Be on the lookout for the Pacers identity

Michael Hickey

It’s just preseason, but the Pacers first three exhibition games have left fans wondering where the team's hustle has gone?

At Media Day, Frank Vogel emphatically stated that his team wanted to compete to win every possession - preseason, regular season, and postseason. He said that the 2013-2014 Pacers would still be able to be identified by their Smashmouth brand of basketball. Meaning they would be known for their relentless defense, tenacious rebounding, offensive physicality, and selfless passing.

Yet, thus far in the preseason, those aforementioned characteristics have been almost completely missing in action. Just take a look at the statistics:

Rebounding Deficit: In both contests, last season's top rebounding squad has failed to pound the glass. In fact, in the team's first preseason game against the Chicago Bulls, the Pacers gave up 7 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. Even if Derrick Rose added five inches to his vertical jump like he claims, he definitely should not have been able to rebound his own floater attempt with four Pacers (George Hill, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert) in the paint.

Here are the numbers:

October 5, Bulls @ Pacers: - 28

Chicago Bulls: 39 (defensive rebounds), 17 (offensive rebounds) = 56 Total Rebounds(Note: Joakim Noah DNP)
Indiana Pacers: 17 (defensive rebounds), 11 (offensive rebounds) = 28 Total Rebounds

October 10, Rockets @ Pacers: - 6

Houston Rockets: 38 (defensive rebounds), 7 (offensive rebounds) = 45 Total Rebounds
Indiana Pacers: 28 (defensive rebounds), 11 (offensive rebounds) = 39 Total Rebounds

October 13, Pacers @ Rockets: -11

Indiana Pacers: 32 (defensive rebounds), 3 (offensive rebounds) = 35 Total Rebounds
Houston Rockets: 35 (defensive rebounds), 11 (offensive rebounds) = 46 Total Rebounds

Fighting a Losing Battle in the Paint: Frank Vogel has said, in the past, that he wants the Pacers to "play with physicality inside and be the stronger team." If the Pacers are going to be successful without a top tier offense, they have to corral offensive rebounds for second chance points, pound the ball inside where their opponents are typically weakest, and score in transition. It is also essential that they contain dribble drives, force turnovers, and continue to play their stingy brand of defense that propelled them to the ECF. Unfortunately, the Pacers were out hustled and muscled for most of their first two preseason contests.

Here are the numbers:

October 5, Bulls @ Pacers: - 8

Points in the Paint:

Chicago Bulls: 32
Indiana Pacers: 24

October 10, Rockets @ Pacers: - 20

Points in the Paint:

Houston Rockets: 62
Indiana Pacers: 42

October 13, Pacers @ Rockets: - 6

Points in the Paint:

Indiana Pacers: 32
Houston Rockets: 38

Failure to Stop the Ball in Transition: After the Rockets 20 point victory over the Pacers, Coach Vogel stated, "I just think they're a speedy team, and we got to work better on our ball containment and our transition defense." It is possible that this might be an understatement. For most of the Pacers preseason match-up with the Rockets, it appeared that Houston was in a lay-up line during warm-ups, rather than playing against one of the league's top tier defenses. According to Zach Lowe of Grantland, last season, the Pacers allowed a mere 10 fast-break points per game. This is the lowest figure in the league in the past five seasons. Disappointingly, this has not been the case thus far in preseason play.

Here are the numbers:

October 5, Bulls @ Pacers: - 8

Fast Break Points:

Chicago Bulls: 20
Indiana Pacers: 12

October 10, Rockets @ Pacers: - 13

Fast Break Points:

Houston Rockets: 26
Indiana Pacers: 13

October 13, Pacers @ Rockets: - 4

Fast Break Points:

Indiana Pacers: 10
Houston Rockets: 14

As the numbers indicate, for most of the first three games, the Pacers unique brand of basketball has yet to make much of an appearance this preseason.

Be that as it may, the good new is this is just preseason. The games do not count for anything. There is no preseason trophy, rings, or banners.

Preseason games are often known for their sloppiness. They leave spectators wishing for the implementation of a running clock. Oftentimes, coaches resemble mad scientists experimenting with line-ups in order to discover the perfect rotation concoction for the regular season - and beyond. Rookies and the rehabbing are given ample run time, while stars and starters may be watching from the sidelines.

In their first two games, the Pacers played deeper into their benches than their opponents. While in Manilla, the Rockets starters played collectively 20+ more minutes than Indiana's first unit. Lance Stephenson played only 12 minutes, while Donald Sloan (the third string point guard) recorded 15 minutes of action. The Pacers are attempting to bring two players (Danny Granger and Chris Copeland) back from surgery - rust and all. They are also trying to incorporate an entirely new bench into their defensive system. Coach Vogel pointed this out after the game against Houston, stating, "Those guys still have a ways to go in terms of learning our system."

Optimistically speaking, many of the things the Pacers have struggled with in their first three exhibition games are things they have already proven themselves more than capable of doing in the past. They have struggled pounding the glass, but, last season, they led the league in rebounding (Roy Hibbert boarded 14.8 percent of Indiana's misses last season, second only to Reggie Evans, per Grantland) Their defense has looked lackadaisical, but, last season, they led the league in FG% defense, 3PT% defense, and transition defense.

Given these impressive statistics, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Pacers are incapable of living up to their identity of relentless defense, tenacious rebounding, offensive physicality, and selfless passing this season.

As of now, Smashmouth basketball may be missing in action, but be on the lookout because it is almost a sure thing that it will return sooner rather than later - maybe as early as October 16 at home against the Dallas Mavericks?

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