In one of the bigger surprises of the season, the Indiana Pacers have shown that they will survive as a franchise without Paul George. Many expected the Pacers to fall off the map after PG was traded to Oklahoma City, including our own Mike Miller, and for the Pacers to find themselves as a lottery team. And who could blame them? Victor Oladipo had shown promise up until last season, but was yet to exhibit the type of consistent, two-way guard play that would be befitting of his 2nd overall draft pick.
As for the season, the Pacers never set the world alight, but never stunk up the joint either. Led by a Most Improved Player candidate in Oladipo, they kept it consistent in both halves of the season, going 33-25 (57%) before the All-Star Break, and 15-9 (60%) after, never enjoying a crazy hot-streak or a long-term skid.
The reward for their consistency was an assured playoff spot right in the middle of the pack. Their 48-34 record was a strong improvement from the previous season, winning six more games than in 2016/7. They’ve eked into the playoffs slightly, going 3-3 in the month of April. But if anything, that’s a testament to them being able to handle business early, and just keeping the boat afloat while they await the First Round.
Although it was a great season, the Pacers are statistically average in most aspects of the game when compared to other teams. Although they found themselves in the top ten in opponents’ PPG, they only crept into the top half of the defensive efficiency standings at 14th. The low output from their opponents should be credited to their ability to limit careless possessions, as they placed in the top five in turnovers. They were a low top-half team offensively also, placing 14th in PPG and 12th in offensive efficiency. Rather than having a key strength to lean on, the Pacers main strength was being able to perform adequately in a lot of different parts of the game. That being said, their efficiency offensively was top notch, placing in the top ten in both field goal and three-point percentage. When you convert shots at a high rate and take care of the basketball, you’ve got a solid recipe for wins.
Rebounding is the clear weakness for this team. Sabonis led all players with 7.7 rebounds from the bench, but a down season from Myles Turner in the category put the Pacers at a disadvantage. Although they placed in the bottom ten in rebounds, they were able to keep their +/- to just -0.7 rebounds a game, which can be attributed to their efficient shooting. The real issue is that they’re also one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to their opponent’s offensive rebounds per game. In the playoffs, not giving up extra possessions needs to be a priority if they have any hope of getting past the First Round. The Pacers (ironically) played at a slow pace all year, but being one of the slower teams in the league may prove beneficial in the postseason, when the game slows down to a half-court setting.
No matter what happens in the offseason, the significance for this team is that they’ve been able to quickly move on from the Paul George era. Many anticipated a rebuild for this team around Myles Turner, but for them to not only bounce back but to actually improve following George’s exit is huge for the franchise. They’ve substituted one franchise player for another in Victor Oladipo, and the team can go into the playoffs knowing that no one expects them to upset LeBron and the Cavs.
This gives them a license to really go for it, as they’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose. If they can keep the series competitive, and take it to six or seven games, the franchise can mark it as a success. Don’t count them out just yet, they did win the regular season series with the Cavs 3-1, even though the playoffs are a different kettle of fish, and playoff LeBron is a different animal.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
From the ashes of OKC, Victor Oladipo has risen into one of the premier guards in the league. He was a man on a mission, averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He also showed himself to be a very capable defender, leading the league in steals and posting 11th in defensive win shares (for players who played 70 or more games). He came up clutch in many late game situations, and will need to translate his regular season heroics to the postseason if they have any chance of taking down King James and company.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
Myles Turner may look to get more touches in the post now that the game slows down. Despite his down year, Turner needs to wipe the slate clean and try and tap into some of last season’s magic. He shouldn’t be afraid to take those 15 footers if they’re giving them to him, and his ability to stretch the floor from the five will prove crucial for spacing. With Kevin Love set to start at the opposite Center position, he should look to get aggressive early, perhaps getting Love in some foul trouble, in order to help this team.
Written by Timi Awotesu – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.