Through the first 10 games of the season, the Indiana Pacers are proud owners of a 6-4 record, good for third in the East, which has surprised plenty of the fans, despite many having Indiana as a potential playoff team before the season started.
This so-called 'hot' start for the Pacers mostly has to do with one thing: Indiana's scorching hot offense. Currently, the Pacers lead the league in scoring, offensive rating, and assists and are showing no signs of slowing down despite some players coming in and out of slumps.
However, the reason why the Pacers are 6-4 and not better to start off is because of how bad their defense has been to start the year. Initially, Indiana was projected to have a decent defense, with Rick Carlisle leading a gritty, hustle-first style of play for his team and the players reflecting that play on the stat sheet.
In addition, Tyrese Haliburton also showed some defensive improvements during FIBA play, and Myles Turner showed no signs of slowing down on defense despite a massive offensive leap, so hopes were pretty high for the Pacers' defense going into the 2023-24 season.
This has not resulted in a good defense however, as Indiana currently holds the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league, at 118.9, while also ranking fourth-worst in opponent points per game, at 123.1.
In addition to this, Indiana's poor defense and their lack of rebounding combine to give them the sixth-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league, at 68.5, and their frequent fouling nets them an opponent FTA rate of 0.273, ranking ninth-worst in the league, and their opponent turnover percentage is at a mere 12.8%, ranking fifth-worst in the league.
The Pacers' lack of shot contesting has led them to rank near the bottom in nearly every opponent scoring stat. Their average of 62 opponent points in the paint ranks dead last, while their opponent's fast break points average of 15.9 ranks eighth-worst in the league.
Indy's average of 17.2 opponent second-chance points ranks third-worst in the league, which was a problem we saw plenty of in the 76ers game. Looking at these stats, it's no wonder why the Pacers allow 123.1 opponent points per game, ranking fourth-worst in the league, and allow teams to shoot an average of 48.9% from the field, ranking sixth-worst in the league.
Of course, allowing open three-point shots has been a struggle for the Pacers for years now, and those struggles have not gone anywhere this year, with the team allowing opponents to shoot an average of 39.2 from beyond the arc, ranking fourth-worst in the league.
While these stats are pretty telling of how bad Indiana's defense has been, it's not even neccesary to look anywhere past the standard box score to see how bad it's been, and I'll start from the beginning to show this.
In the Pacers' blowout win over Washington on Opening Night, despite beating the Wizards by 23, the Pacers still allowed four players to score over 15 points, with Kyle Kuzma having 25 and Danilo Gallinari surprising them with 16 off the bench.
Next, in the first Cleveland game, Indiana's defense allowed three players to score over 20 points, with two scoring over 30. This was, of course, the game where Caris LeVert exploded for 22 in the first quarter, and while he cooled down for the rest of the game, Evan Mobley did not. Mobley finished the night leading all players in scoring with 33 points and shot 12/22 from the field, with Myles Turner having problems guarding him for the majority of the game.
These paint issues became more evident in the following game against Chicago, where Indiana's loss came in large part due to 24 points and 17 rebounds by Nikola Vucevic, who also gave Myles Turner fits and was huge down the stretch with his and-one near the end of the game fully swinging the momentum in Chicago's favor.
Indiana's worse defensive performance of the season so far undoubtedly came in their next game against the Boston Celtics, in which the Celtics tied a franchise record for points with 155 and had eight players score in double figures, with Jayson Tatum leading the charge with 30.
Skipping forward a few games, the Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 126-124 but allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to score a whopping 54 points and also gave up 19 points to a still-recovering Khris Middleton.
However, while the Bucks game resulted in a win due to Giannis going scoreless in the final five minutes, the worst gut-wrenching defensive performance came in the following game, as the Pacers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 126-137 and allowed two players to score well over 30 points.
While Joel Embiid's 37 points were impressive, and he was destroying Myles Turner in the first half, the real story of the game was Tyrese Maxey, who scored a career-high 50 points on scorching-hot 20-32 shooting. Turner's defense on Embiid improved in the second half, leading to him shooting only 4/14 in the second half, but the same could not be done for Maxey, who kept piling on the points no matter which defender was sent his way.
While there are nights where guys are hot and you can't do anything to stop them no matter how good the defense, it is still a bad sign when a team gives up back-to-back 50 point games, especially in a game where another player added in 37.
Indiana's defense needs clear improvement, and they need it fast. This hot offensive start can only be maintained for so long before the inevitable drop-off, and the Pacers need to improve on other facets of the game to keep the wins coming before the schedule gets tougher going into the new year.