October 20, 2010
Last year's record? 32-50, missed playoffs.
Projected record, as predicted three months ago in time to publish in Yahoo! Sports' NBA Preview Magazine? 28-54
Why I think that sounds about right?
Because this team's conference and division have improved quite a bit while the Pacers traded one significant starter for another and are hoping for ... well, what are they hoping for?
That nobody remembers 2010-11 seemingly. That the team's fan base (dwindling, sadly) will just pass on paying attention to this season while Larry Bird and the Pacers wait for what they hope will be double-figure cap space next summer. In the meantime, Josh McRoberts(notes) and Tyler Hansbrough(notes) (combined, 17 points and 11 rebounds in nearly 44 minutes per game during the preseason; Troy Murphy averaged 14.6 points and over 10 rebounds in 11 fewer minutes a contest last season) will have to hold down the fort at big forward. Darren Collison will have to create all sorts of shots and Mike Dunleavy Jr. has to play.
Considering this team's depth, though, its injury history and the competition it will face nearly every night? Weeks of winning three out of four games just don't seem likely to touch down very often. Which stinks, because though I'm not a Pacer backer, I do live in the area. And the franchise deserves much better.
Why I think I might be terribly, terribly wrong?
An in-shape and fully enthused Roy Hibbert(notes) can be a bright spot. At his best, he could threaten for an All-Star berth, as coach Jim O'Brien was running the ball through him as a pass-first big in the high post late last season. Danny Granger(notes) will continue to score and wish he were a second or even third fiddle (as his talent demands) instead of a go-to guy, and Collison could be a revelation at point guard.
And, as it was for Oklahoma City last season, a lucked-out wave of good health could have the Pacers spiraling toward a .500 record. The team still has major wing issues (Dunleavy's always down for a month off, Paul George has struggled out of the gate, James Posey looks creaky and Brandon Rush(notes) is ruddy awful), but with everyone on board the wins could pile up.
I'm just not holding my breath.
While they played at the league's second-fastest tempo last season (trailing only Don Nelson's go-go Golden State Warriors), the aptly-named Pacers trotted out the fifth-least efficient offense in the NBA, averaging just 101.3 points per 100 possessions in 2009-10, slotting them ahead of only the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and cellar-dwelling New Jersey Nets. That inefficiency shows up in their shot location statistics.
On a per-game basis, the Pacers attempted the NBA's fourth-lowest number of field goals at the rim (23.8 shots per game -- the league average is 26.5) and hoisted the league's third-most 3-pointers per game (23.1 -- the league average is 18.1). If you're going to rely on that kind of shot selection, you need to have dynamite finishers at the tin and a slew of marksmen from behind the arc. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, coach Jim O'Brien didn't have that -- Indiana ranked 24th in the league in at-the-rim field goal percentage, and 18th in 3-point field goal percentage. Complicating matters, the team wasn't particularly good from midrange, either, finishing 20th on shots between 10 and 15 feet and 22nd on attempts between 16 and 23 feet.
There is, however, a silver lining around those dark stat clouds for Pacers fans.
If Darren Collison can carry over the scintillating play he provided in Chris Paul's(notes) absence for the New Orleans Hornets last season, the increase in point-guard penetration could lead to not only more bunnies around the basket (and more attempts at the rim is likely to mean more conversions there, too), but also to more open short-range shots, which was the only area in which Indy shined last season -- they ended the year making 46.2 percent of attempts from less than 10 feet, a couple of ticks above the league average (44.1 percent), good for seventh in the league.
He hosts the best haunted hayrides, you guys.
Danny Granger is smooth: An 82-second reminder
It's too easy for too many people outside of Indiana to forget that the Pacers employ arguably one of the five best small forwards in the NBA. (Or one of the top six, according to my esteemed colleague.)
That's partly because so much of what makes Granger's game a delight is understated -- the capacity for such feathery touch on his jumper (when it's right, you watch the splash and think, "How the heck did this dude shoot under 40 percent on field goals outside of 10 feet last year?"), the bump-and-flick to polish off a drive, the quick (but not sudden) change of direction to find a better angle on a shot, etc.
It feels unlikely that he'll get enough help from new point guard Collison, improving pivot Hibbert and returning wing partner Dunleavy to make every casual fan stand up and take notice of his engaging skill set, but whether or not everybody sees it, it's undeniable that there's something very cool about how Danny Granger plays basketball.