Something has changed. Not only have the Indiana Pacers strung together their first multi-game win-streak of the 2016-17 season, their offense is humming. After ranking 20th offensively (scoring 102.5 points per 100 possessions) through their first 33 games, their efficiency (120.8) has been second only to the Boston Celtics over their last three, with two of their wins coming against top-15 defenses.
Minuscule sample size aside, such a dramatic surge deserves a more thorough investigation than to simply be shrugged off as the product of existing in a make or miss league.
More intriguing still is that the Pacers are actually playing slower, aren’t pulling the trigger any earlier in the shot clock, are still pounding the ball as much as ever, and haven’t measurably improved their player movement within possessions.
So, what gives?
Amid all of the otherwise continued stagnancy, one number has markedly improved. The Pacers are averaging 13.9 more passes per game over their last three games than they have overall this season.
By opting to trust the pass, the Pacers have forced fewer bad shots and passed up more good shots in favor of better shots.
Paul George has been equally aggressive attacking the rim as he’s been judicious picking his spots and Myles Turner has improved at finding shooters out of the pick-and-roll, but it is arguably Jeff Teague’s caring and sharing that has made the biggest difference.
“When you play that type of basketball, I think it’s contagious and I think it starts with your point guard," Nate McMillan told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor after Sunday's victory over the Orlando Magic. "Jeff has been that guy. He is really doing a good job of establishing that ball movement when he’s in the paint.”
Over the last three games, Indiana’s crafty point guard ranks third in the league in assists per game (11.3), third in secondary assists (2.7), fourth in assists leading to a free throw (1.3), and third in assist points created (27.7).
To put all of those numbers into perspective, think of it this way: Teague has racked up more assists than John Wall, more hockey assists than Draymond Green, and more teammate points off passes than LeBron James.
For further evidence of how on point Indiana’s point guard’s passing has been since the start of his team’s three-game win streak, consider that Myles Turner and Paul George are shooting a combined 57.6 percent from the field off passes from Jeff Teague.
With the sweet-shooting, 6-foot-11 sophomore knocking down shots from mid-range as good as any center in the league, feeding Turner the ball out of the pick-and-pop should be an obvious pet-play for Teague’s drive-heavy game.
More impressive is the degree of patience he displays, below, as he waits for Paul George to set a decoy backscreen for Glenn Robinson III before curling to the top of the key for an open three.
It was the type of possession reflective of a point guard who is confident in his team’s execution and vice versa.
“Jeff is really doing a great job, and I feel like everything is starting with him,” Myles Turner told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor following Tuesday’s victory over the Detroit Pistons. “We’re obviously playing some great defense, but we’re moving the ball so much better, and our offense is starting to come into its own. We need to go ahead and pick up these next two games (against Brooklyn and New York) going into London. It’s a fact we’re trusting each other a lot more.”
Right now, Indiana’s passing splits backup Turner’s assessment. Continuing to trust the pass will determine whether the team’s surge in offensive efficiency has been more fact or fiction.