With Game #20 taking place tonight against Denver, consider this the Pacers’ first quarter progress report.
Winners of four of their last five, the Pacers are finally starting to round into form after a sluggish start to the season. Despite all of their struggles, Indiana finds themselves just one game back in the loss column from the Bulls in the Central Division standings, which would put them 4th in the East.
The one constant for the Blue and Gold this season has been their defense. The Pacers rank either first or second in the NBA in points allowed (2nd), opponent FG% (1st), opponent 3-pt FG% (2nd), and defensive efficiency (1st). Despite being on the opposite end of the spectrum in most offensive categories, the Pacers have given themselves a chance with their ability to defend.
Hibbert needs to get things going offensively
However, the offense is starting to come around. The Pacers have eclipsed the 92-point mark in six of their last eight games. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but considering their early season start, that’s slight progress. Paul George has put together back-to-back games of 34 and 22 points, rallying from his doughnut at Golden State last weekend. David West (17.3 ppg, 20.3 PER) has been Indiana’s most consistent offensive threat, and Ian Mahinmi, who went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field in Wednesday’s win over Portland, seems to be coming on.
There are still lingering negatives as well.
Though he is defending at a high level, Roy Hibbert hasn’t been capable of converting around the basket. Being 7’2, shooting 38% from the field is not only unacceptable - it’s downright embarrassing. Hibbert’s ability to protect the rim is a huge asset for this team, but with the ink starting to dry on his $58 million extension, 9 (points) and 8 (rebounds) a night just isn’t good enough.
The signings of Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin have done absolutely nothing to help the bench. Augustin has particularly been ineffective, averaging just 3.3 ppg while making just over 25% of his shots. Obviously, he’s playing far less minutes (13.3 mpg this year compared to 29.3 mpg last season in Charlotte), but even if you translate his numbers over 36 minutes, you get paltry averages of 9 ppg and a 6.5 apg. To put it in perspective, Augustin’s PER (8.9) is below Jamaal Tinsley and Sebastian Telfair. Green has also struggled to find his shot, looking far more like the player that languished in the D-League and overseas than the one that had a successful 31 games with the Nets at the tail end of last season.
I’m carefully getting back on to the Pacers’ wagon, but there are signs that this team is starting to emerge. In an Eastern Conference that appears wide open, and a mediocre division, there is still hope.