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Is There A New Hope for the Indiana Pacers?

| by David Berri

Ian Levy is a Third-Grade teacher by day and amateur basketball analyst by afternoon (he usually sleeps at night). Ian suffers from a rare psychological condition known as Anti-Homeritis which renders him incapable of rooting for hometown teams. He grew up in Upstate New York and has therefore been a lifelong Indiana Pacers fan. He writes his own basketball blog, Hickory High, and is a contributor at IndyCornrows Ian currently lives in Boise, Idaho, where he roots against the Boise State Broncos.

The Indiana Pacers entered this season with hope. They finished the 2008-2009 season winning 8 of their last 12 games. Over the summer they added two highly regarded (by some) rookies, in A.J. Price and Tyler Hansbrough; who had proven themselves to be winners at the collegiate ranks. In an effort to add depth and defensive aggressiveness the team signed veterans Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Luther Head and Solomon Jones. Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush seemed poised to move from their promising rookie seasons into sophomore campaigns of significant contribution. The Pacers knew they weren’t fielding a championship team, but challenging for the 8th playoff spot in the East didn’t seem out of reach. At the very least improvement was expected.

Obviously, things did not work out as hoped. The Pacers went from a 36 win season in 2008-2009 to a 32 win season; a season which would have been far worse if not for a March/April hot streak which saw the team winning 12 of their last 19 games. The reasons for this deterioration are myriad, but in this post we will focus on four in particular: Injuries, “Improvement,” Underwhelming Additions, and Regression.

Before we get to these, let’s begin by taking a look at the Pacers rosters from the last two seasons in terms of individual wins production:

Table One-Two: The Indiana Pacers in 2008-09 and 2009-10

 

Injuries

The injury woes for the Pacers started early this season when 1st Round Draft pick, Tyler Hansbrough, re-injured his shin during summer league play. From there it got worse with Troy Murphy, Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, and Jeff Foster all missing significant time. In addition to his shin injury, Hansbrough missed most of the second half of the season with vertigo induced by a viral ear infection. Together, those five players missed 163 of 410 possible games due to injury (Granger also sat out one game because of a suspension).

  • Danny Granger – 19 games missed
  • Troy Murphy – 10 games missed
  • Mike Dunleavy – 15 games missed
  • Jeff Foster – 66 games missed
  • Tyler Hansbrough – 53 games missed

“Improvement”

“Improvement” is in quotation marks because this section is really about a lack of improvement. When looking at Wins Produced, neither Roy Hibbert nor Brandon Rush had a successful rookie season. However, each showed signs of the ability to develop into a solid contributor. There was improvement to be sure, as each player made the leap into the positive range on WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes], but both were still below average for their designated position. 

  • Roy Hibbert – (-0.072 WP48 last season, 0.006 WP48 this season)
  • Brandon Rush – (-0.036 WP48 last season, 0.038 WP48 this season)

We should note, though, that if Rush is considered a shooting guard, then Rush was exactly average (WP48 of 0.100).  A similar story cannot be told for Hibbert.  At least, we really can’t argue that Hibbert was anything more than a below average center.

Underwhelming Additions

The Pacers lost four major contributors from last season and replaced them with four veterans supposed to provide toughness and defensive upgrades. Although the team defense did improve, the net production over the players lost was barely positive. To add insult to injury, the only two players who provided positive contributions, Luther Head and Earl Watson, were signed to one year contracts and are thus free agents again this summer. Solomon Jones and Dahntay Jones will be back next season, and that means their negative WP48 will likely return as well. 

Regression

Troy Murphy, Danny Granger and T.J. Ford were the only three above average (>/= o.100 WP48) contributors who returned to the Pacers in 2009-2010. Although Murphy continued to contribute at a terrific level, all three players saw a tremendous decline in their production.

  • Troy Murphy – (0.374 WP48 last season, 0.281 WP48 this season)
  • Danny Granger – (0.115 WP48 last season, 0.082 WP48 this season)
  • T.J. Ford – (0.101 WP48 last season, 0.084 WP48 this season)

Even when you account for the reduced minutes they played this season, the decline of these three players cost the Pacers about seven wins (26.21 Wins Produced using 2008-2009 WP48 with 2009-2010 minutes played vs. 19.69 Wins Produced this season).  Seven wins would have meant a three game improvement over the previous year, and would have had the team in contention for a playoff spot up until the final days of the season. Considering the injury woes the team suffered, this could have been viewed as a successful campaign and an indication of the improvement the fans and team were both looking for.

A New Hope

So where do the Pacers go from here? Where do we find hope for next season?

Unfortunately, things may get worse before they get better. Using Wins Produced, it’s clear the Pacers most productive player last season was Troy Murphy. By all accounts the organization is intent on using his expiring contract as a trade chip to move up in the draft or acquire other young talent. The second most productive player, Earl Watson, is a free agent and is unlikely to be re-signed because of financial constraints.

That being said, the eternal optimists in Indiana do have some reasons for hope:

  • Although Danny Granger fell off last year, he has been an above average contributor in the past and has the potential to return to that level of play.
  • Mike Dunleavy produced 10.72 wins for the Pacers in 2007-2008. He was an average player last season and, fingers crossed, will be starting a season completely healthy for the first time in two years.
  • Tyler Hansbrough’s WP48 was a paltry 0.006 last season. This was almost entirely due to his poor shooting percentages, and he proved to be a much better rebounder than advertised. If he can play a full season, continuing to improve, there is every reason to believe he will be a solid contributor.
  • Perhaps Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush can accelerate their rate of improvement and become average win producers.
  • In a very deep draft, the Pacers hold picks #10, #40 and #57.

With the short term goal of returning to the playoffs next season, here’s hoping the Pacers value what they have, and are smart in seeking value in the draft and on the free agent market. I would say things can’t get any worse, but as the good people of New Jersey can attest, I would be lying through my teeth.

- Ian Levy


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