How would you grade the Pacers performance, given preseason expectations?
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What did I miss? When did we get new uniforms? Where’s Paul George? Now that school for me has winded down and IU has decided I have done enough for a degree (Go Hoosiers) I am quite happy to say that I have returned to my keyboard to bring you my commentary on the Indiana Pacers here on Indy Cornrows. In honor of my education degree, I’ll be bringing my grading skills to the Pacers for the rest of the season, every week. Given the fact that the pre-season predictions for the Pacers were bleak, grades will be issued with that thought in mind. My hope is to make this process interactive, follow me on Twitter @jesslogan11 and I will create polls every week to integrate into the grading.
Since this is the first report card I am issuing, this will be a cumulative grade for the season thus far, with subsequent articles referring to just the week prior.
Overall Performance Grade: B+
It’s no secret when Kevin Pritchard pulled the trigger on the Victor Oladipo trade that the general prediction was around thirty wins on the season total. The Pacers currently sit at 30-25, sixth place in the conference, heading into tonight’s matchup against the Pelicans. They are clearly exceeding expectations, which immediately throws them into the “A” range. Where the record becomes more impressive comes with the barrage of injuries to the core of this team. Oladipo has missed six games, for various reasons, Myles Turner has missed significant time more than once and Darren Collison is now expected to be out for several weeks with a knee injury. The bench is deep at the guard position with Cory Joseph and the true King of Naptown Lance Stephenson. On the frontcourt bench, Domas Sabonis has held a fairly thin crew together, switching between time as a starter and role backup to Turner. Sabonis also leads in the team in rebounds, averaging just a hair over eight per game. Where they lose points is on slow starts and digging themselves into a hole. While the comeback wins have been a blast at times, the mileage they are putting on the starters to close out the game will eventually show up in fatigue at the end of the year.
Offense Grade: A
No doubt, the Pacers offense has had plenty of fireworks and a facelift compared to previous seasons. Oladipo is a bonafide NBA star and is currently averaging 24 points a game, essentially replicating George’s offensive production. The supporting cast has been more than competent as the team boasts a 48.2 percent success rate from the floor. The mark only trails Golden State (who currently holds a cosmic 50.8 percent) and New Orleans Pelicans among league leaders. They also nearly mirror last year’s three point rate (37.6) as they are ranked second in the Eastern Conference at 37.4 percent. With efficiency comes success in volume, the Pacers are ranked in the top half of the league in points per game. Though their scoring averages have dropped slightly each month (109.7, 107.7, 105, 105), it appears they are righting the ship in February (109.3).
Defense Grade: C+
Much of my personal frustration with this team comes from the lack of consistency on defense. The lack of an interior presence is evident outside of the rim protection of Turner’s 2.1 blocks per game. When healthy, he anchors a high-octane, active hands defensive scheme. In the 16 games Turner has missed, the Pacers have visually struggled with the opposing bigs on defense. Overall, the Pacers are in the bottom five of the league in defensive rebound percentage at 75.9, meaning they giving up an extra possession every four rebound opportunities. It doesn’t take more than watching a half of Pacers basketball to get frustrated at the team’s rebounding woes. The Pacers are also giving up 46 points in the paint per game, which puts them in the bottom ten in the league. On the positive side, the defense has a focus on their strength which is speed. Assistant Coach Dan Burke keeps track of deflections throughout the game and it is usually a direct correlation to defensive performance. The Pacers are currently tied for sixth place in the association, averaging 8.3 swipes per game. Oladipo, Thad Young, and Collison all average over a steal a game.
The Pacers are fun again, to put it plainly. The crew Nate McMillan puts on the court are likable, ambitious, and slightly out of control. They rarely get their doors blown off, especially on the home court (19-11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse). While they do need some brushing up on defense, their full-throttle offense is more than enough to keep them thick in the playoff hunt. Lance gives us a laugh, Thad gives us the hustle and CoJo gives the bench Mojo. After a tumultuous summer, the newly elected Mayor of Indianapolis, Oladipo, has the Pacers back into relevance and is taking his city with him.