On Sunday in this space, I introduced the D’Antoni Index, a stat that combines three hallmarks of efficient basketball—3-pointers, shots near the rim, and free throws—into one handy stat that can be compared team to team and game to game against either a team itself (do they improve during the season?) or against the league (by using league average as the “index” part of the stat’s name.)
The worst team in the league for D’Antoni Index is, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Indiana Pacers, one reason the #FireNate chants echo across Twitter every time the Pacers lose a close game thanks to their Dark Ages offense counting by twos when the other team’s modern offense counts by threes.
But let’s not talk about the Pacers’ putrid offensive design. We do that enough around here. Let’s flip the script and ask “do the Pacers force other teams to play less efficient basketball than those teams otherwise do against the rest of the league?”
After all, there are sound defensive principles behind reducing an opponent’s DAI. If you take away the perimeter, you can hold the other team’s 3PAR down. If you have a great rim protector (like, say, Myles Turner and Goga Bitadze, both of whom are shotblocking monsters), you limit their in-close shooting. And if you defend without fouling or force jump shots rather than aggressive moves to draw contact, there goes the other team’s FTR.
Indiana is, at this writing, 8-6, having played (in order of first appearance) Detroit, Cleveland, Brooklyn, Chicago, Charlotte, Washington, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Houston, and Milwaukee.
That’s a list that runs the gamut from extremely high D’Antoni Index teams (including the team that is by far tops in the league on account of being actually coached by Mike D’Antoni, along with second-ranked Charlotte, sixth-ranked Brooklyn, and seventh-ranked Milwaukee) to teams (Orlando, Washington) seemingly unable to grasp the principles of modern basketball any more than the Pacers do.
Let’s look at the Rockets game first. Indiana got destroyed in that game, which was nowhere near as close as the 9-point final margin.
And while I’m using restricted area shots as a proxy for 0-3 feet (they aren’t quite the same thing), this should at least get us in the neighborhood.
Houston had a .517 3PAR, .326 FTR, and shot 31.5 percent of their shots inside the restricted area, for a total of 1.158. Their season average? 1.119. Yikes. The most D’Antoni team in the league was even more D’Antoni when they beat the Pacers.
Let’s jump to the opposite end of the spectrum, that 15-point beatdown the Pacers hung on the Wizards on Nov. 6.
Washington had a 3PAR of .421, a FTR of .200, and shot 30.5 percent of their shots inside the restricted area. That’s a total of .926.
Which…wait, let’s adjust this. The restricted area extends more than 3 feet out, so let’s do a quick comparison of league average RA% against what Basketball Reference says is the percent taken inside 3 actual feet and just apply a conversion factor.
It’s…well, OK, it varies kind of widely from team to team, but it’s about 5 to 8 percent in most cases.
If we discount the Rockets and Wizards’ rates by 8 percent each, that gives them 0-3 factors of .290 and .281 and drops Houston’s total to 1.133 and Washington’s to .902.
Except…well, that still gives them D’Antoni Indices higher than their average for the season.
Let’s complete this sample with one more team, namely Detroit, which will in total comprise 5 of the Pacers’ 14 games this season (35.7 percent, a big enough sample for my taste.)
Detroit’s 3PAR in the 3 games: .308, .296, and .384.
Their FTR: .423, .123, and .209.
And their restricted area percentage, discounted by 8 percent: .306, .227, and .278.
Your totals: 1.037, .646 (!), and .871.
All this on a team that, if Dwane Casey’s coaching is normally a barometer of what to expect from them, should post something like .938 from game to game.
Once, when they beat the Pacers from pillar to post in the season opener, they were more efficient. But that second game (which Detroit won 96-94!), Casey reverted so far into the Dark Ages that even Nate would’ve blushed at the box score!
All this invites the question of “do the Pacers have a particular ability to make the other team take bad shots?”
And while admittedly this is just five out of 14 games, the simple fact seems to remain that there is no measurable correlation not only between the Pacers’ opponents’ D’Antoni Index and their usual numbers in that stat, but nor is there a correlation between how that one opponent did on any given night vs. how they did on the actual scoreboard (Indiana got its revenge against the Pistons in a game Detroit played inefficiently, but not as inefficiently as a game Detroit won.)
So what have we actually learned here?
Well, for one thing, D’Antoni Index shouldn’t be taken as a stat with predictive value in an individual game (then again, it isn’t supposed to be that.)
But for another, teams play…well, how those teams play against the league at large, getting good looks from long range some nights, attacking the basket other nights, and constantly at the whim of the referees for free throw totals from game to game.
So no. The Pacers have no particular “talent” for forcing other teams into bad shots, not in a predictable way on any given night.
We’re going to have to find some other way to explain their performance. But D’Antoni Index is a pretty good cumulative stat…so the one real lesson here is to fire Nate.