This article started as a search for an answer to a simple question: Why do the Pacers have the sixth-best win percentage (.638) in the league over the last three weeks despite Victor Oladipo’s absence?
It seems like the Pacers should be worse without Oladipo for obvious reasons -- after all, he’s the loneliest superstar in the NBA.
But without him Indiana is 7-4 (I’m including the Atlanta game that he played in for just 4 minutes and 38 seconds) which is a better win percentage than with him (9-6 for .600).
The number could be simply explained away by the Pacers’ opponents. In the 15 games before Oladipo’s injury the current combined record of their opponents was 178-209 (.460), while in the 11 games since then the combined record is 107-151 (.415).
Frankly that isn’t that steep of a drop off, especially if you consider the West Coast road trip, which is usually the hardest portion of the schedule.
The Pacers have benefited slightly from the schedule but that doesn’t completely explain why they’ve been better without Oladipo.
If you look at the raw numbers the Pacers have given up slightly more second chance points in the paint and points off of turnovers.
But Indiana has been better because of increases in pace and defensive rebounding, leading to the league’s second-best defensive rating over the last three weeks.
Before Oladipo’s injury the Pacers were averaging 97.6 possessions per game with a defensive rating of 104.6; in the last 11 games they are up to an average of 100.23 possessions with a defensive rating of 100.3.
In turn, opposing teams’ possessions have also gone up from 97.76 to 100.22.
To put it in simpler terms, the Pacers went from giving up a basket off a turnover every one in 31.5 possessions to giving it up one in 34.7. The same shift can be seen in opponents’ points off turnovers, where they went from sacrificing a basket every one in 21.7 possessions to every one in 22.3.
This increase in second chance points was buoyed by defensive rebounding, which Indiana increased from 32.9 rebounds per game to 36.2.
If you combine that increase in rebounding with the 6.9 Oladipo was averaging before he got hurt, there are 10.2 extra rebounds that are now being contributed by the rest of the team, with Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Aaron Holiday being the biggest beneficiaries (Holiday for obvious reasons, since he wasn’t playing any minutes until Oladipo’s injury)
Turner has seen the biggest increase with an average of 3.9 more rebounds per game. The fourth-year center has stepped up his game considerably, especially defensively, where he’s decreased his rating from 103.6 to 96.8 in Oladipo’s absence -- a slightly larger drop than the team as whole.
Sabonis has increased his rebounds by about 2.1 per game while also increasing his rebounding percentage from 18.6 to 20.8. Rebounding percentage measures the percent of all possible rebounds a player gets when he’s on the court. Basically over ⅕ of all possible rebounds go to Sabonis when he’s on the court.
Turner’s rebounding percentage has been even more impressive, improving from 9.4 to 15.1 percent. Although the argument could be made that Sabonis couldn’t go much higher than it already is.
The last stat that has propelled the Pacers defense in Oladipo’s absence has been the increase in steals from 8.8 to 9.9; Oladipo averaged 1.7 per game.
The extra 2.8 steals have been grabbed by Holiday, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Thaddeus Young and Tyreke Evans.
Holiday and Evans have been particularly good at filling Oladipo’s abscence by averaging almost extra steal per game each
The Pacers’ performances throughout Oladipo’s injury are ironic because he was both the team and league leader in steals -- in fact, he was rewarded with a First-Team All Defense award because of them.
And yet Indiana is finally hitting their defensive stride without him.
What does that mean for his return?