Larry Bird has said a lot this summer. He's laid out plans for the Pacers to fundamentally change their playing style. He made very pointed remarks about Roy Hibbert's apparent obsolescence in that new system, and he has routinely expressed his expectation that Paul George transition to the power forward position to make his vision for next season a reality.
Up-tempo. Faster. Smaller. These are the words Bird believes will make his team more competitive as well as more compelling when put into action next season. His expectations for the coming year, then, are twofold:
1) "I want to run a little bit more," Bird said, via CBS Sports. "What I really mean when I say that is I want to score about six to eight more points per game." On whether the Pacers can avoid sacrificing defense to gain offense, Bird told ESPN, "Never. But if we score eight points more per game and give up two points more per game, that's plus six."
Per basketball-reference, the Pacers averaged 97.3 points per game last season, a mark which placed them in the bottom third of the league.
2) "I hope it is," Bird said on whether the new look Pacers have enough to make the playoffs, via the Indy Star. "I'd be very disappointed if we didn't make the playoffs. We think we've got enough talent here to do that."
With Paul George missing all but six games during the 2014-15 season, Indiana's playoff hopes were dashed with a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on the final night of the NBA season.
If the Pacers average six more points per game next season as Larry Bird expects them to, then Indiana's scoring average would jump from 24th (97.3 points) in the league to seventh (103.3).
|Team||2014-15 Scoring Average|
|Golden State Warriors||110.0|
|Los Angeles Clippers||106.7|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||104.0|
Based upon last season's averages, Toronto would be the only Eastern Conference team with a higher scoring output. It is important to note, though, that per game averages do not account for pace. The Pacers (19th) averaged 93.2 possessions per game during the 2014-15 season.
Playing at a faster clip will make averaging 100+ points next season more probable. Without accounting for likely changes of role or usage, the cumulative total of individual scoring averages suggests the Pacers will have the offensive firepower to cross the century mark.
|Player||2014-15 Scoring Average|
|Glenn Robinson III||4.4|
Though it should be noted that Paul George's return to form will likely result in an uptick in his own productivity while simultaneously decreasing the scoring opportunity of others at his position. Likewise, having several combo guards operate within the same backcourt may spell a slight decline in output for one or more of George Hill, Monta Ellis, or Rodney Stuckey. Moreover, it is a near certainty that Jordan Hill will not lead the Pacers in field goal attempts as he did for the Lakers last season (777). The above graphic also does not account for the addition of Myles Turner, Joe Young, or Rakeem Christmas.
Defensively, giving up "two more points per game" would drop the Pacers from fourth in the NBA (97.0 points allowed per game) to seventh in the East (99.0) and sixth among Eastern Conference playoff teams, not accounting for pace.
|Team||2014-15 Points Allowed|
Per Nylon Calculus, Roy Hibbert saved 2.62 points per game last season, which suggests the Pacers may sacrifice more than just two points per game. Comparatively, newcomer Jordan Hill allowed 55.4% of opponent field goals at the rim with the Lakers last season, whereas Hibbert allowed 42.6%. Ian Mahinmi is a step above Hill at protecting the painted area (45.5%), but he is also foul-prone, averaging 5.4 fouls per 36 minutes. Myles Turner committed 14 fouls in three games while competing at the Orlando Summer League.
Given the numbers, scoring six to eight more points per game while allowing only two more points would likely result in a trip to the postseason for the Pacers next season if the East were to remain unchanged.
But, of course, that is not the case. Brooklyn may have taken a step back after losing Deron Williams, Mirza Teletovic, and Mason Plumlee, but a few of the other teams that were engaged in battle with Indiana last April for one of the final playoff spots in the East have bolstered their respective rosters. Milwaukee added Greg Monroe and gained a year of experience. The Heat re-signed Goran Dragic and expect Chris Bosh to make a full recovery, and Brad Stevens still coaches the Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, the Pacers will have to bank on their offensive talent outweighing their nearly inevitable defensive drop off as well as any glitches they encounter attempting to transition to a radically different playing style.
Whether Larry Bird's math adds up to a playoff berth will be decided on the court not on paper, but if the Pacers meet his desired objectives the above comparisons suggest he is correct in stating, "I'd be very disappointed if we didn't make the playoffs. We think we've got enough talent here to do that."