The Indiana Pacers are coming off their best offensive display in a while after scoring 124 points against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
It was a much-needed performance from the Pacers because they were producing the league’s worst offensive results over their eight previous games. That is not an exaggeration. During the eight games that they played before their matchup with the Nuggets, they produced just a 100.1 offensive rating and that ranked last over that span.
Coming back from a four-game road trip that featured all difficult Western Conference opponents certainly made a difference. That should naturally be the case for a team that produces a league-best 101.1 defensive during home games and has most of their players executing better at Bankers Life Fieldhouse than they do on the road.
The Pacers knew that in order to get back on track offensively, they would need more than just playing in their arena again. The coaching staff extensively studied the film from their 89-point scoring effort against the Golden State Warriors from last week.
"We looked at a lot of film from our last game against these guys," Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said following the Pacers’ win over the Nuggets. "Better execution, better spacing, better ball movement, defensively we were connected against the second-best team in the West. This is a really good win for us."
The greatest components that have held back Indiana's offense has been a lack of playmaking impact from their personnel and that requires them to have a precise approach. They do not have the explosive impact that Victor Oladipo brought to the table last season and their active perimeter personnel is mostly at their best when spotting up and coming off screens.
The overview statistics from Synergy Sports behind the Pacers' scoring efficiency in key areas of scoring within half-court offense on the season are concerning. Their efficiency ranks in the bottom half of the league in the following categories; pick-and-roll ball handling (24th), pick-and-roll roll man (29th), post-ups (23rd), isolation (30th), and handoffs (19th).
Not having the luxury of a perimeter playmaker that can break down a defense can be problematic in many areas as the Pacers have experienced. Their recent loss to the Warriors provided great insight into what can result from their weaknesses. Golden State frequently switched against screens and that often bottled up Indiana's half-court offense.
"I think we struggled," Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke said following their loss to the Golden State Warriors. "You have to give their defense a lot of credit, they have so much flexibility and versatility and that switching is like a stoplight for us. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to move the ball."
A consistent end result of a lot of the Pacers' inability to attack switching schemes are bad shot attempts late in the shot clock. While these possessions do not get recorded as a turnover, the misses are bad enough to create favorable transition opportunities for the opposition.
"They forced us to take some tough ones," Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said about the Warriors’ defensive outing against the Pacers. "Especially when they did some late-clock switching. We were forced to take some contested shots and they didn't go in and then that's what they thrive off of. When you take a bad shot, they either get a leak out or they'll push the break in transition and get some threes."
Scoring comes much easier for the Pacers when Bojan Bogdanovic is able to take the reigns as the team’s top offensive option and Myles Turner is getting his jump shots to fall. Both of those happened against the Nuggets and the result was that the defense couldn’t afford to leave Turner and the greater emphasis to slow Bogdanovic down opened things up for everyone else.
It seems premature to place significant stock into what Indiana did against Denver until they can show consistency on the road. The matchups that they had were considerably more favorable than what they will likely face in the playoffs since Nikola Jokic lacks the mobility to cover ground defensively and their perimeter defenders are less than stellar.
The looming return of Darren Collison should only help the Pacers’ offense considering how he provides a necessary impact as a jump shooter and facilitator. It is unknown when exactly he will be back in the lineup, but he did practice on Tuesday.
If the Pacers’ offense truly has gotten back on track, they will have ample opportunity to prove it against tougher defensive matchups. They will face the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight and then Friday’s matchup is against the Boston Celtics with both being on the road and possibly without Collison.