Pacers need to get the ball moving

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

According to Rajon Rondo, the league's reigning assists champion, passing the ball is contagious. After evaluating league rankings, advanced stats, and Player Tracking data, what are the chances the Pacers could become infected with the pass-first state of mind?

"I just think it was a trickle-down effect," said the Celtics' fiery floor general. "When one guy has it going, as far as passing the ball, it's contagious..." In this case, "has it going" might just be a massive understatement. In a 118-111 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, Rajon Rondo - the Pacers' next opponent - tallied 18 assists without committing a single turnover. On the year, the Celtics are only averaging 20.3apg, but, on this particular aforesaid night, the team managed to assist on 38 of their 47 made field goals. Therefore, perhaps, as Rondo astutely stated, a pass-first state of mind can, in fact, be infectious. For the Pacers' sake, contracting the assist contagion would most definitely not be to their detriment.

Now, mind you, the Celtics (22-41) are well below .500, but, for comparison sake, take a look at the Pacers' passing numbers from their most recent game against the Dallas Mavericks. As a team, Indiana recorded a mere 14 assists (four fewer than Rondo dished) on 32 made field goals. Admittedly, the Pacers do not have a true point guard on their roster and pride themselves on being a balanced attack, but tallying a collective negative assist-to-turnover ratio (14 assists; 20 turnovers), is a problem.

On the season, the Pacers rank just 26th in the league in total assists, 26th in assist-to-turnover ratio, and 24th in assist ratio (number of assists a team averages per 100 possessions). As a team, they have assisted on 55.3% of their field goals, good for 24th in the league. From these statistics and league rankings alone, it seems fairly clear that the Pacers could benefit from having, at least, one of their guys getting "it going" when it comes to unselfish passing.

Unfortunately, per NBA.com's Player Tracking data (only filtering those players that average at least 28mpg), the Pacers' individual assist numbers do not offer much of a silver lining. Lance Stephenson (37th) is the only player on Indiana's roster to rank in the top 50 of players in terms of assists per game (5.0). Adding insult to injury, and quite possibly more telling, is that no one donning a Blue and Gold uniform ranks in the top 25 of secondary assisters. This, despite the fact that four of the Pacers' starters (George Hill, 55.2; Paul George, 45.8; David West, 44.0; and Lance Stephenson 39.3) all rank in the top 50 in terms of total passes per game.

Obviously, these individual numbers present several problems for the Pacers' offense. The lack of hockey assists can most likely only be explained away by stagnant offense, or, put more simply failing to make the extra pass (i.e. lack of ball reversals and multiple passes). However, each starter recording a relatively high volume of passes per game in comparison to earned dimes seems to highlight some other offensive deficiencies.

For instance, are the Pacers failing to record assists as a result of bad passes (turnovers) or poor field goal percentage?

On the year, the Pacers' have posted an eFG% of .495, good for 15th in the league (Notably: the Pacers ranked 22nd in this statistical category during the 2012-2013 season). Although their team effective field goal percentage ranks in the top half of the NBA, it is no secret that turnovers continue to plague the Pacers. Abysmally, Indiana ranks just 25th in turnover percentage (an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays) at 14.4. When looking at the Blue and Gold's starters collectively, 307 of their 641 turnovers are caused by bad passes (nearly 50%), per basketball-reference.

Whether the product of stagnant offense, poor shooting, or careless turnovers, few would argue that the Pacers tallying 14 assists on 32 made field goals is a problem. As of late, it seems the Pacers' offense consists more of ineffective post-entry passes and auditions for the And-1 tour than solid offense. Nevertheless, with a regained sense of focus and a commitment to making the extra pass, Indiana at least be able to get their assists per game average back up to their season average of 20.4. For the Pacers' sake, even if for whatever reason, the team fails to right the ship against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday evening, it would be to their benefit to become infected with the league's reigning assists champion's pass-first state of mind. Like Rondo stated, "...it's contagious."

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