The Curious Case of the Indiana Pacers’ offensive talent vs results
With a 38-23 record, the Pacers are in contention for the 2nd seed in the East and on pace for 51 Ws. In judging their talent alone it’s easy to see why. Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have all made all-star teams, giving them SF-PF-C rotation that can hang with anyone’s. Add in another respectable starter in George Hill and a few other respectable players like Lance Stephenson and Ian Mahimni and the Pacers have the horses to be a top 3 seed.
What makes the Pacers interesting is how they are exceptional defensively and below average offensively, ranking 1st in DRTG and 20th in ORTG. The latter rank is even an improvement over where they sat before the all-star break. The Pacers are a classic example of a team that expects to suffocate a team defensively, then score just enough points to win.
The reason I find this interesting is it’s clear the Pacers have above average offensive talent. Starting with their star frontline, both West and Hibbert have impressive post skill as well as shooting range, opening the frontcourt for drivers. Then there’s their star of this season George, who’s shooting and spacing at small forward is a valuable asset in any offense. All 3 have exceptional intelligence and feel for the game to go along with their offensive skill, making them great offensive talents. While the Pacers’ guard play is not their strength, Hill and Stephenson can get to the rim and make plays which is all that’s asked of them.
Look at some of the teams ahead of the Pacers in team ORTG: Sacramento, New Orleans, Cleveland, Toronto. These are very flawed offensive teams, lacking in skill, spacing and cohesion/intelligence on that end. All 4 of those teams are also ahead of the the 2nd best defensive team in the league the Memphis Grizzlies, who rank 19th in ORTG despite talented offensive horses like Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
What’s likely is the value of the Pacers and Grizzlies offensive talent, actually shows up in their DRTG. By playing with better offensive teammates, more energy can be expended on the defensive end. Moreso maybe simply because Frank Vogel and Lionel Hollins will it, the Pacers and Grizzlies are more likely to take plays off offensively, than they do defensively. This seems especially true of the role players, who’s minutes are constantly on a hook. Presume Vogel and Hollins pull a role player if his defensive effort lapses, while an offensive coach like Mike D’Antoni lets that end determines who stays on the floor. With a different coach the Pacers’ ORTG may be top 10-15 matching their talent, but the cost may be defense. Not to disrespect their defensive talent, as they have as much length and intelligence on that end as anyone.
Finally in regards to the Pacers, even if they’re 20th in the league in ORTG, they still have to score enough points to win every game. Any team on pace for over 50 Ws, still requires a lot of offensive production. George, West, Hibbert and co. deserve credit on that end for the reason that, it could be worse.
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