Pacers go all in on defense

USA TODAY Sports

In a league obsessed with scoring, the Pacers have been criticized for over paying for two defensive juggernauts that lack the superstar prowess on the offensive end. Indiana will pay a very large amount of money to two players that haven’t proven themselves offensively. But just because the Pacers are valuing defense over offense, doesn’t mean they have over paid for Paul George or Roy Hibbert.

The only team in the NBA last season to have two players in the top five in defensive win shares was the Indiana Pacers. Paul George led the league with 6.3 DWS, while Hibbert tied with Tim Duncan for fourth with 4.9 DWS. It is the first time since the 2007-08 season that a team has had two players in the top five of DWS, when Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics accomplished the feat.

With George getting his five year $90 million contract, the top defensive team in the NBA is going all in on defense. They will be paying the George-Hibbert duo nearly $34 million in the 2014-15 season. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be paying a little more than that for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, while the Miami Heat will be paying just over $40 million for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The difference in these duos is that the Thunder and Heat and are paying up for offense, while the Pacers are going on the defensive. Last season Durant posted the second highest offensive win share, while Westbrook placed eighth. The Thunder were the only team to have two players in the top 10 in OWS. James led the NBA in OWS, while Wade finished 16th, in a down year for him. Wade has had multiple seasons finishing in the top 10 in OWS.

For Indiana, offense was a struggle last season, and it shows with George placing 101st and Hibbert placing 175th in OWS. Both players were much better in the OWS category in the playoffs as George, who had a 2.1 regular season OWS, placed a 0.9 OWS in the playoffs. That equates to .03 OWS per game in the regular season and .05 OWS per game in the playoffs. Hibbert actually had more OWS, 1.9, in 19 playoff games, than he did in 79 regular season games, 1.3.

Indiana is bucking a trend in the NBA that allows for offensive superstars to get paid big money, while defensive players get undervalued. The Pacers have decided to fully invest in two defensive superstars, who are coming along on the offensive side of the ball. George and Hibbert have the potential to grow offensively. And they need to. If George and Hibbert can become consistent offensive threats, their contracts will look like bargains.

Ultimately, don’t let the lack of quality defensive stats let you think these salaries are too high. Yes, both players need to become better offensive players to really be worth $34 million. But basketball is played on two ends of the court, and if player after player can be worth a max deal because they play well on the offensive end and not so well on the defensive end, then George and Hibbert can be worth all of that money for their defensive presence.

Credit to Sham Sports for the salary info and Basketball Reference for the win shares stats.

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