Play faster. Spread the floor. Use strong defense to push the pace.
Last season, Frank Vogel talked about these objectives as the Pacers started preseason looking to play a little smaller and a lot faster, to move away from a ‘smashmouth’ style and join the space and pace revolution in the NBA.
Like Vogel, Nate McMillan hit the same notes prior to the team’s first preseason game. And just like the 2015-16 Pacers, the current team opened against the New Orleans Pelicans as they tested their adjusted style of play.
The results ended up being similar in some ways but starkly different in others, both on and off the court.
Last season, Paul George reluctantly played power forward against the Pels, and actually played pretty well despite a brutal matchup with Anthony Davis, finishing the game with 18 points and five rebounds.
The Pacers lost the game 110-105, but similar to last night, they shot 35 three-pointers, making just ten which compares to the 11 for 34 effort from behind the arc for the 2016 ‘Cers.
The Pacers scored more last night, but also shot more, with 104 FGA’s compared to 92 the prior year. Now some of those extra shots came courtesy of hanging onto the ball better, with just 11 turnovers compared to 20 last season, in an area that would frustrate the ‘15-’16 squad frequently.
Last year the Pacers won the rebound battle 62-55, but this year worked the glass for a 59-44 advantage. That +15 advantage help the Pacers win other key categories compared to last season.
Points in the paint: Pelicans +4 (2015) to Pacers +30(!)(2016)
Second chance points: Pelicans +4 (2015) to Pacers +16 (2016)
Fast-break points: Pelicans +3 (2015) to Pacers +3 (2016)
The second chance points numbers are the most eye popping on the night, as the Pels only grabbed three offensive rebounds for four second chance points.
Obviously, these are two different teams, as the Pels are missing Jrue Holiday and adjusting to a new roster, while the Pacers appear to have an improved roster and better depth to work with at the start of the season. At least that’s what showed up in their debut in New Orleans.
Another big difference was within the team dynamic as they prepare for regular season play. Paul George is not returning from injury, but instead a triumphant effort on the Olympic stage.
Following the game last season, PG directly complained about having to play power forward which eventually led to Vogel crumpling up his pace-and-space game plans for more smashmouth Christmas.
Last night, PG didn’t talk about himself, but rather how nice it was to play along Jeff Teague. What was left unsaid but surely felt, was how nice it was to have Thaddeus Young guarding Anthony Davis. After a quality effort, everyone appeared to board the plane back Indy both literally and figuratively heading in the same direction.
With the Bulls in town on Thursday, also working through big changes with prideful vets who know how to play, the Pacers should get a better test to see if they can build on the positive start in New Orleans.