PACE #5 97.4
OFF #22 101.9
DEF #12 103.4
The Pacers were the only losing record team that was still able to reach the playoffs last season. They were only able to achieve that because midway in the season they changed their head coach, with former assistant coach John Vogel becoming the team’s head coach. After this change, the team’s results improved significantly, as the Pacers had a 17-27 record with O’Brien as a coach, but after Vogel took charge of the team, Indiana had a positive record of 20-18. However, as we are going to see a bit later in this preview, statically there weren’t a lot of differences between the O’Brien era and the Vogel era…
Over the last few years, the Pacers were known for being a fast paced team with a good offense, but with an atrocious defense. However, last season were still a fast paced team, but this time they managed to play good defense! They were 12th in the league in defensive efficiency and it was really tough to score against them near the basket, as they were 7th in the league in points in the paint allowed with 38.8 ppg and the 4th best defense at the rim by allowing just 61.2% FG. They couldn’t be so effective in defending the perimeter, but we are talking about a top 10 defensive team.
This fact should have been enough for the Pacers to be competitive on a weak Central division, but the truth is that Indiana struggled like every other team in that division not named Chicago.
The problem of the Pacers was really once again their static offense. Last season, the Pacers had already been the 5th less efficient offensive team in the league. For a team who plays almost at a run-and-gun kind of pace, being just 17th ranked in fast break points with 13.9ppg is quite poor. The Pacers was also just 24th in points in the paint by averaging 38.4ppg. Their incapacity of creating easy points combined with the mark of 48.56 eFG% during the regular season made the Pacers look like a mediocre offensive team. Did that change since Vogel took over the team? Not really. Indiana continued to shoot poorly and commit a lot of turnovers. The only difference in a positive way was that the Pacers were much more aggressive on the offensive end.
They started searching for the offensive board and they attacked the basket to get to the free throw line. Indiana averaged 17.1 points from the free throw line and 12.7 second chance points during the O’Brien era. They upped those numbers into 22.1 points from the free throw line and 14.6 second chance points under Vogel.
With Vogel as head coach, Indiana won 7 of their first 8 games, but then the struggles appeared again and the team continued to be way too inconsistent. To illustrate that, I only need to show the result of one game: a 75-101 loss against the Wolves, where they shot 29.6% from the field, 4-23 3PTS while having 7 assists and 18 turnovers!!!
Already in the playoffs, the Pacers were a tough opponent for the first seed Chicago Bulls. The reasons were the same I’ve already talked about. Indiana was an underrated defensive team that is hard to score near the basket and the Bulls didn’t have a good interior presence – remember Boozer’s struggles in this series? Also in this series, Indiana went to the line and battled with Chicago for the boards. Somehow, the Pacers are a poor version of the Bulls and so, they offered a tough challenge to Chicago.
For this season, Vogel will be the full time head coach and the Pacers will be bringing their main core of players from last season. We can expect Indiana to be a fast paced team again with a good defense. The challenge will be to improve offensively.
Darren Collison will now be in the year two in the Pacers organization. Last season he had identical numbers from those in his rookie year in New Orleans. His court vision wasn’t the best for a PG and in several times he wasn’t on the floor during the crunch time. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Pacers lack of a good ball movement. The good news is that Collison is a young player and he will likely improve his deficiencies.
Danny Granger proved last season that he isn’t an elite player what we all expected him to be. Last season was the 4th season in a row where he couldn’t shoot above 45%. Note that I’m not talking about a SF shooting near the 50% FG mark, I’m talking about the 45% mark and Granger couldn’t even reach this level over the past four seasons! He may score above 20 points per game, but he is hurting the team because those numbers are reached for him being a high volume shooter and not for his shooting efficiency.
Indiana struggled from the perimeter and to solve these problems, they traded to get OJ Mayo from Memphis. Mayo becomes immediately the best pure shooter in the Pacers roster. He is coming from a poor season where he shot just 40.7% FG and was replaced in the lineup by Tony Allen. However, Mayo wasn’t clearly a fit in the Hollins system, but he can be a valuable piece in Indiana.
The pivotal area that the Pacers had to figure out during the offseason was the frontcourt. Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough are hard working players that add hustle in every play and it’s surely tough to score against them. However, they didn’t bring anything special to the team offensively. Hibbert is still a center that shot 46.1% from the field last season and Hansbrough’s lack of size prevents him from being a dangerous offensive player. To address this problem, Indiana signed David West on a 2-years contract. West is coming from a season ending knee injury, so his health may be a concern in the future and that was most likely the main reason why Indiana only offered him a 2-years contract. Nevertheless, a healthy West is a solid player who will get the team 20 points per game while shooting close to the 50% FG mark. His solid mid-range game will open up the floor the Pacers as well. We must also not forget that Collison played with him in New Orleans during his rookie season, so we can expect some nice early chemistry between the two players.
With the same level of defense that the Pacers played in the last two seasons, Indiana will surely be a competitive team with an improved offense. In my opinion, a healthy David West will be the X factor for a potential offensive improvement or not. The East is getting stronger this year, so if the Pacers keep the same level from last year, they won’t be able to fight for a playoff spot this season.