There's been a lot of blabbering lately about the Pacers' "easier" second-half schedule (I may or may not have contributed to the craze myself), and it's easy to see why folks were so optimistic. To review, the Pacers recently completed a stretch where they played nine of 13 games against teams with sub-.500 records. Miserably, they finished 4-9 during that span with a seven-game losing streak mixed in.
Fast forward to the present. The Pacers are in the midst of a five-game homestand, and bigger picture, in the early stages of a stretch where they play 15 of 20 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. While a bevy of home games is nice for any team, it comes with a tradeoff in February: more stiffened competition. Go ahead and take a look for yourself:
Feb 4: vs. Detroit Pistons
Feb 6: vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Feb 8: @ Charlotte Hornets
Feb 9: vs. San Antonio Spurs
Feb 11: @ New Orleans Pelicans
Feb 20: @ Philadelphia 76ers
Feb 22: vs. Golden St. Warriors
Feb 24: @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Feb 27: vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Seriously, is there any game in February you'd mark down as a for-sure win? At Philadelphia would've been a prime candidate a few months ago, but after the last debacle in Philly, it's certainly no guarantee, which leads me to my next point...
To be clear, the Pacers aren't tanking, and never have tanked at any point during the season. The closest they've come was probably Larry Bird's missive to play Shayne Whittington more. But even that had a decidedly "Everyone else stinks, so let's see if the young kid can play" vibe to it.
Nope, unfortunately, any lengthy losing streak and/or lackluster play is a product of the Pacers' own deficiencies: namely a physically wounded roster and head-scratching bouts of ineptitude on the court.
Tanking or not, as the 2014-2015 season putt-putts along, Pacers' fans are starting to itch for a payoff: something, anything that'll make the months-long slog worth it. And because Indy is a small market and its cap space is thin, most fans are begging for the payoff to come in the form of a high-end draft pick.
Now, what exactly does 'high-end draft pick' mean? According to my own Gallup-lite poll based upon the random comments of 10 or so fellow Cornrowers, I declare that three out of four Pacers' fans want--scratch that--need at least the fifth pick in the draft to mend their no-PG sufferings.
For simplicity's sake, let's assume this year's Draft Lottery slots every team according to their season-ending record, meaning: to get the fifth pick, the Pacers would have to finish with the fifth-worst record in the league. Just how bad will they have to be the rest of the way to get there? Well, I got kind of geeky last weekend to give you an answer (not Kevin-Pelton geeky, mind you, more like 11-year-old-kid-who-can-write-add-and-use-a-basic-calculator geeky).
According to my research, the fifth-worst team in the league in the last 10 non-lockout-shortened seasons has averaged 26.2 wins with a floor of 23 wins and a ceiling of 31. If the Pacers are to reach this lowly but potentially golden win total, they'd have to finish the season with a 9-24 record, which I think most would agree is totally plausible if Paul George remains out, and George Hill continues to be nagged by injuries.
To spice up the exercise even further, here's a list of the last 15 No. 5 picks in the draft:
2014: Dante Exum
2013: Alex Len
2012: Thomas Robinson
2011: Jonas Valanciunas
2010: DeMarcus Cousins
2009: Ricky Rubio
2008: Kevin Love
2007: Jeff Green
2006: Shelden Williams
2005: Raymond Felton
2004: Devin Harris
2003: Dwyane Wade
2002: Nickoloz Tskitishvili
2001: Jason Richardson
2000: Mike Miller
What do you think? Will the Pacers be bad enough to crack the top-five? After seeing the list of draftees, would you be satisfied with the fifth pick? Or would you demand that the Basketball Gods give you more?
Happy Super Bowl viewing!