We are back with another group of statistics that found a way to fly under the radar for the week that was in the NBA. No player is exempt from this collection of far-reaching oddities, pointing out trends that you likely missed in the excitement of watching the games. On days with a full schedule, the top five stats are highlighted, and on days with fewer than five games, I’ll give you a stat from each game. One thing to remember: these stats are current on the day listed. That is, a trend can break as the week progresses, but for that moment in time, the numbers held true.
Without further adieu, the always interesting and never replicated Weekly Stat Pack.
Arron Afflalo has scored at least twice his career average in the majority of games this season. Orlando’s winning percentage, however, is better when he doesn’t.
Kirk Hinrich does whatever it takes to put his team in a position to win. He missed all eight of his three point attempts tonight, as he was clearly aware that it had been almost two years since he last missed five-plus three pointers in a losing effort. The five game win streak in such games was snapped, however, as the Bulls lost in triple overtime (losing four and winning only one of the seven periods played).
There were 49 three point attempts in the Spurs/Hawks game as both teams struggled to get to the free throw line (22 total attempts). The low free throw number is surprising when you consider that there were 90 points scored in the paint. Can you imagine what the ratio would have been if Kyle Korver was active? In a fitting end to an odd game, Tim Duncan knocked down a fall away jumper from the elbow on a designed down screen.
The Jazz are 3-4 since the return of Trey Burke, a major improvement over their 1-11 mark to start the season. They won their second game in a row tonight, but the MVP during the season long winning streak hasn’t been the talented rookie, rather it’s been his backup. Alec Burks is shooting 60% from the field (80% from distance), scoring 17 points, grabbing three rebounds, and turning the ball over once for every nine assists over that stretch.
Paul George is a flat out star and he proved as much by pouring in 43 points against the red hot Portland Trail Blazers tonight. Surprisingly enough, it was the first time in over a year that his point total surpassed his minute total and only the second time in his career.
Starters for the Milwaukee Bucks played 64% of the minutes, yet they were out-rebounded by the reserves. In the same game, there were 76 points scored in the final 12 minutes after just 81 points were scored in the previous 24 minutes.
Andre Drummond has more missed free throws this season (40) than he has career assists (36). I should mention that he is only attempting a shade over three freebies a night.
The Charlotte Bobcats haven’t scored more than 27 points in a quarter in more than a week: the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 27 in the fourth quarter last night.
The 76ers scored 126 points in a double overtime win over the Magic last night and recorded as many offensive rebounds (20) as assists in the process. The effort on the offensive glass (Michael Carter-Williams led the way with seven o-boards) allowed Philadelphia to overcome committing 23 turnovers.
The Grizzlies “big two” on the inside took over, scoring 44 points on 75% shooting while grabbing 21 rebounds and blocking four shots. Not too shabby when you consider that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph missed this game with injuries. Jon Leuer and Ed Davis led Memphis to their most impressive offensive performance in more than a month.
For the first time since February 2012 and just the second time in his career, Ty Lawson recorded more missed shots than assists in a regular season game in which he handed out at least ten dimes.
In 19 games for the Hawks, Paul Millsap has already set a season high in three pointers made. At his current pace, he will match the 31 three pointers he hit in 540 games as a member of the Utah Jazz in just 42 games in Atlanta.
Speaking of the Jazz, they are 3-5 since getting Trey Burke back from injury. Oddly enough, his assist-to-turnover ratio seems to be indirectly correlated with the team’s success. In the five losses, the rookie is handing out five assists per turnover (including a nine to one ratio tonight). In the three victories, his ratio drops to 2.2.
Dwight Howard failed to block a shot for the fourth consecutive game, matching the longest streak of his career. The jury is out as far as what this means, as the Rockets beat the then second best team in the league (San Antonio) but lost to the worst team (Utah) in those four games.
The Thunder are a talented team, but only one player had more than one assist in a losing effort against the Blazers. In fact, 80% of the starting lineup (112 total minutes played) recorded more turnovers than helpers. In contrast, Portland had three players hand out at least five assists, with 80% of their starters notching more dimes than turnovers.
The Knicks beat the Nets and have now won four games on the season. In those four wins, J.R. Smith has attempted a total of 16 shots (he was inactive for two of them). He’s averaging over ten shots per game in losses. Coincidence? I think not.
Blake Griffin made all four of his free throws and handed out at least five assists for the second time this season and fourth time in the last three years. Oddly enough, not a single one of those games have come at home.
The Miami Heat have won nearly 78% of the games since Ray Allen came over from Boston, but they are a mere 3-3 when he attempts at least as many free throws as field goals.
There are four players (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Paul George) who average at least 24 points and are shooting at least 45% from the field. Those four combine to take a shot once every 2.17 minutes of game time, the exact same frequency as Tony Wroten.
I know Kyrie Irving likes to dress up and play in the streets as Uncle Drew, but who is dressed up and playing for the Cavaliers as Irving? He went 0-9 from the field tonight and is now shooting 39.4% for the season. He has made more than half of his field goal attempts just once this season: he had done so four times at this point last season … and he was inactive for nearly half the games!
Who didn’t see this coming? The Celtics, who rank dead last in team assist-to-turnover ratio, handed out 25 helpers and turned the ball over only twice while the Nuggets, a top ten team in AST/TO, had 11 assists and 14 turnovers. The strong passing performance allowed Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, and Kris Humphries to score 58 points on 71.4% shooting from the field.
The Knicks were never as bad as they looked for the first month of the season, but they also are nowhere near as good as they have looked over the past few days (back-to-back 30+ point victories). In those two games, they have made three more three pointers than free throws they have attempted.
The Jazz attempted ten more shots than the Trail Blazers did and outscored them by six in the fourth quarter … and lost by 32. Portland buried 74% of their three point attempts, a greater conversion rate than Utah has from the free throw line this season (news flash: there were NBA players defending while Portland was firing away, something that is not allowed when taking free throws).
This is kind of what we expected to see from the Pistons at times. Their “big three” combined to score 23 points on 9/32 shooting from the field. But their size proved to be too much for the Bulls to handle, as the trio grabbed 36 rebounds, three more than Chicago’s entire starting unit.
LeBron James attempted only five free throws and didn’t once launch a three pointer in the Heat’s nice bounce back win over the Timberwolves. It was the third game this season in which his FTA+3PA was less than six, Miami’s winning those games by an average of 17.7 points.
Robin Lopez has been the definition of a “role player”, a title that may not be sexy, but has significant value. Portland lost to Dallas by two points in a game they would have no chance to win if not for Lopez having more offensive rebounds than the entire Trail Blazers team and attempting only one shot from outside of four feet.
Steph Curry notched his best passing performance of the season, handing out 15 assists and turning the ball over only once. In the previous two games, Curry totaled 15 assists but threw the ball away 11 times.
The Pacers win over the Spurs is a nice confidence booster, but don’t read too much into it as a way of determining playoff power rankings. As expected, San Antonio refused to take any one game too seriously and had only one player (Kawhi Leonard) play more than 26 minutes. The Pacers treated the game as a way to earn respect and played their studs extended minutes (six players played more than 26 minutes). I like the win and think Indiana can compete for a title, but be careful before you declare that they are better than San Antonio on the heels of this impressive victory.
The Celtics beat the Knicks by 23 points in the first quarter: it was less than a month ago when Boston failed to score23 points in a single quarter against the Bobcats.
There were 30 three pointers attempted in the Heat/Pistons game … by players 6’8” or taller.
Dwight Howard pulled down 22 rebounds against the Magic, giving him at least 18 in three straight games. He’s totaled 58 rebounds over that stretch, his best three game total that didn’t include a game against the Bobcats since December of 2010.
Oklahoma City has a ton of play makers, but they are getting nice production from an unexpected source. Heading into tonight’s game, Perry Jones led all Thunder players (minimum of seven home appearances) in points per shot during home games (1.79). He made all three of his field goal attempts in his four minutes of action tonight.
In what felt like a mini TV show titled “Mamba Returns”, Kobe Bryant had twice as many turnovers as the Lakers did fast break points. At their game pace, Toronto would have had to play another 118 minutes without an assist to have twice as many team turnovers as transition points.
Two weeks ago I pressed publish on a ridiculous post. It was a list of players and songs that had become linked in my mind, accompanied by a plea for some basketball mix-makers to breathe life into my ridiculous ideas. I didn’t expect even one response, but so far I’ve been blessed. Yesterday, Jack Maloney of Saving the Skyhook made my Jordan Crawford dreams come true. And today, Hickory-High contributor, Rich Kraetsch, has gone above and beyond. Paul George don’t take no mess and I can’t thank Rich enough for putting it together.
Here’s the rest of my ridiculous list:
Ricky Rubio – “Supertrooper” by ABBA
Derrick Rose – “Running with the Devil” by Van Halen
Carmelo Anthony – “Can’t You See” by The Marshall Tucker Band
We are back with another group of of statistics that found a way to fly under the radar for the week that was in the NBA. No player is exempt from this collection of far-reaching oddities, pointing out trends that you likely missed in the excitement of watching the games. On days with a full schedule, the top five stats are highlighted, and on days with fewer than five games, I’ll give you a stat from each game. One thing to remember: these stats are current on the day listed. That is, a trend can break as the week progresses, but for that moment in time, the numbers held true.
Without further adieu, the always interesting and never replicated Weekly Stat Pack.
In what has become a star driven league, you’d assume that the more involved a team’s best player is the better the results. Such is not the case in Minnesota, as the Timberwolves lost for the sixth time in the last eight games in which Kevin Love attempted at least 20 field goals.
The Warriors beat the undefeated 76ers behind a 32 point outburst by Andre Iguodala, but it was the triple double from Steph Curry that was provided us with a nice little statistic. Golden State won a game in which their star marksman pulled down more rebounds more 3PA, something that had not done since December 28th 2012, a game that also happened to be played in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, Klay Thompson made five field goals (four of which were three pointers) and recorded multiple steals (averages less than one for his career) in both of those games.
The second Zach Randolph steps onto a court, we assume that he is going to produce a double double. However, Z-Bo failed to do so tonight, the second non double double he has tallied early in this season. Surprised? Don’t be. This is the fifth time in six seasons in which he failed to record a double double in at least two of a seasons first five games.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets combined to score208 points, yet didn’t have a single player score more than 18 points. The Los Angeles Clippers racked up 137 points and had three members of their backcourt (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford) score at least 21 points.
LeBron James may have become the fifth player in NBA history to score at least ten points in 500 consecutive games, but he did so in a rare fashion. For the first time since January 2, 2009 (361 games), The King handed out at least eight assists, grabbed at least eight rebounds, and made all eight of his free throws.
Brook Lopez led the Brooklyn Nets to a dominating 16 point win over the winless Utah Jazz with 27 points on only 13 shots. The high point total is nothing new for the 7-footer, but neither is his lack of rebounds. For the 27th time in his last 32 20-point games, Lopez snared fewer than ten rebounds.
Paul George received much of the praise for his Pacers impressive win over the Detroit Pistons, but it was Roy Hibbert who was the most valuable player in this game. He blocked seven more shots, giving him more blocks than any other player in the league … and more than 17 entire teams.
For the second time in four days, the Houston Rockets won a game in which Dwight Howard made at least 70% of his free throws. Howard’s team had only won three of the previous nine such games.
Every starter, and 17 of 18 players who recorded at least 14 minutes, in the Atlanta Hawks win over the Sacramento Kings game attempted a three pointer.
Two days after shooting 52.1% as a team in a 137-118 win over the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers failed to have a single player shoot over 50% in a 98-90 loss at the hands of the Orland Magic.
Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward combined to score 50 points on 34 shots, but they lost to the Celtics, whose starting five managed 53 points on 49 shots.
The Pacers won their fifth straight game and are the last unbeaten team in the NBA. How have they been able to do that? They have won every third quarter this season and are +76 points in the second half games. On the flip side, they have been outscored by an eye popping 42 points in the second quarter.
The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 99-84, continuing a streak of alternating wins/losses to open the season. It was the fourth time in five games in which they gave up at least 99 points: the fourth such instance didn’t occur until December 22 last season.
Ricky Rubio has now played 103 games in his NBA career and has shown the tendency to get stuck in brutal three game shooting slumps. Over his last three games, the third year man has connected on just five of his 26 field goal attempts (19.2%). He has gone through a three game stretch with a lower shooting percentage than that four times in his career.
The Heat made a point of it to take the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands last night, but the point guard managed to real of his sixth consecutive double double to open the season. That stretch matches the sum of all of CP3’s season opening double double streaks in his first eight seasons.
Paul Milsap did all he could to give his Hawks a chance to beat the Nuggets in Denver, recording 29 points on 15 shots, ten rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers. He also made multiple three pointers, a part of Milsap’s game that has developed over the last year or so. In fact, it was his sixth game with multiple three pointers made in the last 369 days after recording just two such games in the first 2,191 days of his NBA career.
The Lakers beat the Rockets behind yet another solid shooting night. In their three wins this season, Los Angeles has scored more points from the free throw line or from behind the three point line (166) than they have anywhere else (154). On the flip side, they’ve scored more points via the two point bucket (152) than FTM/3PM (131) in losses. The Lakers are keeping their head above water for the time being, but this is no way to make a serious playoff run.
With Amar’e Stoudemire a shell of himself and Tyson Chandler out for the next month, the Knicks turned to Andrea Bargnani to pick up the scoring slack. For one night it worked, but the seven-footer stood out on the perimeter for the entire game, something that the Knicks have plenty of. On a roster with almost no interior scoring, you’d think Bargnani might finally develop a short range game, or at least drive to the basket. In five games (119 minutes of action), Bargnani has attempted two, count’em two, free throws and has attempted more three pointers (19) than rebounds grabbed (16).
A prototypical point guard is asked to initiate the offense and set his teammates up for good looks at the basket. It is becoming more and more evident that the Cleveland Cavaliers need someone else to do that and Kyrie Irving to focus almost exclusively on scoring the basketball. He has missed at least ten shots in four of five games this month, with the lone exception being the Cavs lone victory. Interestingly enough, that win was Irving’s worst assist to turnover game (0.67), as he totaled as many turnovers in the game (nine) as he has in the other five games of this season. The assist numbers are nice, but the early season trend seems to be that Irving needs to be an efficient scorer for his Cavs to have a chance.
Bradley Beal scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, helping his Wizards outlast the Nets. He is second in the league in minutes per game (40.6), and Washington is a much better team with him on the court. They have outscored their opponents by 19 during the 200 minutes Beal has been on the court and been outscored by 10 in the sharp shooters 45 minutes of rest.
Speaking of Beal, he ranks behind Josh Smith in terms of three pointers attempted per game. But then again, that is true for all but five players in the NBA. We wondered all off-season what the impact of the Smith/Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond front court would be, and if these first five games are a peak into the future, it is going to be a long season for Detroit. Smith has connected on only ten of his 35 3PA (28.6%), which sounds awful but has actually raised his career 3P%.
The Spurs were able to defeat the high scoring Warriors despite scoring a total of 25 points in the second and fourth quarters combined. How were they able to do that? The Warriors (sans Steph Curry) failed to score more than 22 points in a single quarter after averaging nearly 28 per quarter in the season’s first five games.
The Jazz lost again today, making it seven in a row to open up the 2013-14 season. Gordon Hayward once again paced the offense (24 points on 10/18 shooting) and he once again got very little help. The Jazz have now lost eight straight road games in which Hayward scores at least 20 points (their last such win was in April of 2012).
Most young point guards struggle to find a rhythm in the half court game but find some success in the open court (i.e. Ricky Rubio). Michael Carter-Williams can play the transition game, but I’ve been impressed by his ability to succeed in half court basketball. He tallied 21 points and 13 assists against Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the 76ers only scored four points in transition. Carter-Williams is probably overachieving right now, but his ability to execute is well beyond his years.
Want proof that it’s not how you start a game but rather how you finish? The Indiana Pacers have gone into the half time intermission leading one game and trailing in six. They’ve won the second half of all seven games and are the last unbeaten team in the NBA.
We live in an era that is obsessed with instant gratification, so when J.J. Redick was averaging just over five PPG 76 games into his NBA career, we labeled him a bust. “He was just a catch and shoot guy at Duke, and that doesn’t work in the physical NBA” we said. Well, he has improved his scoring average every season since, and after another 20-plus point performance last night, Redick is averaging just as many points per game this season as Dwight Howard (17.6).
The only two players in the league that are taking at least 15.5 shots per night and making at least half of them were both at it again last night. LeBron James? Nope. Kevin Durant? No dice. Evan Turner (31 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (20-plus for the sixth straight game) are scoring often and efficiently.
The Spurs dominated the Knicks from start to finish in large part due to their ability to clean the glass. Subtract Carmelo Anthony from the picture and the Knicks starters totaled five rebounds in 88 minutes of action. To put that in perspective, Danny Green, who takes over 56% of his shots from beyond the three point line, pulled down ten rebounds in 23 minutes.
Bradley Beal is averaging 25.5 points on games played on November 8-10 and 13.6 points on all other days of the year.
Jrue Holiday had a decent game against the Suns as he scored 16 points on 47.1% shooting from the field, his best FG% up to this point. The slight uptick in shooting percentage is nice, but the Pelicans starting point guard recorded more turnovers than Eric Gordon did assists for the seventh consecutive game.
Home sweet home. Jordan Hill was one of the few Lakers to have a nice game against the Timberwolves as he connected on three of his five field goal attempts for seven points and nine rebounds (six offensive) in 19 minutes of action. Dating back to last season, Hill is now shooting 59.3% from the field at home, including 72.2% this season.
In 1922, an orchestral group called Persimfans formed in the Soviet Union a reflection of the firm Marxist belief that people are created equal. Persimfans itself is the Russian abbreviation for Pervïy Simfonicheskiy Ansambl’ bez Dirizhyora, which in Russian means “First Conductorless Symphony Ensemble.”There was no baton to follow behind and play music off of; this group of musicians was lead by committee, much like their home country ostensibly was. This eventually proved to be an unsuccessful tactic; in music, as in basketball, a group almost always needs a leader in order to be elite. The symphony disbanded after only ten years of playing, and never attempted a comeback.
In both sport and art, the tempo can’t be controlled with multiple people running the show. Classical music is reliant on how it waxes and wanes. With few, if any, vocal performances, the only way to garner the audience’s attention is through having the music change up when needed. Without a conductor, this simply can’t be done effectively; the attention-grabbing moment that is supposed to suck them back in just as their concentration threatens to wander actually turns them off to the main attractions of the show when it floats through the air without a semblance of guidance.
In basketball, teams need a certain player to be the heartbeat of the team. Sometimes there are certain players who take over this responsibility for a night, but when the going gets rough they usually turn to the player that is deemed as “the guy.” Someone is suppose to set the tone for everyone else, and a team is often unable to adjust through the changes of a game without that.
At least for a night, on Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons, Paul George hit that level. George was the conductor and the orchestra, encapsulating his team’s soul on the hardwood like music does to the listener. He was the percussion section laying down the smooth beat with the relative ease with which he made the net snap, coupled with volume similar to a blaring brass section with the alley-oops he was completing.
He was never supposed to be this type of player, however. With an awkward dribble and a jump shot that seemed inconsistent, he was looking to be a three-and-d type player at best. He was supposed to be a complementary player to Danny Granger, easing the load on defense by guarding the opponent’s best player and relieving Danny on the offensive end by hitting open jumpers. Granger was the franchise scorer, and George was never supposed to get in his way.
Last season, when Granger went down, many assumed the Pacers would become a modern-day Persimfans on offense. But a funny thing happened, as George stepped up to take the baton and keep the music flowing. The Pacers soon ran the offense through George as the de-facto number one, and the orchestra-by-committee never even got a chance to take the stage.
Tuesday night, Paul George was introduced in that all important last spot when the starting lineups were announced for both teams. A symbolic moment for what is something that has become more and more apparent this season. Paul is the Pacers’ conductor on the team, and his diverse offensive abilities have become the baton that the other players follow. When the team was down three coming into the third, George broke out for a 14-point quarter that put the team up 11 going into the fourth. This is no surprise however, as the team’s success surely followed behind the baton’s effectiveness in guiding them.
The level in which he lead the Pacers offense was that of a bonafide MVP candidate Tuesday night. The Pacers offense without him would have been utter chaos, yet he played with an aura of composure that was blissful in an ugly Pistons-Pacers slug-fest. Last year, he played as if he was an overwhelmed player trying to emulate a number one option that he had seen in the film room. This year he has been a living breathing version of the player he wants to be. Yet that is beautifully a culmination of his short NBA life. Every single time there is doubt that he could make that next leap, Paul always comes through. He adapts to what is required to him, just as that conductor adapts to the flow of both the music and the crowd provides.
Through four games, George has a 57.7 effective field goal percentage. This is light years apart from last season’s 49.1% mark last year, which is the vast difference of an extraordinary player and a below-average player. This change is statistically the best sample of just how vast a change he has shown as a player already this season. Last season he felt like the off-beat leader of a struggling symphony, but he somehow now is the man behind the podium for the NBA’s last unbeaten, and he looks great doing so.
The Indiana Pacers couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season.
Their record is unblemished – the only of the sort in the NBA – and their latest victory came at the expense of the Chicago Bulls, a team they see as a rival. Paul George is developing into a superstar quicker than you can say Šarūnas Jasikevičius and their defense, which was incredibly lethal in 2012-13, could be even more devastating this season. Roy Hibbert is swatting shots left and right, Lance Stephenson looks as if he was once a lottery pick, not a second-rounder, and the bench has been revamped and rejuvenated by the likes of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson.
Look closer, though, and you’ll see a dilemma on the horizon. See, the message among this Pacers team has been simple: get the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. They don’t want to find themselves in, say, Miami for a Game 7. They saw what can happen in that scenario last year and home-court advantage is now seen as a must.
“We’re competing for a one seed,” head coach Frank Vogel said after last Saturday’s win over Cleveland. “We said from the opening day of training camp, that that’s what we are going after.”
Vogel has the entire roster singing that same tune. Take a trip into their locker room after a game and you’re bound to hear those three words – number one seed – roll off the tongue of at least one Pacer. But accomplishing that is obviously easier said than done, especially when the eventual return of Danny Granger is factored in.
Granger was supposed to return late last season after suffering a knee injury. That didn’t happen. He was then supposed to return for the beginning of this season. That almost happened, but a recent calf strain cancelled that and was said to cost him the first two games. The Pacers are now five games in and Granger is still in a suit with no exact timetable for a return.
The Pacers can take their time with Granger thanks mostly to the play of Stephenson. However, they expect Granger to be a part of this team eventually, but where exactly is the issue. For a team so desperate for the top spot in the East, how much time can they afford to work a player into a rotation that is clicking on all cylinders?
Simply replacing Stephenson’s minutes, along with players like Solomon Hill and Orlando Johnson, won’t be easy. Stephenson has took on a dual role for the Pacers through the first five games. Indiana’s three most used lineups feature him with some combination of Indiana’s regular starters. With that group, Stephenson usually finds himself playing off Hibbert and David West post-ups by spotting up for three and occasionally working pick-and-rolls and running off pin-downs. On the other hand, he’s operating as the primary ball-handler in Indiana’s fourth most used lineup – which is essentially the second unit. Here, he is not only asked to create for himself, but others as well, often through pick-and-rolls with Scola.
Stephenson has shined in both roles early on. He’s made 14 of his 26 three-point attempts (53.8%) and is posting an impressive 57 TS%, a mark that would far and away be a career high. His usage rate has ballooned to 20.9% (was just 14.9% last year), while the assist numbers have increased. It’s reasonable to believe all of this won’t be sustained through the course of the season, especially the outside shooting, but these numbers falling off a cliff seem just as unlikely.
The question then becomes, where exactly does Granger fit in? The original plan was to start him before the calf injury occurred. Which made perfect sense, considering an in-form Granger is something close to a 40% three-point shooter. On paper, he would’ve provided the Pacers a floor-spacer that, just like Stephenson has been doing, can play off the likes of George, Hibbert and West. Alas, he never looked anything close to his former self before this most recent injury. During the preseason, he lacked any kind of explosiveness – even missing layups right at the rim – and shot poorly from deep. One would expect these types of struggles could arise again when he does eventually return.
How many wins this could cost the Pacers is uncertain, but getting a player off injury back up to peak performance, while simultaneously finding a spot for him, can be a tricky situation. All the Pacers have to do is look at the team they just beat from Chicago for an example of it. Who knows, maybe the Pacers will find a way around it. Maybe Granger, if able to find consistent, healthy playing time, will locate his former self. But if not, it could mean the difference between a Game 7 in Miami instead of Indianapolis.
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
Editor’s Note: The Pacers are my team, the one I follow most closely, and often it’s difficult to write about the ones you know the best. Kris Fenrich offered to help me shape my thoughts with a few questions.
Fenrich: You don’t live in Indiana, you’re not related to Reggie Miller or Rik Smits, so how’d you become a Pacers fan? Of all the available icons and franchises in the league, why Indiana?
Ian: I grew up in Upstate New York so there wasn’t a really a strong geographical association with any team. We did have the MSG (the channel, not the delicious synthetic flavoring) so I hated the Knicks. My parents weren’t really sports fans either so I was kind of a nomadic fan when I was growing up. But my aunt was an enormous sports fan and she lived in and around Indianapolis for most of my childhood. We would go to visit her twice a year and almost always go to a Pacers or University of Indiana game while we were there. At that young age, there’s something visceral about the experience of seeing professional athletes in person. It can really solidify a set of sports’ values without you even realizing it.
Fenrich: I’m going to resist the urge to ask why you hated the Knicks because this is about the Pacers. So it was your aunt who turned you onto the Pacers. Have you thanked this aunt recently? Perhaps a Detlef Schrempf throwback is in order. Digressions aside, one of the more ignominious moments in NBA history was the Malice at the Palace. Do you remember where you were? How you felt? Was it one of those things where you weren’t mad as much as you were disappointed?
Ian: I have not purchased a throwback jersey for Aunt Peggy but for some reason I think Rik Smits would be more appropriate than Schrempf.
I don’t remember the exact establishment I was at the evening of the brawl, but it was one of the many fine pubs and taverns that line the streets of Ithaca, NY, where I was living at the time. I worked in a restaurant and my co-workers and I would often celebrate a successful evening of slinging Rigatoni a’la Vodka with an adult beverage or two after the restaurant closed. I remember catching the very end of the brawl footage, being aired on Sportscenter, on a TV at the far end of a very crowded room. I certainly couldn’t hear the explanation from Kenny Mayne, or whoever happened to be working the desk that night. It was utterly and entirely surreal.
I spent the rest of my time in that bar, glued to the TV, waiting for the coverage to recycle so I could see it again. Even watching the full montage of fisticuffs it still didn’t really make sense (unsurprisingly, several room-temperature Black and Tans did nothing to provide clarity). Even now, years later, I’m still more confused than angry about the whole thing. There’s plenty of disappointment at the missed opportunity of that season but I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around how the whole thing actually happened. I couldn’t muster up much anger at the time, or even now, for Ron Artest. I was much angrier with him a year later (after the Pacers’ organization stood by him through the whole affair) when he asked for time off from the team during the season so he could work on his rap album. At that point I would have been more than willing to whip a plastic cup of beer at him.
I know for a lot of Pacers’ fans from this era the brawl is this defining bridge between eras. For whatever reason, I happen to have much stronger memories of the befores and afters.
Fenrich: I have similar memories of being glued directly to the TV, unable to look away. Even my wife, who’s grown weary from non-stop hoops coverage was locked in. That was one of the few moments in hoops history where I can tell you exactly where I was when it happened.
But that was almost nine years ago. A lot has happened since then including the Pacers becoming one of the few franchises that has been able to grow itself organically without the benefit of sunshine, superfriends, mega-marketing opportunities, or tanking (the last Pacers pick inside the top-nine slots was 1989 when they took George McCloud seventh overall). How does it feel to support a team that runs itself the “right way?” You seem too mature to resent the Heats and Lakers of the world, but is there a sense of satisfaction supporting a small-market team that competes at the highest levels despite obvious competitive disadvantages?
Ian: I’m sure almost everyone (except Lakers’ fans, those beautifully unaware gems) that being a fan of a specific team makes it really hard to be objective. Sometimes this mean you obnoxiously overrate and inflate the value of everything your team does, but for me it tends to make me overly-pessimistic and hyper-critical. Until recently it was hard for me to see the Pacers’ as an organization that was doing things the “right way.” They were an organization doing “the best they could.”
I attribute the fact that they never bottomed out hitting the top of the lottery to the fact that they always valued player development. They’ve done a very good job of that and getting the most out of their pieces so they often overachieved. When I look at the successful draft picks they’ve had over the past few years – Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson, Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough – I don’t see a grand plan being implemented with this year’s team as the end game. It just looked like a solid job of finding value from the best player available.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the players the Pacers have and the way they’ve conducted themselves as an organization. It does give a sense of superiority that this team was built without money and talent as the sole guiding factors. But it also doesn’t feel like a brilliantly subversive front office is pulling the strings like in Houston and San Antonio.
Fenrich: Couldn’t valuing player development be the grand plan? I mean, even going back to Danny Granger, you’ve got this exceptional home grown talent accompanied by strong a combination of trade and free agent acquisitions (George Hill and David West). It seems very deliberate, if not as exciting as their Texan counterparts.
Speaking of Hill, do your thoughts ever drift back to 2011 when Indy drafted a young man with large hands named Kawhi Leonard and proceeded to trade him to the Spurs for Hill? Hill’s the rightful starter and integral cog in the Pacers’ wheel while Leonard would’ve created redundancy where Granger and George were concerned. As Leonard blossoms into a big-mitted Swiss army knife of sorts, do you ever watch Spurs games and imagine Kawhi in a Pacers jersey, swiping passes and tossing the ball up court to a sprinting and eventually dunking George? Did your guys screw up here?
Ian: I’m splashing shades of gray all over the place and doing a poor job of drawing distinctions between the Rockets, Spurs and Pacers. It seems like the Rockets and Spurs set this course because they had gathered all the available information and decided that this was the best path for their franchise. It feels like the Pacers set this course because they found themselves in a difficult situation and weren’t sure what else to do. But again, I’m talking about feelings with a lack of any actual and specific knowledge. Perhaps it’s the rampant midwestern, humble shoulder-shrugging running throughout the organization that just makes it seem like they’ve stumbled into success.
On Leonard, I think about him all the time. I was actually watching the draft that year, a luxury I don’t often get these days. As it become more and more clear he was going to fall into the Pacers’ lap I was getting more and more giddy. But strangely, as soon as the trade was announced, my giddiness was transferred to a different account. The trade made that much sense. Looking backwards it’s tough to say that it was a mistake. Keeping Leonard would have meant Darren Collison, or some other similarly small disaster, still running the point. The defensive system which has carried the Pacers so far simply wouldn’t function as well with anything but Hill’s length and quickness out front. Leonard’s future is incredibly tantalizing but I’m actually fine with the way this worked out, sacrificing some measure of talent for a significantly better personnel fit. Now, if the Pacers had taken Jrue Holiday or Jeff Teague with the 13th pick in 2009 instead of Tyler Hansbrough (another huge fork in the road for this organization) then keeping Leonard would have been a no-brainer.
Fenrich: Sticking with Hill, I’m well known for overlooking his play. He’s a long-armed, confident point who plays within his abilities (an underrated trait in this league) and like so many of the Pacers, fits into Coach Vogel’s system. How do you feel the new acquisitions (C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, rookie Solomon Hill, and to a different degree, a healthy Granger) fit into this defensively disciplined group? After all, the same core that took the two-time defending champion Miami Heat to a seven-game series is throwing several newer variables into the equation. While I love the Watson and Scola additions, is there any trepidation around Scola’s lack of defense or Granger assimilating into a new role?
Ian: On an individual basis there are plenty of questions about fit. Does Watson have anything to contribute on offense from the pick-and-roll? Can Scola and Copeland offer any sort of defensive resistance on the interior? Will Solomon Hill’s defensive contributions be outweighed by offensive limitations, ruling out a regular spot in the rotation? Can Granger stay healthy? Can he defend his position anymore? Does he start, or come off the bench? But in the aggregate this new depth (in theory) offers a significant upgrade in versatility and the potential to be mixed and matched depending on the opponent.
Last season Frank Vogel basically had to milk his starting unit for every possession he could and then fling units at the wall hoping something would stick until the starting five were ready to go again. There was an instant drop-off when even one of the starters went to the bench and resting three or four of them at the same time was basically waving the white flag for a two-minute stretch. All these new pieces mean that the Pacers have more than one five-man unit they can count on to produce. And I don’t just mean the starters handing things off to the bench guys en masse. But it’s the potential to move Granger in and out of the lineup for either Stephenson or George. It’s the opening to play a defensively destructive backcourt of George, Watson and Hill for stretches. Scola can come in for West and fill the same offensive role without sacrificing significant portions of their playbook. West and Scola can play together on certain nights stretching their offensive possibilities. Any questions about fit are less threatening for the Pacers this year because they (again, theoretically) have so many more possible answers than they have had in the past.
Fenrich: The newfound versatility that accompanies the new acquisitions combines with last year’s playoff run to create an increased set of expectations. Meanwhile, Brooklyn and Chicago come into the season with improved rosters — at least on paper. And of course Miami is still the favorite.
With those factors in mind, what are fair expectations for Indiana? What equates to success? To failure?
Ian: Over the last few years I think the Pacers organization has revealed itself to be nothing if not pragmatic. They understand the opportunities and limitations in front of them as well as anyone. The ultimate goal would be a title but that ultimate goal often requires the imposition of circumstances outside of a team’s control. I think the Pacers know that they best they can do is keep improving and put themselves in position to take advantage of whatever fate hands to them. So it maybe that the best way to measure success for the Pacers this season is not necessarily on the final outcome but on the improvements they make to the process. If we break that process down I think there’s a few components to look at.
Can the Pacers be a force during the regular season? Last year they got off to a rocky start and for extended stretches really struggled to beat playoff teams. Obviously there were mitigating factors but the Pacers team we saw in the playoffs was much better than the one we saw for most of the regular season. The challenge this year is to duplicate that playoff effort and extend it across 82 games. The idea is not to go undefeated, but it’s to avoid losses to weaker teams, win statement games against the top teams, play consistently on the road and refine what they do at both ends of the floor.
Can Paul George and Roy Hibbert replicate what they did during the playoffs? Both players took dramatic leaps forward in the playoffs last season playing much more complete and composed games than they did during the regular season. It’s easy to chalk that up as player development and assume it’s now the status quo for each player, but it’s really important for each to show that they can sustain that kind of production and effort across the peaks and valleys of an entire season.
Can the bench really turn into a net positive? As we talked about above the Pacers desperately need this rebuilt bench to perform. Not as a standalone unit, but as a patch that can fill holes in the framework of the starters when they need to rest. The ability to throw different looks at an opponents will still maintaining the same basic offensive and defensive structure adds a dimension the Pacers just didn’t have last season.
Can the Pacers build an efficient offense? For a big chunk of the season they were a below-average offense and scoring consistently was especially difficult whenever the five starters weren’t playing together. The Pacers don’t need to be a top-five offense to have a successful season but they need to make overall improvements in both consistency and versatility, finding ways for the new players to contribute their own specific talents.
It’s certainly not fun to try and turn a blind eye to the way a season ends, taking the pragmatic approach and saying that success comes from making small, steady improvements. I’d like to see the Pacers in the Finals as much as anyone. But the thing that seems most important right now is to maintain a focus on getting better, every day and in many ways. The end will take care of itself.
The scheduling gods took favor on me and I’m happily able to present a second episode this week. Today we have a conversation with Grantland’s Zach Lowe. We talked about the league’s new investment in the SportVU camera system, Kawhi Leonard, the Knicks, the Pacers and how Zach watches basketball.
Paul George is far different from the peers in his talent group. Ignoring post players, nearly every single one of them is an elite creator or shooter, or some mixture of both. Meanwhile George has a dribble that’s too high to be continuously effective and sported an eFG% that was under 50% last season. Still, George in many ways deserved his All-Star team spot and Most Improved Player accolades last season.
The players who are comparable to George in skill-set, and comparable in overall talent and effectiveness, are non-existent for this era in basketball. Even Andre Iguodala - a defender George likely tries to emulate – can dribble the ball, and Iggy unfairly is considered by many to be a step below Paul. The 23-year-old Fresno State prospect is from an archetype abyss, a player with very few precedents in the league.