For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of big (like, HUGE) wins, I thought it best to focus on something that is all too rare in the NBA: noticeable chemistry.
This team likes each other. Whether it’s in-game and post-game dancing, late-night motivational visits, or the willingness to share the ball, this team is showing us that despite (or maybe because of?) so many new faces, they are not struggling to trust one another.
The Pacers are in the top 5 for assists per game (23.9). Last season, they finished in the bottom half of the league (22.5), tied for 16th. That difference is small, but the margins in the NBA are small for a reason and matter for a reason. Every team is attempting to maximize their potential, and so is every player. It’s why a team is willing to give a 40+% career 3-point shooter like J.J. Redick $23 million but “only” give a 35% career 3-point shooter like Tim Hardaway Jr. $16.5 million. Redick only makes, roughly, 0.3 more threes per game than Hardaway Jr., but that margin matters. Did I happen to use two of the sketchiest contracts in the league from two teams I actively dislike? I did. Cheers, Knicks and Philly fans!
So, a team averaging more than one more assist per game from the previous season shows significant growth, and in order for that growth to occur, chemistry must be present. As a quick aside, let me give you my quick definition of chemistry in the NBA: players liking each other, both on and off the court, proven and reaffirmed consistently.
“The camaraderie on this team is incredible,” Turner said after the Heat game. “We get along so well on and off the court. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface yet.”
Not only are the Pacers sharing the ball more, they are sharing it with the opposing team less, despite averaging four more possessions per game. More assists is one thing, more possessions and fewer turnovers on those possessions is another. This shows that players trust where another player will be: just look at this beautiful backdoor pass from Sabonis, who seems to have chemistry with everyone, that he hits about once per game for a Dipo dunk.
Offensively, the Pacers have shown us they are willing to let the hot hand have it and the open man take the shot. This team, despite having some big personalities, have smaller egos. Oladipo has stepped up into a leadership role and has been everything you could ask for in a star player early in his tenure with a new team, and Thaddeus Young has a veteran voice that resonates when he calls something out.
“We’re not just depending on one person or two people to get us over the top,” Thaddeus Young said after the Pistons game. “We do it by committee. We all play a vital part on the court in what we do as a team.”
However, I will end with a warning. Chemistry in the NBA is a toddler tower carefully built, block by colored block, that can be destroyed in one tantrum. We all know the Pacers great chemistry from 2013-14 went to hell rather quickly. Let’s enjoy this chemistry and hope this team continues to have this much fun playing together.