As losers of three-straight games, the youthful Indiana Pacers have hit a rough patch for the first time this season. They went 26 games before losing back-to-back contests and their skid worsened on Saturday night when the Denver Nuggets came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and extended their losing streak to three games.
Things won’t get easier for the Pacers as the Miami Heat come to Indianapolis on Tuesday night, but after that the schedule will get easier for the remainder of the month.
Brutal Schedule To Turn Favorable
Indiana is in the midst brutal stretch of seven games against teams with winning records that can be extended out to 12 of 14 – only the New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves (both wins) were below .500
Starting with their Feb. 3 game at Dallas and ending Tuesday against the Heat, the Pacers will have played seven teams with a combined record of 113-75 and a winning percentage of more than 60%.
Over the 14-game stretch that ends against the Heat, Indiana’s opponents have a winning percent of more than 57%. So far, the Pacers are 7-6 in those games.
While they can’t let up, they will get a bit of a break beginning on Wednesday at Cleveland. After dealing with the Heat, they’ll face seven-straight opponents that appear headed for the draft lottery. From Feb. 15 to Mar. 3, their opponents have a combined winning percentage of just 22% -- including the two worst teams in the NBA (Charlotte and New Orleans) twice each.
The Starting Five Effect
When Jeff Foster and George Hill are healthy, Frank Vogel has no problem playing 10 players. Louis Amundson gets more time when Foster is out (chronic back issues), while Lance Stephenson and A.J. Price are seeing more minutes with Hill (chip fracture in ankle) sidelined.
A relatively large rotation would lead you to believe that the Pacers have a strong bench, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case this season.
Tyler Hansbrough (9.4 points) is their leading scorer off the bench, which ranks him 43rd among reserves. Hill flirted with double-figures at one point, but he is out indefinitely and was often either hot or not before his injury against the Nets last month.
Not surprisingly, Indiana’s starting five of Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert is their most effective group. According to 82games.com, the group is +99 this season. The next best group is just +22 with Hill in place of George.
The Pacers have been blessed with good health this season, as their projected starting five has begun 26 of their 27 games (Granger missed a single contest). Of the 240 minutes available per game, Collison, George, Granger, West and Hibbert play roughly 67% of the time (160 total minutes). The reliance on the starting five isn’t too great in terms of minutes. The Bulls, for example, have one of the NBA’s deepest rosters but their ‘Fave Five’ has played 66.3% of the time when Derrick Rose is healthy.
The issue for the Pacers is offensive effectiveness. The starters score 67.8 points per game, which represents 72% of the team’s total. There is a significant enough breakdown in offensive efficiency that the starting five are scoring a disproportionate number of points in relation to their minutes.
One would expect that a starting five, presumably the team’s five best players, would be better offensively than the second unit, but the contrast has been rather stark.
Mr. Jones And The Second Unit
The bench is averaging 26.4 points per game on 40.3% shooting over a five-game stretch in which the Pacers have lost four games. The percentage is poor, but the scoring itself is not. The real indicator is the plus-minus numbers this season.
The starting five are all in the positive, while bench contributors like Amundson, Hill, Tyler Hansbrough and Dahntay Jones are all under water. Jones, who gets some run with a variety of starters but plays mainly on the second unit, is a horrendous -75.
At this point, his ineffectiveness can’t be an aberration. He has essentially been the team’s eighth-man and has moved up to seventh with Hill injured. Jones has the lowest PER (9.9) among the team’s rotation players and only Hansbrough has a lower TS% and eFG%. His offense has never been his area of strength, but his defense hasn’t been consistently good enough to offset that.
Jones was a very good signing for the Pacers in July of 2009 when he left the Nuggets for a four-year, $11 million contract, but at this point he is hurting them more than he is helping them.