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For Paul George, Nothing Was the Same

The Pacers from Nap Town have been living up to the city’s nickname over the last quarter of the season as they have barely scratched out a .500 record since the All-Star break. This slide continued as the team fell to the Atlanta Hawks at home on Sunday, including a 55-23 half-time score favoring the visiting squad.

Personnel moves, chemistry issues, championship expectations, and uneven performance have plagued the team during its latest run. Unless there is a turnaround, both fans and the organization will most certainly have a lot of mixed feelings about this season.

But why the team is struggling as of late has the organization and its fans puzzled. Before an analysis of the team currently, it’s worthwhile to look at how the team got here.

Started From The Bottom

A 17th overall pick.

An 18th overall pick.

A 10th overall pick.

A 40th overall pick.

A 26th overall pick.

The Pacers’ starting lineup is not exactly filled with guys that teams would tank for. The composition of the team is a result of tireless scouting and well-calculated risk by President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird and his staff. The team is filled with enough playmakers to score at a decent rate, as well as guys that represent the gritty style of basketball that would make Dale Davis proud.

As the belle of the NBA’s ball during the first half of the season, the team was lauded for its tenacity and its leader, Paul George, was on the cusp of unseating LeBron James as the league’s Most Valuable Player. This was following a post-season in which James barely outdueled George en route to winning his second consecutive championship. George averaged over 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists during the team’s introductory playoff run on the national stage.

George Hill was one of the more recent draft-day gems the San Antonio Spurs found late in the first round of the 2008 draft. His partner in the backcourt, Lance Stephenson, was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft and was perceived as a high risk-high reward pick if he could be groomed to play under control. David West and Roy Hibbert were both mid-first round picks with a fair amount of scrutiny about both, but have formed one of the more physical and formidable power forward-center combinations in the league.

This team has fit the narrative of one that has “done it the right way” and is a natural choice as an alternative to the South Beach Superstars for basketball fans.

Own It

After the team’s coming out party in last year’s playoffs, the team was ready to take the next step to be considered ready for championship contention.

With free agent acquisitions and more playoff experience, fans and media members alike were prepared to call the Eastern Conference a ‘two-horse race.’

Up until the trade deadline, February 20, the team was 42 – 13 with very little to be concerned about with what seemed to be clear rotations and responsibilities. While the Pacers’ offense was still in the bottom half of the league, their defense was so dominating that they had the highest average point differential in league at 7.8 points per game.

However, the trade deadline brought new faces to the team in an attempt to fix what the front office viewed as broken with the team’s bench.

The team traded fan, and locker room, favorite Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. George took to his Instagram account to comment on his disappointment in regards to the trade:

The team also signed the oft-injured center Andrew Bynum. The move backfired on the team. After a handful of games, Bynum re-injured his knee and was shut down for the remainder of the season.

A look at the team’s shot selection illustrates more mid-range shots as the percentage of the team’s total shots from this area marginally increased from 9 percent to 10.5 percent after the trade deadline.

Statistically, the team did not encounter any huge changes on the defensive side of the ball.

The team’s number of attempts allowed at the rim increased from 31 percent to 35 percent at the rim. The increase in shot attempts has not proven to be as much as of an issue due to the team’s excellent interior defense. The team ranks first in the league in shooting percentage allowed from anywhere within 9 feet of the basket. However, the team’s perimeter defense has slipped across the board, including mid-range and three-point shots.

Offense

Defense table

While the statistical differences between the team before and after the deadline are noticeable, clearly a team with such a strong core could will its way to victories after such a hot start, right?

Too Much

It appears that two different factors could be at play for the Pacers. The team experienced too much success too soon; or the team is suffering from too much tinkering on the part of the front office. Neither of which is to say that their season is over by any means; however teams want more cohesiveness and better chemistry on and off the court by this point.

Center Roy Hibbert commented about the team’s struggles at the top of April stating:

“It’s awful, we’ve been in a downward spiral and we’ve been splintering a little bit. We’ve had plenty of players-only meetings and plenty of sit-downs as a team with the coaches and we’ve had some upper management in here, so I don’t know. Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something.”

RHNWTS

George has encountered a few off-the-court issues that probably wouldn’t have lingered in the media if the team were playing well. Rumors of an apparent “catfishing” scandal also linked George to a whole other type of online speculation.

The Heat quietly regained first place in the conference in hopes of creating the easiest road to making a bigger dent in history.

So this is where the Pacers find themselves. With only a few games left in the regular season and a certain top-two seed in hand for the playoffs, the team and its fans are more concerned than ever about the team that has been successful due to outworking competitors and positive chemistry in the locker room.

As the Pacers limp into the postseason, the rest of the conference in licking their chops at the chance to make a quick meal out of the central division champions.

About B. Gram

B. Gram is a freelance writer on sports and hip-hop culture. He graduated from college in Atlanta and currently works and lives in the DC Metro area. You can follow him on Twitter at @TrynaBe_Gram or at Rap’d Up Radio in the iTunes store.