So far this season, the Indiana Pacers have been one of the most surprising and disappointing teams in the NBA.
This team, which was generally considered one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference coming into the season, is now struggling to keep their win percentage above .500.
The absence of Danny Granger, due to a knee injury, has certainly taken its toll on the team, but there should be more than enough talent on the Pacers roster to stay above .500.
Unfortunately, this slow start does not seem to be close to over after the team was outscored by 11 points in the fourth quarter of a game against the Spurs that they lost by seven.
So is the Central Division title a pipe dream for this Indiana Pacers squad? More and more the answer appears to be "yes," for several reasons.
One of the biggest issues that plagues the Indiana Pacers this season is inconsistent play from its best players.
In no player is this more obvious than Paul George, who is currently scoring 15.2 points per game on only 40.9 percent shooting from the field.
In their last three games, including two wins and a loss, George has submitted three very different games. In the first, a win versus Washington, George shot 28.6 percent from the field and scored only six points to go along with five rebounds and three turnovers.
The next game was perhaps his best as an NBA player. He shot 61.9 percent, had 37 points, four assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers. In this game, he was the main reason for an overtime win over New Orleans.
Finally, in a loss against San Antonio, Paul George shot only 42.9 percent and scored 15 points while snagging four rebounds and turning the ball over three times.
The worrisome thing is that just about every player on the Pacers roster, outside of David West, has been just as inconsistent. It will be nearly impossible for Indiana to win the Central Division without more consistent play.
Roy Hibbert's Slump:
Along with Paul George, Roy Hibbert had perhaps the highest expectations of any Pacer coming into the season.
Hibbert, an All-Star last season, has been anything but helpful for Indiana this year. He is scoring 9.5 points per game while grabbing 8.6 rebounds, both lower than his marks last season. Worse than that, Roy is currently shooting the ball at 39.3 percent, more than 10 percent lower than he shot last season.
The only good news about Hibbert is his 3.2 blocks per game, a career high.
The Indiana Pacers simply cannot win without Roy Hibbert reverting to his old self. Unfortunately, the old Hibbert has shown no sign of returning after shooting 30 percent or lower from the field in three of the last four games.
Will the Indiana Pacers win the Central Division?
It's unclear what exactly is wrong with Hibbert, but the Pacers have no chance at winning without him taking a huge step forward offensively.
All-around Poor Offensive Play:
Despite their losing record, the Indiana Pacers have actually been one of the league's best defensive teams.
They are allowing the second-fewest points per game, 91.3, and are the second-best rebounding team in the NBA, grabbing 48.4 rebounds per game.
It is on offense that Indiana has truly struggled. The Pacers are averaging only 90.8 points per game, 27th in the league, and are shooting a dismal 41.3 percent from the field as a team. Part of the problem is that Indiana is also one of the worst teams in assists per game, taking away many of the easy baskets that teams love to get.
There really is no easy solution to this offensive slump. Three out of their five starters, as well as their top wing player off the bench, are shooting under 41 percent from the field. They have also failed to shoot well from beyond the arc, averaging 32.8 percent as a team.
These numbers simply aren't conducive to winning games. They need a high-powered scorer, like Danny Granger, to carry the offense when Paul George and Roy Hibbert are failing to produce. Without that, this team cannot score enough to win the Central Division, despite having a stellar defense.
This Indiana Pacers team is not playing well enough to win the Central Division. They have produced an extremely weak, inconsistent offense that is missing Danny Granger much more than anybody thought they would.
More than that, the Pacers seem to be an injury away from any sort of contention for the division title, since they lost much depth with the absence of Danny Granger and ineffectiveness of D.J. Augustin.
Finally, Indiana still has to compete with Milwaukee, who leads the Pacers by two games, and Chicago, who leads the Pacers by a half a game. Both teams are playing well, and the Bulls will only get better as they play more as a team without Derrick Rose.
At this point, the division seems to be Milwaukee's to lose, with both the Pacers and Bulls fighting for a second seed.
All statistics up to date as of 11/23/12.