At the time of writing, the Indiana Pacers are 6-3, good for third in the East, coming off three straight wins, and are proud owners of the best offense in the league. This is impressive on paper but even better once you look a little deeper.
To do this, we must look back at the past few years of Indiana Pacers basketball and explain why this gargantuan leap in offense is so impressive.
Let's turn the clock back to the 2019-20 season when the Pacers roster looked completely unrecognizable from the current one. In fact, the only players remaining from this mere four-year-old team are Myles Turner and TJ McConnell.
The Indiana Pacers finished with a 45-28 record in the shortened pandemic season, good for fourth in the East, and were led by Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo, fresh off his return from injury.
This was also Nate McMillan's last year as the head coach of the Pacers, and it showed in the offensive stats. In this season, Indiana finished 23rd in the league in points, seventh in assists, and dead last in three-pointers attempted, with a mere 28 threes per game and hitting them at a 36.3% clip, good for 14th in the league.
This year, the Pacers were characterized by relatively show offensive play, as they ranked 21st in the league in pace, and an offense that had nothing remarkable to it besides the ever-popular Domantas Sabonis post-up or pick-and-roll. As such, the Pacers' offensive rating of 110 put them in the bottom half of the league, ranking 19th.
The next season, the Pacers came in with new expectations born from a shily new head coach, Nate Bjorkgren. While this Pacers season was characterized by drama and many losses, Indiana did improve marginally on offense, as the days of stand-still offense from Nate McMillan were in the past.
On the season, despite winning just 34 (of 72) games and finishing ninth in the East, Indiana scored an average of 115.3 points per game, good for sixth in the league, and shot more threes, taking 34, good for 18th in the league instead of dead last, as their percentage remained more or less the same.
Most importantly, perhaps, the Pacers ranked fifth in the league in pace with 101.6, and improved their offensive rating to 112.4, good enough to get them around the middle of the league, ranking 14th.
The 2021-22 season was a tale of two Pacers teams. Prior to February 8, the Pacers regressed to around the middle of the pack in points, ranking 16th with 108.7 per game under new coach Rick Carlisle. Indiana was also middle of the pack in assists, finishing 13th with 24.3 per game.
While the Pacers did shoot more threes at 35.2 per game, they only made 33% of them, which ranked 25th in the league and was a huge reason they were 19-36 leading up to the trade deadline.
Unfortunately, under Carlisle and the same post-centric offense, Indiana's pace regressed to 97.3, good for 20th in the league, and their offensive rating regressed to around their McMillan years at 110.5, good for 17th in the league.
The Tyrese Haliburton trade was where everything changed, however, as Indiana's offense shot up in their final 26 games of the season. With Haliburton, their points per game rose to 117.2 per game, as well as their assists to 27.8 per game. While they still took around 36 threes, they started hitting them more, at around 35%.
In the 2022-23 season, the Pacers would show what an entire season of the Tyrese Haliburton experience looks like on offense, as their points per game rose to 116.3, good for 10th in the league, as well as 27 assists per game, good enough for sixth.
Their three-point attempts also drastically rose, ranking seventh in the league with 37 attempts per game. Most importantly, however, their pace skyrocketed to 101.1, which ranked fourth in the league. Indiana had something on their hands with Tyrese Haliburton leading the charge, and they would look to capitalize on that to start the 2023-24 season.
Capitalizing is exactly what the Pacers are doing right now, as at the time of writing, Indiana ranks top 10 in almost every major offensive category, ranking first in points with 126 per game, first in assists with 30.7 per game with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.3, also first in the NBA, fourth in threes attempted, with 40.8 per game on a 38,7% clip, good for third in the NBA, and first in field goals attempted, with 95.7 per game. In addition to these fantastic counting stats, the Pacers also have the best offensive rating in the NBA by far, at 121.5.
That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement, as the Pacers only rank 21st in offensive rebounding, pulling down 10 per game, and do not get to the free throw line much, ranking 28th with only 18.8 attempts per game.
These flaws are exactly why Indiana's hot start should not be written off as a fluke. The fact that the Pacers are doing this well on offense while being in the bottom half of the league in two of the four offensive factors is very impressive.
Eventually, if the shots stop falling and the assists stop coming, the Pacers will start to figure out how to get to the line more often and maybe even improve their offensive rebounding.
It is important to know that the season is still young, and Rick Carlisle is still experimenting with his rotations and analyzing what works and what doesn't. This Pacers team we are seeing right now will most likely be different from what we see by midseason and even at the end of the season.
While this is an uncharacteristically hot offensive start by Indiana, anybody paying attention to the team would not be surprised at how well they are doing. After all, the Pacers have a very well-put-together offensive group, and with everyone hitting their shots and players' slumps starting to wear off, such as Bennedict Mathurin's, it is not hard to believe that this team has just scratched the surface of its potential.