 13th in assists per game after finishing second last season.

In the defensive metrics, the Pacers are also quite stale. Indy does not rank any better than 11th in opponent effective field goal percentage, opponent turnover percentage, and opponent free throws per field goal attempt. They do quite well in boxing out and securing defensive boards, ranking seventh, but overall, despite starting off the campaign strong as a rebounding unit, the Pacers are just 14th in total boards per outing.

This may be the hymn of a nitpicker for some, but there is a reason why the best teams always have a go-to identity to revolve their playing style around. This seasons’ Indiana team simply lacks one.

In recent seasons where the Pacers managed to squeeze out inspiring regular season runs, they were able to ride a strong defensive identity to stay competitive despite their lack of a superstar. After grasping their potential as a defensive unit in 2017-18, Indiana was very solid as a point-preventing team from 2018-2020. The identity was there, and it allowed the team to be better than the sum of its parts.

Heck, even last season’s team, which was disappointing in every sense of the word, had a resolute identity. While it was obviously forced and ultimately unsuccessful, their run-and-gun offense and pressuring D highlighted the fact that they had a strong vision as a collective on what kind of team they wanted to be.

With the Indiana Pacers struggling to gain a definitive momentum to turn their season around, the need for building an identity all becomes the more important. With big doubts casted on their willingness to truly rebuild, for them to maximize what’s left of their core, finding and owning a strong foundation could be what flips their dull season around.

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