Ever since Roy Hibbert, likely out of frustration, declared to NBA.com's David Aldrdige that the root of the Pacers' problems might just be "some selfish dudes," there has been a dark cloud of media scrutiny swirling ominously over Indianapolis. Speculations as to the identities of the "dudes" have run rampant throughout the media with all fingers pointing in the direction of two or more of the three members of the 2010 draft class-Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner. It appears that each of their advanced statistics is being micro-analyzed in efforts to uncover any noticeable signs of ego, which, of course, will lead to the revelation of the guilty "dudes" responsible for the disintegration of the Pacers.
Some question if the Pacers, as we knew them earlier this season, are "toast." Others have accused the Blue and Gold of taking shortcuts on the offensive end by not going through sets, not setting screens, etcetera. Several have utilized statistical evidence to prescribe remedies for Indiana's grossly underperforming offense. Frank Vogel's employment status was made into a rather distasteful April fool's joke. The addition of Evan Turner has been described as a "gamble" that, so far, "hasn't paid off." Sadly, these are just a few of the many reasons news outlets have honed in on in recent weeks to explain who and what is responsible for the apparent meltdown of the, once no. 1 seed, Indiana Pacers.
Without question, the Pacers have brought the overwhelmingly negative media attention onto themselves. The decision to air the team's dirty laundry publically, coupled with poor play, has raised a cloud of smoke over Bankers Life Fieldhouse. As they say, where there is smoke, there is fire. Taking that a step further, where there is fire something is probably burning, and speculations as to the reasons why quickly follow. Fans desperate to make sense of it all, venture guesses, recommend solutions, and look to media insiders to provide accurate analysis and fact-based insights. Some news outlets, in their efforts to explain to the NBA world what is plaguing the Pacers offer astute, verifiable explanations and information, while others provide mere conjecture along with an unwanted dose of cynicism. Unfortunately, as of late, it seems that more articles have been published about the Pacers' splintering chemistry and recent slide than were ever published about the team's taking the league by storm:
Pacers are first team in HISTORY, Elias says, to reach 50-win mark and THEN score fewer than 90 points in six straight games. And that ...— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 2, 2014
And that is why these last two weeks have plopped the Pacers in the news far more than they ever were during their sparkly 40-11 start— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 2, 2014
Let’s face it, there has been no camouflaging the Pacers’ flaws. They struggle to score, oftentimes, even missing what appear to be very open makeable looks. Their offensive rebounding rate has fallen off a cliff. They turn the ball over far too much. The floor spacing is off, and, quite frankly, the only term that seems suitable to add to the end of this list of deficiencies is "etcetera."
Surely, amidst all of these rather dismal descriptions and write-ups, there must be a ray of hope for the Pacers and their loyal fans. Well, for all those disheartened by the headline the "Pacers' problem is fill in the blank," take solace in the fact that Paul George just keeps on getting defensive.
No, not defensive of his elite status; rather, the 23 year old is playing some serious, and, quite possibly, historic defense according to various metrics.
Grand Theft George - In the month of March, PG went through a major offensive slump, shooting just 37.2% from the field and 29.7% from behind the arc. It's debatable whether his slide should be attributed to poor shot selection or bad floor spacing. Regardless, his effort on the defensive was-and continues to be, both inspired and consistent for the most part:
Steal Of the Night Paul George March 24, 2014 NBA 2013 2014 Season (via 24HOURSNBA)
Over the course of the last six games (since March 24), the Palmdale product is averaging 3.3spg. Admittedly, this is a miniscule sample size, but the league's leader in steals per game - Chris Paul - averages 2.5 thefts per contest. On the year, PG has recorded 143 total steals, a mark good enough for fifth best in the league behind Ricky Rubio, Thaddeus Young, Chris Paul, and John Wall.
Defensive Win Shares - For the second consecutive season, Paul is the league's overall leader in defensive win shares (6.2). If PG is able to maintain his strong league-leading pace of .081 defensive win shares per game, it is plausible that he could finish the season with a total of 6.686 DWS.
Exactly, how impressive is that number?
Well, when delving into basketball-reference's player index and comparing only guards and forwards, PG's possible 6.6 DWS would put him in a tie for seventh all-time, behind only Kevin Garnett (8.0; 2004), John Havlicek (7.2; 1973), K.C. Jones (7.0; 1964), Dennis Rodman (7.0; 1992), Walt Frazier (6.7; 1971), Scottie Pippen (6.7; 1995), and Karl Malone (6.6; 1989).
Defensive Rating - Holding his opponents to just 96.3 points per 100 possessions, the Pacers' star ranks third in the league, trailing only Joakim Noah and Andrew Bogut. Some may argue that, with all five starters ranking in the top 20, PG's high rank has as much to do with the team's defensive system as it does his lockdown perimeter defense; however, it sure seems that there is something to be said for the fact that he outranks every other member of both the Pacers and Bulls' rosters - the league's two stingiest defenses.
Throughout this season, Roy Hibbert-the man who defines the law of verticality-has had his name, rightfully so, featured prominently in the DPOY race alongside some of his fellow anchors such as Joakim Noah, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard. Even so, the aforementioned statistics on PG's defensive prowess supports the fact that the Big Dawg should not be the only member of the Blue and Gold to have his name thrown into the hat as a leading candidate.
During the 2003-2004 season, former Pacer, Ron Artest, averaged 2.1spg, allowed 96 points per 100 possessions, ranked 7th in the league in terms of defensive win shares (5.2), and was awarded the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. Now, exactly one decade later, Paul George averages 1.9spg, allows 96.3 points per 100 possessions, and ranks 1st in the league in terms of defensive win shares (6.2).
Is it time for another perimeter player, coincidentally another Pacer, to win the league's award that is typically reserved for defensive anchors, or will he lose out to his deserving teammate, Roy Hibbert, who allows the lowest percentage of field goals at the rim (41.1%)? Undoubtedly, both, along with a few other players throughout the league, are more than worthy candidates.
Although Paul George's elite level defense may seem like just a small thing on the surface, his 20 steals over the last six games provide a certain degree of proof that there are positives to be found amidst a sea of negatives. Perhaps, the despondent body language, publicly aired grievances, and, at times, self-reliant offense are actually signs of a team not only disappointed in its recent stretch of play, but also a team wanting and ready to find answers as well as recommit to playing the game the right way. Like Frank Vogel stated, "There's nobody being selfish on this team. Everybody wants to win and really wants to play for each other."
(All stats cited are prior to the Pacers' game against Toronto on April 4)