Indiana opened the season dragging on the floor, averaging 92.7 points per game in three losses to Toronto, Memphis and Utah. The team-wide small ball movement, mandated by team president Larry Bird, failed in a multitude of ways. The Raptors (41-32) and Jazz (47-34) crushed the Pacers on the glass, and Indiana surrendered 39 fourth quarter points to Memphis. Paul George’s play was justifiably rusty after missing most of the past season — the All-Star shot 23.5 percent from the field in his debut at power forward. George was just 5-for-15 from the field against Memphis, and the Pacers committed 20 turnovers. Against the Jazz, the Pacers were 4-for-17 from behind the arc, scored 76 points, and shot themselves in the foot with 10 assists against 24 turnovers.
A fringe playoff pick before the season began, nobody could be sure what Indiana would look like in the early-goings of the season. The personnel had been altered so drastically in order to shamelessly bite a basketball philosophy employed by the NBA’s best and brightest teams. In George, the Pacers have a head start over the majority of Eastern Conference wannabes — a true-blue superstar is the surest way to relevance — but what could Indiana honestly expect from its stretched-thin frontcourt, collection of combo-guards and altogether unfamiliar core?
Over the last 10 games, Indiana fans have had plenty to smile about. The team is 8-2 with a 10.2 net rating — Indiana is scoring 103.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, while defending at the second-best rate over that stretch. After an anemic start, the Pacers have jumped to 13th in rebounding percentage. The team is 9th in turnover ratio, 4th in points off turnovers, and sixth in second chance points. Indiana is 11th in fastbreak points and ninth in opponent fastbreak points.
— NBA (@NBA) November 19, 2015
They’re doing the little things, and while they’ve benefited from a lighter portion of the schedule, the Pacers are winning the games in front of them. George has been the best player in the Eastern Conference over the stretch (with apologies to Andre Drummond).
Frank Vogel’s a damn genius, and Paul George is a Jedi. https://t.co/FYLCzb8v4r
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 23, 2015
Behind Steph, Paul George is quietly having as good a season as anyone
— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) November 22, 2015
The All-Star is shooting 9.1-for-20.0 FGA (45.5 percent), hitting 3.3 3PM on 46.5 percent shooting, and he is knocking down 6.8 FTM on 83.8 percent shooting. His 27.2 points per game are accompanied by 8.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals over these 10 games. Indiana is scoring 103.6 points per 100 possessions with George on the floor with an 89.7 DefRtg over this stretch.
Dare I say it, I think Paul George is better than before. https://t.co/xOj8Ov145b
— whitney (@its_whitney) November 19, 2015
— NBA (@NBA) November 20, 2015
The team’s two losses were on the road against Cleveland and Chicago, and its eight wins were mostly against the slim pickings of the East. Indiana has elevated itself into the discussion for No. 2 team in the East, though, which is more than we could have predicted after its first three games.