Can the Indiana Pacers Win an NBA Title in the Near Future with Current Core?
Will Pacers fans eventually relish an NBA championship with the likes of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert in the mix?
The first and only time Indiana made it to the NBA Finals was in 2000, with the likes of Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose, Dale Davis and Rik Smits representing Pacers blue and gold. Indiana lost, 4-2, to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Being a small-market team, the franchise is hungry for glory and recognition. Nothing less than a championship would suffice.
For the purposes of this article, several crucial factors within the context of the five most recent NBA champions (2012 Miami Heat, 2011 Dallas Mavericks, 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers and 2008 Boston Celtics) will be analyzed:
In terms of offensive ranking, the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers finished third in the entire NBA with 106.9 points per game. The same team's 2010 version had the lowest offensive ranking among the past five champions, finishing 12th in the entire league with 101.7 points per contest.
It's also interesting to note that four of these five championship teams had at least one player average at least 20 points per game. The only exception was the 2008 Boston Celtics, whose leading scorer that season, Paul Pierce, tallied 19.6 points every night.
The 2013 Indiana Pacers lagged far behind when it comes to offensive output, finishing just 23rd in the NBA with 94.7 points per game. In addition, not a single Pacer averaged at least 20 points during the season. Paul George led the team in scoring with 17.4 points per outing.
Based on these findings, recent NBA champions average above the 100-point mark more often than not and rank no lower than 12th when it comes to offense. One guy on the team also scores at least 20 points. The Indiana Pacers do not meet any of these criteria.
A healthy Danny Granger can really help in this regard (assuming he'll be in top form when he returns). Granger, an eight-year veteran, has three seasons in which he averaged at least 20.5 points. If there's also one guy who's poised to become a consistent 20-point scorer, it's none other than 2013 NBA Most Improved Player Paul George.
The 2013 Indiana Pacers are mediocre offensively. However, they thrive defensively.
During the regular season, Indiana finished second behind the Memphis Grizzlies in terms of points allowed at only 90.7 per game. The presence of defensive stoppers such as 2013 NBA All-Defensive Second Team member George and Hibbert (2.61 blocks per game) really helps the Pacers' cause immensely.
The fact they only allow only 90.7 points really bodes well for them in terms of their championship aspirations. The 2008 Boston Celtics held their opponents to only 90.3 points per game. As far as the most recent champion teams are concerned, the worst defensively were the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers who gave up 99.3 points each night (although they did outscore the opposition by almost eight points).
Clearly, championship contenders do not allow the other team to routinely score 100 points against them. Judging by the Pacers' stats this season, they are more than capable as a defensive juggernaut.
A recent article written by Mike Prada of SB Nation gives the casual fan an idea of how Indiana plays defense. The picture below from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks shows how each Pacer stays with the opposing shooters while watching the ball at the same time.
Indiana does not opt for the weak-side zone in the event that Carmelo Anthony decides to kick the ball out to a teammate for the jump shot.
Another Indiana Pacers' specialty
Nobody rebounded the ball better than the Pacers in 2012-13. They averaged 45.9 boards per contest, asserting their dominance in this department. Hibbert and veteran David West lived up to their billing in the frontcourt.
However, seeing either small forward Paul George or shooting guard Lance Stephenson snag 10 rebounds in the postgame stat sheet wasn't uncommon. That's how good the Pacers are in cleaning up the glass.
Among the five recent NBA champions, each team averaged around 41 rebounds per game.The 2010 Los Angeles Lakers were the best of the bunch with an average of 44.3 while the 2012 Miami Heat bottomed out with only 33.5.
Surely, the Heat won the 2012 NBA Finals because they played to their strengths (namely the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) in spite of their shortcoming on the boards. The Pacers, on the other hand, are poised to become championship contenders if the sole category for consideration is rebounding. However, it's plain and clear this is just one aspect.
The video below demonstrates Indiana's tenaciousness on the boards courtesy of veteran warrior David West. Notice how great his nose for the ball is. Big man Hibbert takes a 14-foot jumper and misses, but West manages to beat three Cleveland Cavaliers in the paint for the offensive rebounds and successful putback.
The Pacers' Achilles' heel
However, hope looms in the horizon in the form of the 2008 Boston Celtics, who were 27th in the NBA that season with an average of 15.2 turnovers per game. This team had a lot of miscues, but leaned on their areas of strength (second in points allowed, fourth in field-goal percentage, fifth in three-point percentage and fifth in steals as per Basketball-Reference.com).
Among the other champion teams, the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers took care of the basketball the best, as they finished sixth in the league with only 13.4 turnovers.
The video below, featuring Pacers coach Frank Vogel after the loss to the New York Knicks, 90-80, on April 14, describes how Indiana's 26 turnovers gave the game away to New York, which committed only 11 miscues.
Another weak area of the Indiana Pacers
Prior to the 2012-13 NBA season, Indiana locked up shock troopers D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green in an attempt to fortify its bench strength, but to no avail. The bench has largely been a disappointment all year long with the Pacers ranking 29th in terms of bench scoring (25.3 points per game) as per Hoops Stats.
However, as alarming as this may sound, this should not deter the Pacers in their quest for a championship.
Two of the last three NBA champions ranked in the lowest percentile when it comes to bench scoring (both the 2012 Miami Heat and 2010 L.A. Lakers finished 28th in the NBA). Among the past five NBA champions, it was only the 2011 Dallas Mavericks (second overall) who cracked the top 10.
This tells us an NBA champion team does not rely too much on its bench as far the trend has been in the last five seasons. However, with the Pacers' weakness when it comes to offense as mentioned previously, they sure could use a spark off the bench to help get them to the next level.
To recap, the Indiana Pacers are on track to become championship contenders because of their main strengths—defense and rebounding. These are facets of the game which Indiana is better at than most of the recent NBA champions.
However, some holes definitely need to be plugged.
The fact that the 2008 Boston Celtics were worse when it comes to turning the ball over doesn't mean the Pacers should be okay with where they are now in this department. You simply don't win championships if you cough up the ball way too much. That being said, there is no better time than now to take better care of the ball.
Even though the bench may not be a major issue based on recent championship trends, Indiana still needs somebody to step up from its rotation in order to boost its mediocre offense, one of the main impediments in its quest for its first title. So far, that hasn't happened.
Based on our findings, retaining the current core plus the return of a healthy Danny Granger or an offseason acquisition who can provide an additional scoring punch (and doesn't turn the ball over) will be a good recipe for an Indiana NBA championship.
It's an achievement which we hope will come sooner than later.
Unless noted otherwise, stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.
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