The Indiana Pacers have been on a roller coaster start alternating between blowing opponents out and getting blown out in their first four games, winning twice easily at home and losing while not playing well twice on the road.
The most important thing to remember about these games: it’s early. It’s a long season. The Pacers will have good nights and bad ones. It’s important to not overreact to any single one of them in a negative or positive way.
Here are some interesting statistics and notes from the first four games in no particular order:
Myles Turner leads the league in screen assists per game:
In only 25 minutes per game (due to foul trouble and blowouts), Myles Turner leads the league in screen assists at 6.8 per game. The next four players coming right after him (Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Tristan Thompson, Enes Kanter) are all playing over 30 minutes per game. The next closest Pacer to Turner’s 6.8 is Domas Sabonis at 3 per game.
Part of this is the sheer amount of picks that Turner sets because of the Pacers abundance on pick-and-roll plays and the off-ball screens he sets as well, but it’s also an improvement over last season when he averaged 4 per game, which was still tied for 9th in the NBA. As with all numbers at this time, it is a small sample size but there are encouraging anecdotal evidence here as well.
Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows has noted that Turner has gotten better at adjusting the angle of his screen on the fly which helps the ball handler.
Turner still needs to improve on his awareness for when and how to slip the screen and not set the pick if the defense is overly aggressive but he’s shown flashes of being capable.
The Pacers aren’t getting deflections as often
Once again a very small sample size alert, but the Pacers struggles on defense could be connected to them not getting their hands in passing lanes nearly as often as the previous season.
Thad Young’s deflections have dropped in half from 3.6 per game to 1.8 per game. Victor Oladipo, whose steal streak came to a close with two straight games to open the season without a steal, has dropped from 3.8 deflections to just 1 per game.
As a team the Pacers were second in the NBA last season with 16.3 per game. This season they rank 11th as that number has fallen to 7.5. This has a direct correlation to the team’s steals ranking as well as they’ve dropped from 3rd (8.8) in the NBA to 17th (6.8) this season.
This hasn’t affected their defense overall as they still rank 5th in the league in net rating on that end, but it has hurt the team’s ability to create easy buckets and transition opportunities on offense. The Pacers also are playing at one of the slowest paces in the league at 99.75 which ranks 27th partially due to their lack of fast break chances and partially due to their coach being Nate McMillan and the team having no focus on playing fast like the beginning of the last two seasons only to end up being slow by the end of the year.
Pacers still behind the times with the 3-point line
The Milwaukee Bucks game was the most striking one with the 3-point line but it’s really been a consistent theme throughout McMillan’s tenure with the Pacers.
The Pacers added more shooting to the roster this season with Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott both 40% or better from the 3-point line and already shot the ball well from distance as a team last year, ranking 9th in the league at 36.9%. This year, small sample size alert, the Pacers rank 2nd in the NBA at 42.6%.
The problem, however, isn’t how well the Pacers shoot from deep. It’s how little their offense creates those 3-point looks. The Pacers rank just 29th in the league in 3-point attempts.
If they shot more threes, their percentage would certainly go down, but if they turned those numerous mid-range shots into more 3-pointers, they’d also score more points and be much more efficient on offense. Ranking so highly in percentage and so low in attempts should be sign for the Pacers that they aren’t shooting enough of them.
The Bucks, in particular, showed how math can win you games when you design an offense around the 3-point line and layups/dunks and get your opponent to accept the dare of taking the inefficient mid-range shots. The Pacers repeatedly accepted the pleas of their defense as Brook Lopez or another big simply dropped back in pick and roll coverage to make the mid-range shot more enticing to a team known for taking them. (This is the same pick and roll defense that the Pacers once played with Roy Hibbert before the focus of offenses became creating 3-point shots and spreading the floor.)
The Pacers took the inefficient shot especially Oladipo and Darren Collison that night often very early in the shot clock without trying to probe the defense for better looks or moving the ball. The Pacers hit their usual amount of these shots but the Bucks took 47 3-pointers on the other end, making 17 of them.
The Pacers meanwhile attempted just 16 that night. The next night the Pacers made 16 of their 24 attempts from long distance. An improvement yes, but when you shoot a ridiculous 67% from long range, shouldn’t that be a sign that you should try and create more of those looks from outside?
The Pacers have some nice actions that they run for Doug McDermott, like this one that is similar to a play that the Warriors run for Klay Thompson.
But he also goes through entire games where he only gets one or two attempts.
Bojan Bogdanovic has made an unbelievable 10 of his first 13 3-pointers this season. He needs to be getting more of those shots. There are four players in the NBA that take over 10 attempts from three per game. Yes, those players can create their own looks much better than Bogey can but the offense as a whole is stuck in the past compared to many teams.
Domantas Sabonis might average a double double coming off the bench
With the Pacers emphasis on rebound, Sabonis has really crashed the glass this season. While he missed one game due to injury, he’s averaging 11.7 rebounds in just under 23 minutes per game and the numbers were similar in his minutes in preseason.
I don’t know what the record is for fewest amount of minutes played while averaging a double double but Sabonis could come close to it if this keeps up. Even when he played limited minutes, he got 8 points and 7 rebounds in 17 minutes. If he keeps having nights were rebounds in the teens, that will balance out nights like the last game and make his double double average even more of a possibility.
The Pacers have a great luxury of two young centers that are both playing very well right now.
Myles Turner’s improved patience and moves in the post
One more Turner-related note to finish this one out, Turner has shown many things in the post that he hadn’t in the past already this season but the biggest one has been his patience.
Don’t be fooled by Turner’s overall points per game. He’s getting better. He’s just not getting additional opportunities. Turner is averaging about the same amount of points as last season despite being 6th in team usage, his jump shot not falling at the rate that it normally does, and playing less total minutes.
The main reason is he’s finishing inside more often than last season and doing it in a variety of ways. Watch the patience on this play as the defender fakes the double team before retreating back to his man as Turner calmly takes his time and knocks down the Dirk-homage fadeaway.
Turner’s also hit little jump hooks and shown the same patience on this play whenever a defender is coming to help. He’s only averaging one post-up possession per game but he’s shooting 75% on those chances, which is a crazy number for a shot that’s typically inefficient. He’s hitting tough shots with his off-hand after spin moves like this one.
He’s been fronted in the post on switches when they’ve happened and the Pacers haven’t been able to get the ball to him on those scenarios as the window is tight and the help defense has looked ready to pounce on any attempt over the top. That’s something the Pacers will want to figure out how to beat better. Myles does a good job of helping Thad out in a similar situation here.
Something that might be the issue for Turner is that he goes for the low position in the post but that leaves limited space if the defender fronts. He might have to find the balance between posting a little higher so the team can get him the ball in both situations.