The Indiana Pacers Are Incredibly Balanced

01/17/2019 at 05:01pm

By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back

The Indiana Pacers unexpectedly broke through last season, smashing preseason expectations and giving the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs. The driving force for that surprising run was the emergence of Victor Oladipo, who set career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, field goal and 3-point percentage on his way to winning Most Improved Player of the Year.

Oladpio was everything for Indiana’s offense -- they scored 7.9 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, by far the biggest such differential on the team, and his usage rate of 29.4 was significantly higher than that of his closest teammate, lightly used backup big Al Jefferson, at 21.6.

It is fairly remarkable then, that at roughly the halfway point of this season, Oladipo has missed 11 games and the Pacers still have a better offensive efficiency mark than last year, and a point differential that is not just improved but tied for the third-best in the league. When Oladipo has been on the floor, the team’s offensive efficiency has been roughly the same as last season. When he’s been off the court, either injured or simply resting, the team’s offense has been more than 5 points better per 100 possessions.

Thanks in large part to internal development, the Pacers are simply a much more balanced offense this season.

The improvement of Domantas Sabonis has been among the most striking changes for Indiana. He played well in his first season with the team but this year has blossomed into one of the most productive offensive big men in the league. He’s started just five of the 41 games he’s played in and averages just 25.4 minutes per game, but his averages are still eye-popping -- 15.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, shooting 62.0 percent from the field. Sabonis is not really taking 3s this season but he has made 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Sabonis’ passing has been particularly important for the Pacers, both in keeping the ball moving when he’s paired with starters and as an offensive fulcrum for the second-unit. Among players 6-foot-10 and taller, he ranks seventh in potential assists per game. Between his passing, improved rebounding, elite foul-drawing and finishing, his versatile skill set has been the connective tissue for their offense.

While Sabonis has been helping hold things together in the middle of the floor, Bojan Bogdanovic is enjoying one of the best years of his career on the perimeter. He’s taken on a slightly larger scoring load and his shooting percentages -- 50.0 percent from the field, 45.0 percent on 3-pointers -- are new career-highs. In the 11 games Oladipo missed, Bogdanovic took on an even larger scoring load, maintaining those percentages while scoring 19.3 points per game.

The Pacers went looking for a secondary creator this summer to help take some of the load off Oladipo. Bogdanovic has been able to step in and take on more of that role as well, helping compensate for what they lost when Oladipo was out.

Myles Turner has been another huge piece of the puzzle for Indiana this season. Regression last year certainly lowered expectations but Turner has bounced back well and his rim protection is the foundation of the Pacers’ defense, currently ranked third in the NBA and just two-tenths of a point per 100 possessions out of first. Turner is defending the third-most interior shots in the league and with a defensive field goal percentage better than that of Rudy Gobert, while also leading the league in blocks per game. At the other end of the floor, his ultra-reliable jumper has helped add space to the Pacers’ attack and he’s been more accurate than ever from behind the 3-point line (now up to 38.4 percent).

The development of Indiana’s young bigs, the career-year of Bogdanovic and solid shooting numbers from the rest of the supporting cast have helped the Pacers survive injuries, lock in signature wins and establish themselves a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. And then, for those moments that call for more than balance, they still have Oladipo -- shooting 24-of-38 (63.2 percent) and 12-of-20 on 3-pointers in clutch minutes this season.

Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, the premium NBA vertical at