Much has been made about the Pacers defense this season. It is one thing the Pacers have done that has given them the national spotlight. However, most argue that despite their defense, the Pacers will not be able to succeed in the playoffs without scoring more points, most often comparing their scoring average to that of the other Eastern Conference playoff teams.
Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com believes "a team with this kind of offensive hardship can't last until June."
Ian Levy, writer for The Two Man Game is of a similar mind. "Their defense is elite and can keep games close against almost any opponent. But their offense is so blunt and unimaginative that scoring points in the playoffs could be a monumental challenge."
It seems so obvious to me, yet few if any writers have acknowledged that a team's points scored on average in a game does not have any effect on how many points they will score in a given game. The Pacers may score fewer than all but one team in the NBA, but it doesn't matter. They give up the fewest points in the NBA and have the record to prove that they don't just play defense against the league's bottom-feeders, but against the elite as well. In the last month alone, the Pacers have held the the number one scoring offense in Houston to 95 points, the sixth-ranked Heat to its season low 77, and the eighth-ranked Knicks to 76 and they have yet to give up 100 points in a game in January. Despite their inability to match other team's points-per-game averages, the Pacers still outscore their opponents by over two points per game, currently eighth-best in the NBA.
I also disagree with Levy's comment that the Pacers offense is blunt and unimaginative. In an article by Tom Haberstoh published on ESPN.com's insider, he discusses the importance of the corner-three to efficient offenses. The Pacers make over 41 percent of their corner-threes, good for sixth best in the NBA, and they take almost six of them per game. Despite their successful use of corner-threes, they only score 98.4 points per 100 possessions, second worst in the NBA.
According to hoopdata.com, based on the shot selection of the Pacers and the league average field-goal percentage, the Pacers expected effective field-goal percentage is 11th in the NBA, meaning they should be scoring much more than they are. Part of this is due to the Pacers missing open shots, but the other part is the lack of fouls called on the Pacers end of the court. They are in the top five in the NBA at getting shots inside of 10 feet, yet they attempt only 22 free throws per game, below the league average.
It is difficult to judge how effective a team can be on offense or defense just from one game, and it can even be misleading to to look at numbers over half of a season. It can take a couple of months for trends to form or for teams to break them, and most successful teams improve throughout the season. If the Pacers keep up their defensive intensity and fundamentals, they should continue to hold teams under 90 points on a regular basis. On the offensive end, given their success on 3-pointers and the large volume of shooting inside 10 feet, the Pacers offense should start to improve and the foul shot disparity should start to even out. With the return of Danny Granger, one of the best perimeter offensive players in the NBA, things will only to continue to get better.
A somewhat unrelated note about large markets and small markets:
What do the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Heat all have in common besides their market size? The public gives them the benefit of the doubt because the public wants them to succeed. This of course has little effect on how any games play out, but it plays a large role in each fan's individual feelings about their team and their loyalty to their team.
The aforementioned teams never have to prove anyone right. Until the Lakers actually miss the playoffs, they are still a threat to win the championship. Until the Pacers or the Warriors knock off the Knicks or the Clippers in the playoffs, they will never be respected in the same way as the Knicks or the Clippers are despite the large-market teams' lack of a proven track record. Until the large market teams prove you wrong, they will always get the attention, the accolades and the respect. Perhaps it is an advantage, but here's to hoping the chip on my teams' shoulders gives them the boost to prove critics wrong. Let's keep pumping out praise for our soon to be champion Heat and Knicks and dupe them into relying on pedigree rather than hard work.