Following their 101-91 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, the Indiana Pacers have started the season 2-2.
So far, the Pacers have taken care of business against two bad teams with their wins coming against the Brooklyn Nets and the Memphis Grizzlies. Taking care of bad teams is an expectation, especially at home.
The two road losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves brought no moral victories. However, it’s too early to read into patterns like lack of road success or inability to consistently defeat winning teams.
While the expectations for this season are significantly higher than they were for last year, it’s important not to panic.
Last season, the Pacers also started out with a 2-2 record. They were even 19-19 through the first 38 games. For the remainder of the season, the Pacers went 29-15 to end the regular season with a 48-34 record.
After the loss to the Timberwolves, coach Nate McMillan shared insight regarding his thoughts on what has contributed to the team's wins and losses. He mentioned how in the wins the Pacers had ball movement and defensive intensity.
"We just got to play the game together. It works. In the two wins that we had, we've had great ball movement, great defensive intensity, and in the two games that we’ve dropped, the defense isn't there and the offensive ball movement has not been there, so we've got to clean this up," he said.
The main difference has been shot making. In the Pacers' wins, they have produced a 63.8 percent true shooting percentage — and in their losses, they have only a 48.5 percent true shooting percentage.
Being able to rely on a variety of players to score is a luxury that the Pacers had in their wins. They had seven players produce a double-figure scoring average in their two wins with Domantas Sabonis also scoring 14 points in one of those games. In their losses, only four players averaged at least 10 points.
One of the most noticeable issues for the Pacers has been Tyreke Evans’ struggles in their losses. He is heavily leaned on as the main playmaker for the bench unit and if he isn’t executing at his regular level, it’s very likely they will struggle.
Evans has averaged 14.5 points and 4 assists during the two wins compared to 6 points and 2.5 assists in their losses. In addition, his true shooting percentage has been the lowest on the team by a considerable margin during the two losses.
The quality of ball movement has not been great in any game. In their losses, they have averaged 301.5 passes, 16 assists and 36.5 potential assists. The total volume of the passes is certainly fine but the passing itself isn’t creating many good opportunities, and on top of that, the shots haven’t been falling.
Meanwhile, in their two wins, they have averaged 278 passes made, 25 assists, and 39 potential assists. The overall volume of ball movement has been lower and the improvement in the quality of shots that they are creating has been relatively marginal. The difference has been execution on their shot attempts.
Indiana has averaged 44 field goal attempts that have been either open or wide open in their two wins. Indiana's average actually has been higher in its losses. For reference, the Pacers have averaged 44.5 field goal attempts that have been at classified as open or wide open.
The contrast for the Pacers with their shots that have been at least open in their wins compared to their losses has been their execution. They are shooting only 39.3 percent on these attempts in losses and 53.4 percent in wins.
Defensively, the Pacers have been successful to start the year. They have produced a 103.5 defensive rating and that ranks fifth in the NBA. The main issue for them has been the fact that they have posted a 99.0 defensive rating in wins and that production has fallen by 8.9 in their losses.
Stopping the Grizzlies and the Nets is easier than slowing down the Bucks and the Timberwolves, so that’s likely the biggest factor in the disparity in their defensive production as a team. While maintaining a high level of energy on defense is good, not having strong individual defenders against tough matchups always will be an issue regardless.
There are going to be a lot of opportunities for the Pacers to establish some success on the road and against winning teams throughout the season. Over their next 10 games, they have seven matchups with projected playoff contenders and six road games as well. Wednesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs is a combination of both.