The Pacers: The Overreaction

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The Numbers

  •  Average Seed
  • 📉 Pessimist
    29.8 wins
  •  Realist
    39.9 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    50.0 wins
 First Seed
⋆ Division
 Top 4
👍 Over (53.5)
ğŸ‘Ž Under (53.5)
ğŸŽ€ Playoffs

Human beings cannot comprehend very large or very small numbers. It would be useful for us to acknowledge that fact.

Daniel Kahneman

The Brief

The Pacers turned a lot of heads when they took the Heat to 7 games last season. They've been the media darling of the NBA, with the future looking so bright. We've got some bad news. On the path the team is currently on, we expect them to be a first round exit team. Much of this boils down to the media's tendency to overreact to recent events.

The Story

The Pacers have been on an upward trajectory. In the past three seasons they've advanced a round in the playoffs each year. Thus, many people project that this is the year they could return to the finals. And when we look at how they improved each year, we see that the improvement came via an influx of talent. There's more than a few issues with these players though though.

Finally, there's the law of small sample sizes. Does advancing one further round in the playoffs really equate to being that much better than in the previous year?

Last Year

  •  Actual Wins: 49
  •  Expected Wins: 50.3
  • ⚅ Lucky Wins: -1.4
Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Paul George 2972 23 .162 10.0
George Hill 2620 27 .194 10.6
David West 2435 33 .151 7.7
Lance Stephenson 2278 23 .168 7.9
Roy Hibbert 2269 27 .099 4.7
Tyler Hansbrough  1366 28 .118 3.4
Ian Mahinmi 1322 27 .006 .2
D.J. Augustin  1226 26 .114 2.9
Gerald Green  1080 28 -.005 -.1
Sam Young  693 28 .082 1.2
Orlando Johnson 619 24 .145 1.9
Jeff Pendergraph 369 26 .075 .6
Ben Hansbrough 200 25 -.008 0
Danny Granger 74 30 -.249 -.4
Miles Plumlee  55 25 -.021 0
Dominic McGuire  12 27 -.307 -.1
Jeff Ayres  0 26 0 0

 Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 50.3 total Wins Produced
  •  7 players leaving
    (4432 minutes, 7.3 wins)


The Pacers owe their success mainly to two players: Paul George and George Hill. Paul George was an unexpected surprise out of the 2010 draft lottery. George Hill was acquired when the Pacers let the Spurs use their pick to grab Kawhi Leonard. Some will say this was mutually equitable. I'd argue it was a big loss, since Kawhi Leonard is a star, but there are 14 other teams that made the same mistake.

Two other players chipped in at a good rate: David West and Lance Stephenson. You'll notice that last year Roy Hibbert was pretty mediocre despite his large payday. The one thing people will say in his defense, I'm sure, is that he's good at...defense! Except, his defense would have to be ridiculous to justify his salary. It's possible that is the case, but it seems unlikely. Finally, Tyler Hansbrought, D.J. Augustin and Orlando Johnson looked promising.The bad news is that of those promising players, only Orlando Johnson remains. Regardless, if the Pacers had a successful season last year, and they have a large core returning, how can we be bearish on this team?

This Year

  •  Projected Wins: 39.9
  •  Conference Rank: 7
  • % Playoffs: 53.7
Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Paul George 2.6 2887 23 .193 11.6
George Hill 1.3 2549 27 .167 8.9
Roy Hibbert 5.0 2339 27 .090 4.4
David West 4.0 2252 33 .103 4.8
Lance Stephenson 2.0 1896 23 .148 5.8
Danny Granger 3.2 1524 30 .068 2.2
Luis Scola  4.4 1335 33 -.015 -.4
C.J. Watson  1.0 1164 29 .062 1.5
Ian Mahinmi 5.0 952 27 .054 1.1
Solomon Hill  3.0 772 22 -.002 0
Chris Copeland  4.3 652 29 -.026 -.4
Donald Sloan  1.3 508 26 -.003 0
Orlando Johnson 2.3 383 24 .158 1.3
Darnell Jackson  4.1 271 28 .004 0
Ron Howard  2.0 186 31 .056 .2

 Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 43.8 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 -7.6 WP (roster changes)
  • ⏲ -2.5 WP (age/experience)


There are two major problems on this team now: Danny Granger and Luis Scola. Granger has always been a Yay Points! player. With him injured, the Pacers were able to play stronger players like Stephenson and George. With him returning to the lineup, he'll be taking minutes from more productive players. Scola was once very good, but he entered the league at 28 and has followed an accelerated age curve. At this point, his productive days are long behind him. Instead of grabbing Scola, the Pacers should have kept Hansbrough and the 1st round pick. Now that he's on the team, we predict that every minute he plays will cost the team wins.

Beyond this, there are three players we're skeptical of: George Hill, David West, and Lance Stephenson. All played very well last season. For Hill it was uncharacteristically good. Even if we assume he'll have another great year, we're expecting a few wins to drop off. David West is getting old, and old players age like milk, not wine. Since he had the best year of his career last season, that should raise a few eyebrows. A regression to the mean and/or a decline with age are both very likely this season and we don't expect him to keep it up. Finally, Stephenson had an absurdly good year. Our sample size of his play before last season was sparse, so it's hard to say if that will keep up, but we expect the addition of Granger and Scola to push Stephenson down in minutes anyway. The end result of all of this is a drop of more than a few wins and a few playoff spots.

The Wrap

Here's the good news. This team has enough talent on the roster to completely negate this post. If the Pacers pull a Rudy Gay like trade, and bench Scola, then they could hit 50 wins again. Just playing their good players and not getting caught up on their overrated and highly paid players (Granger and Hibbert) could put this team in a great position. But the offseason moves and basic psychology we see in the NBA when teams spend a lot on players suggests that the opposite will happen.

David Berri has pounded this home a lot. In a 7 game series, the worse team wins quite often. Even if one team is a 65-35 favorite (and this would be a huge gap in the NBA), you'd need a 23-game series for the better team to have a 95% chance of winning the series, and the worse team will win a 7-game series 20% of the time. If the edge is 55-45, you need 269 games to get that 95% certainty, and the worse team will win a 7-game series 40% of the time.

What this means is that the fact that Indiana took the Heat to 7 games just doesn't mean that much. The evidence we gathered over last year's 82 game regular season means far more, and all of that evidence suggests that this team is nowhere near as good as the Heat. Given the important role players they lost, and the fact that they're new acquisitions are highly overrated, the sky-high expectations for this team are crazy. I think Frank Vogel is one of the safest bets to take if you are in a "which coach gets fired first" pool, because his team is likely to "underperform".