The Indiana Pacers have started this season 7-4 after clobbering the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-85 on Tuesday night. They have won seven of eight after starting the season 0-3, Domantas Sabonis has been in beast mode ever since Myles Turner got hurt, and Malcolm Brogdon has emerged as a genuine All-Star-caliber player now that he’s out of the shadow of Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.
Everything should be sunshine and lollipops, especially with Victor Oladipo engaging in full court practice with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants squad today, right?
Wrong. Because behind that 7-4 facade is an edifice that isn’t on any more solid ground than it was on when this team was 0-3 and everyone thought the sky was falling.
Don’t get me wrong. 7-4 is better than, say, 4-7, especially with seemingly every player on the roster missing time due to injury so far this season. Only two starters—Brogdon and T.J. Warren—have played all 11 games, and only three bench players, namely Justin Holiday, T.J. McConnell, and Doug McDermott, have appeared in every contest.
But let’s look at the many causes for alarm in this early start:
Strength of Schedule
The Pacers have lost to Detroit (twice; the Pistons are 2-6 otherwise), Cleveland (3-4), and Charlotte (3-6.) That, counting the Pistons twice, means their conquerors are a combined 10-22 (.313; 26-56 per 82 games) against the rest of the league.
Meanwhile, Indiana has beaten Detroit (2-6), Cleveland (3-4), Brooklyn (4-4), Chicago (3-6), Washington (2-5), Orlando (3-6), and Oklahoma City (4-6), and that’s 11 games to start the season with absolutely no games against teams currently holding winning records.
Indiana should be 10-1 against a cupcake schedule like that. Possibly 11-0.
How averse to the three-pointer has Nate McMillan been as coach this season?
Indiana took a .268 3PAR into Tuesday night’s game, dead last in the league by a mile, and couldn’t even break that mark against the Thunder, shooting 7-of-23 from long range out of 94 total FGA (a give-me-a-break .245 3PAR.)
You know the last time .268 was even league average for 3PAR in the NBA? 2014-15. Five years ago.
This is disgusting. Other teams count by 3 when the Pacers count by 2. There is no reason any coach who still believes in using the 3-pointer that infrequently should ever have a head-coaching job in the NBA again.
And Its Friend the Long 2
Indiana has taken 19.1 percent of its shots from between 16 feet and the arc this season.
The New York Dumpster Fires are second in the league at 15.9 percent.
The Pacers, a team that is supposed to be good, are taking 20 percent more of the least efficient shots in basketball than the goddamn Knicks.
This. Is. Disgusting.
Yes, Indiana is hitting 42.2 percent of such shots, good for fourth in the league, but you know what .422 really means? It means an offensive rating of 84.4.
They’re hitting 36.9 percent of their 3-point shots, eighth in the league, and good for an eFG% of .554.
Don’t even start with that “efficient in the midrange” blather. There is No. Such. Thing.
The simple fact remains that Nate McMillan’s coaching career, seven-of-eight winning streak be damned, should be over. Kaput. Deader than Byron Scott‘s coaching career.
Is the Pacers’ ceiling really higher with Nate playing out the string and finally getting fired after a first-round playoff exit, his eighth in nine playoff appearances in his coaching career?
Or would letting Dan Burke take the reins as interim coach at worst be a lateral move and at best be an unlocking of the potential of the Pacers to actually improve their surprisingly good in spite of its poor design (before tonight’s game Indiana was 9th in Offensive Rating) offense?
The team was 13th in Defensive Rating and probably improved that ranking after smashing the Thunder, so if you paired that with an offense that actually scored points like a 21st century NBA team?
Don’t Be Fooled By 7-4.
The Pacers have played a garbage schedule and therefore are winning games despite an archaic offense and a ton of injuries.
But just like last year, when they hit March without Victor Oladipo and ended the season 4-13 including a playoff sweep, they’re not as good as their record, and no amount of early wins will paper over the fact that this team has deep structural flaws.
If anything, the winning just makes it harder to do the most effective thing front-office management could do, and that’s to fire Nate.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you when they have three games in four nights later this week against the Rockets, Bucks, and Nets and end up 7-7 faster than you can blink.
But that “I told you so” is for next week’s edition of this column. For now, at least we’re 7-4.