With the Pacers passing the halfway mark of the season, Bruno's latest Caught in the Web takes a look back to some preseason questions about the Pacers to see how the speculation before the fact compares to the answers from the first 42 games.
Also, Wages of Wins dives into the numbers and finds some hope for the Pacers. Basically the team is playing better than their record indicates and according to the formulas used, the Pacers should be a 36 win team this year.
I mention these two items to provide a little qualitative and quantitative look at the season so far. After watching the bulk of every game this year, I find it hard to truly analyze this team because there have been so many factors involved which make it difficult to fairly evaluate the team's progress.
For fans and media, pro sports have an absolute measure of success and failure. After each game the final score determines whether a team has won or lost and thus succeeded or failed. It's a neat and tidy metric, with no qualitative variance. Regardless of the list of excuses available, if you're losing after the final buzzer sounds, there's no way to change that L to W.
But anyone who has played sports at any level realizes that analyzing a group of individuals brought together to compete as a team requires more depth than simply looking at the won-loss record. Sure you could look into the numbers, for instance you may consider a team with a losing record but a slim point differential better than a team with a similar record that is blown out regularly. But numbers are just one layer to the whole story of a team.
For the whole story, there are elements of the team that fans and media just aren't privy to during the season. There is a human element involved -- relationships, motivations, emotional highs and lows - and how each player and coach weaves their emotions into the fabric of the team begins to tell the story of the journey a team goes through in the quest for success.
Then there's the physical element of continual improvement throughout the journey. This is measured on an individual and team level for players and coaches alike. How are lessons learned from losses applied to improve the team? Could a loss actually be measured as a success? I'd say yes, if the loss exposed something to an individual player or coaching staff that becomes an opportunity to improve later on in the season.
There are steps to the growth that aren't apparent in the box score. Maybe as subtle as two players making a breakthrough when on the court together and developing a trust in one another that allows them and the team to expand their game. Knowing when to throw a lob. Understanding where a player will float for an open pass off a drive. Relying on the defensive help to rotate which allows for an aggressive play on the ball. It's a continual cycle of fail, assess, learn and improve. The failure doesn't always mean the team loses, although the assessment step is far easier after a loss.
What works? What doesn't? Who plays better off the bench? Which combinations of players work? Which don't? This is how the team's roles are defined and then refined over time.
I'm just scratching the surface here but the point is that no team is a static collection of talent that a coach can analyze, adjust according to observations and then expect a certain level of results. This brings us back to the Pacers.
The Indiana Pacers in name have played 42 games so far this season, yet the 2008-09 Indiana Pacers team has only played two games with their roster fully intact and they have yet to play a game with all available players healthy. Developing a successful team by incorporating seven new faces to the roster is a difficult task. When a mix of those new faces and old faces aren't available makes for sporadic development at best and creates a situation where certain combinations of players are never in sync.
So at the halfway mark, casting too much blame on the coach or any certain player simply isn't fair. The culture and work ethic surrounding the team has changed for the better, as desired. The team plays hard to the final buzzer despite whatever problems they have with execution. If this group can stay relatively healthy for a couple of months, some serious evaluations of the players and how they fit together can take place.
Obviously, there are a couple of solid pieces missing especially when you consider the front court scoring challenges and all-around defensive problems. But adding a key player or two to a core of nicely developing players currently on the roster could make a big difference and lead to an easier way to measure success, by counting W's.