11. Indiana Pacers — 31-51
There’s no simplistic way of saying it. You can’t ease the tension. Indiana had the worst offseason of any team in the league. You could shout out “Miami!” all you want, but at least they reloaded and didn’t lose their two best players.
Lance Stephenson choosing between 1992 Dream Team teammates was one thing — yep, he took Jordan over Bird.
Bird watching the August 1 Team USA scrimmage was another. He witnessed the fall of Paul George, the fractured leg sending chills down his spine. The initial chills were pain and grief for George, who he loves just as much as any young player he’s watched. The second wave of chills were for the team, the organization, and the city.
Indianapolis hasn’t hosted an NBA Finals event since 2000, and the two offseason gunshots landed right into an open wound. It shall be another few seasons before they have a chance to return.
Forget the part about losing two starters. Altogether (from George and Stephenson), the Pacers watched themselves lose 36.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, and eight assists per game. Their gorgeous halfcourt weave sets will never be the same, and neither will their simple flex offense. George and Stephenson also supplied the only two isolation players Indiana owned, guys they could give the ball to late in games and halfway trust with making a play or getting to the line. It’s gone.
Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, and Damjan Rudez bring a dimension the team desperately needed — proven scoring. Miles and Rudez have something in common that Stuckey doesn’t, and that’s an outside shooting touch. Combining them with Watson and Chris Copeland, there should be no reason why Indiana can’t rise from the dumps in 3-point attacks.
In the bittersweet 2013-14 season, Indiana ranked 17th overall in 3-point efficiency at 35.7 percent as a team. It doesn’t sound atrocious in those terms, but you have to take into consideration that they were a conference finalist. That, of course, means they finished the season as a member of the NBA’s “final four,” and nearly found their way to the Finals.
Why does it matter?
The Pacers were the only members of the final four to be so significantly upsetting on offense, and stretching the floor with their shooting.
San Antonio (39.7 percent), Miami (36.4 percent), and Oklahoma City (36.1 percent) all finished in the top 15 in outside shooting, and all three would be regarded as bigger threats from deep than Indiana.
In terms of True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for free throws and 3-pointers), the Pacers tied for 18th overall at 53.5 percent, which is well below league average. San Antonio (57.1 percent), Miami (59 percent), and Oklahoma City (56.6 percent) … all in the top five.
It doesn’t take a genius to conclude a few things. One, defense takes a team an incredibly long way in the East. Two, there’s no question that Indiana would be NBA champions if they could score in comparison to the teams they would face in the final rounds.
If anything, this is a blessing in disguise for Frank Vogel. Nobody sane will verbally abuse him if this season heads down the drain, since he can’t be blamed for having to deal with so much drastic change with the power of his team. Also, he finally has no excuse to not dive deep into his bench and search for answers.
Roy Hibbert is on the clock. That same clock has already turned into a ticking time bomb, ready to explode if he doesn’t show an ounce of offensive punch. He’s learned from a Laker legend in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar throughout the summer.
In reality, the Pacers may have a better chance at reaching the playoffs if the 67-year-old throws a gold jersey on himself.