Long before the Pacers had the longest current win streak in the Eastern Conference, they were consistently inconsistent. Paul George was frustrated. The defense waxed and waned. They lacked an identity. They fell in and out of trust with each other. They were playing slower than they were last season. Nate McMillan’s rotations decisions were exacerbating the awkward fit of the roster, and the team’s brass was rumored to be listening to offers for the team’s franchise player before the Designated Player Extension-determining All-NBA ballots were even counted while simultaneously looking to “upgrade” their roster with scoring centers (why?).
Now, Lance Stephenson’s impact, Thaddeus Young’s ditched wrist wrap, Paul George’s resurgence, and a few key rotation tweaks lend credence to the notion that the Pacers may have finally turned the corner. Still, these five positive takeaways from the regular season would’ve broken up the monotony of meh.
Skepticism be damned, Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers really did need each other. Credit Nate McMillan for maximizing the impact of this long-whispered reunion, while mitigating any lingering concerns, by f-i-n-a-l-l-y deciding to have the bench go small, shifting Aaron Brooks off-ball, and putting the ball in Stephenson’s superior play making hands.
Since his return, the prodigal point wing has only played 13.6 percent of his minutes with both Lavoy Allen and Kevin Seraphin on the floor, per NBA Wowy. That rotation tweak mattered. Without the double-plodders lineups transforming the lane into a clogged toilet, Stephenson’s ability to find seams in the defense has lent a sharpened tip to a previously dull all-bench unit. The Pacers are plus-3 in the 18 minutes that Stephenson, Brooks, and Seraphin were joined by C.J. Miles and Paul George as interchangeable forwards as opposed to minus-8 when Lavoy Allen has replaced George in that group.
Still, as much as the Lance-effect on Indiana has been real, the Pacers-effect on Lance has been real, too. How else — other than some sort of strange magic —- do you explain that he has knocked down five of his first seven attempts from behind the arc in a Blue & Gold uniform, after only making one of his first twelve combined attempts this season during his short stints in New Orleans and Minnesota?
Myles Turner’s Passing:
It’s possible that the injury Myles Turner sustained to the index finger on his shooting hand was actually a blessing in disguise. Sure, it took a toll on his field goal percentage. He was shooting 44.9 percent from mid-range before the injury incurred against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 10, and shot 33.3 percent from that same distance after. Still, the dip in accuracy allowed him to refocus his attention on his passing game.
"I'm distributing the ball a lot more," Turner told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor at a practice following his team’s mid-March loss to Boston Celtics. "It's what the offense has called for — feeding the hot hands. (Paul George) and Jeff (Teague) have been hot, so I'm getting it to them."
Turner (3.4) hasn’t racked up points created near to the degree of Denver’s Nikola Jokic (11.3), but his vision certainly has improved. Making this pass out of the pick and roll to Aaron Brooks in the left corner wouldn’t have even crossed his mind as a rookie at the Orlando Pro Summer League where he never recorded an assist in three games.
Thaddeus Young’s 3-Point Shooting:
During the 2009-10 season, Young connected on a respectable 34.8 percent of his 138 attempts from behind the arc. In the seasons between then and 2016-17, his three-point accuracy rate bottomed out at 12.5 percent on only eight attempts and peaked at 33 percent on 115 attempts.
Without any discernible trend, it was difficult to predict which extreme would better inform on the lefty’s past performance from long-range. Darryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus found that it takes 750 attempts for a player’s three-point shooting percentage to stabilize. Over Young’s previous nine seasons, he had launched a total of 792 shots from behind the arc, which put him past Blackport’s estimated reliability threshold and indicated that his 31.9 percent career-mark was likely an accurate representation of who he’d been as a shooter, but not necessarily who’d he be for the Pacers. Fortunately, a positive change in the 28-year-old’s role put him in a better position to make more of his next 750 threes.
No longer expected to be the Zach Randolph to Brook Lopez’s Marc Gasol, Young knocked down 45 shots from behind the arc in his new role as spread four. That’s equal to the same number he made over the last three seasons combined. More impressive, though, is that his total number of makes surely would’ve been even greater had he not injured his wrist. He’s gone just 1-of-7 from three since missing eight games in February. As it is, Young is still one of only 25 forwards (small, power, and faux) in the league to shoot better than 38 percent from distance, minimum 118 attempts.
Glenn Robinson III’s Development:
It really was a shame that The Third was forced to miss the final ten games of the season due to a left calf strain. Though he was still a work in progress, some of his brighter moments of maturation — oh, hi, sunk game winner against the Atlanta Hawks — brought a much needed layer of meaning to a season that for long stretches had a very real tendency to inspire Pacers nihilism.
The highlight dunks and monster blocks were fun and all, but it was the possessions where he appeared most under control that were most encouraging for his long-term development. Take this made basket against the Charlotte Hornets, for instance. Rather than panicking or forcing an off-balanced shot, he confidently drains the turnaround jumper.
This represents a considerable area of growth in Robinson III’s game, given that he connected on 34.9 percent of his pull-up field goal attempts this season as opposed to 27.3 percent last season.
The Return of Toronto Paul George:
Paul George was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played from April 3 through April 9, but he started resembling the player who dominated the first round of the 2016 NBA playoffs as early as March.
- Over the final two months of the season, only two players averaged at least 28 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting better than 40 percent from three: Karl Anthony-Towns and Paul George.
- Indiana’s three-time All-Star has recorded a third of his career 35-plus point scoring games since the 2017 All-Star break.
- Since March 1, the Pacers have been 15.9 points per 100 possessions better with George on the floor as opposed to off, per NBA.com.
Rather than forcing shots while appearing frustrated and sometimes listless, George seemed more intent upon attacking and scoring off screens within the offense.
When it comes to the all-important All-NBA balloting, it’s safe to say that Paul George at least has recency bias in his favor.