Sizing Up the Indiana Pacers as 2019 Begins

May we all pray to the Basketball Gods that the Indiana Pacers’ December in 2018 doesn’t turn out the way November did in 2015, when the squad went 11-2 in the month of plywood turkey and salmonella stuffing only to go 34-35 over the rest of the season, nearly missing the playoffs.

Unlike that 2015-16 squad, which was basically Paul George and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, this year’s Pacers team features a talent level so stacked from top to bottom that a guy who had a 20.0 PER in 77 games and 1,387 minutes for the Knicks last year has played only 112 minutes all of this year.

But hey, it’s not Kyle O’Quinn‘s fault, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are just that good.

Turner continues to improve his rebounding, averaging 9.4 a game in December.

Sabonis is fifth in the league in field goal percentage, has an on-court Net Rating of +8.4, averages 9.6 rebounds per game in just 24.7 minutes. That’s 14 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is within shouting range of the likes of Andre Drummond (16.7) and DeAndre Jordan (16.2.)

The point here is that “Turbonis” (as Pacers Twitter has nicknamed the Pacers’ center tandem) gives you 48 minutes a game of the most dominating interior defense, rebounding, and inside scoring as the Pacers have had in possibly ever.

Rik Smits was a lousy rebounder; Roy Hibbert rebounded like a guard, and that’s not fair to all the guards in today’s league who rebound well enough to rack up triple-doubles.

And Jeff Foster‘s best season rebounding the ball, he averaged 13.4 per 36 minutes, less than Sabonis is grabbing this year.

The two best centers in Pacers history might just be on the team at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Pacers are using the three-pointer like a sniper rifle (I’ve got a feature coming about this later this week, stay tuned.) They’re third up from the bottom in 3-point attempt rate but fifth in shooting percentage from beyond the arc.

Bojan Bogdanovic has cooled off after his hot start—at one point he was shooting over 50 percent from long range—but his 45.7 percent clip is still good for sixth in the league.

Only Doug McDermott (40.5) is hitting over 40 percent from long range, but seven Pacers players with at least 67 attempts are shooting 36.8 percent or better, including Turner, who is now hitting on 37.3 percent of his threes for the season.

The rest of the guys? Cory Joseph (37.8), Darren Collison (37.4), and Tyreke Evans (36.8.)

It’s entirely possible the Pacers might be leading the league in 3-point percentage full stop, but Victor Oladipo is hitting only 35.0 percent of his 160 tries, second-most attempts behind Bogdanovic.

But let’s not slag on Oladipo, huh?

True, his advanced stats aren’t anywhere near as good as they were last year…

Vic, 2017-18: 23.1 PER, .577 TS%, .155 WS/48, +4.9 BPM, 4.92 VORP/82.
Vic, 2018-19: 19.1 PER, .528 TS%, .130 WS/48, +3.4 BPM, 3.78 VORP/82.

But then again, his defense is somehow actually better this year than it was last year in terms of both Box Plus/Minus and Defensive Rating, and that’s a big part of the reason (Turner’s emergence as a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate is another) why the Pacers now stand second in the league in Defensive Rating and first in non-pace-adjusted (i.e. points per game) defense.

Collison’s coming back from the dead in December helped as well; DC, besides getting his three-point shooting back well above league average (35.2 percent is league average this year), is posting the best Defensive Rating of his career, he’s got a positive Defensive BPM for the first time in his life, and his WS/48 (.144) and VORP/82 (1.55) are both solid. He is well out of danger in terms of joining the Harrison Barnes/Andrew Wiggins/Carmelo Anthony Non-Star Team as negative VORP guys in high-minute roles.

Collison’s Usage Rate is the lowest (15.7) of his career, while his Assist Rate (27.3) is the highest it’s been since his second year in the league.

The Pacers are 25-12. That record would be good enough for the 1 seed if they played in the West; as it stands, it’s the third-best record in all of basketball.

They’re 6-7 against the West, mind you, because on that side of the country stand 14 teams with realistic chances at making a playoff run, but 19-5 is the best record in the East against other East teams, which will come in handy come playoff tiebreaker time.

That 25-12 record projects to 55-27 across a full season, but even that manages to underrate the team.

After all, if you take a team with a +6.5 point differential, on average, it wins 58.55 games per 82.

That’s the 58-24 the Warriors went last year or the 59-23 Toronto put up as the 1 seed in the East in 2017-18.

That’s right…as good as the Pacers are, they’re somehow still underrated compared to their stats.

Happy New Year, Pacers Nation. Ball don’t lie, and ball says this team can win the chip.