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The Indiana Pacers are here to stay

After a recent massive comeback win over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Indiana Pacers improve to 12-8 and sit 4th in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers didn’t have high expectations for the season. With a bloated roster with plenty of new but uncertain merchandise on their roster, many thought Indiana would be a bottom feeder with their only goal of landing Victor Wembanyama as the overall winner. Instead, the Pacers have played every single game and sit at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Led by Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and many more, here’s how and why Indiana started the season so well.

Tyrese Haliburton’s Fame

Tyrese Haliburton has always been one of the top players in his draft class. He was a leading ROTY voter in 2020, trailing only LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards, and found himself on the All-Rookie First Team. In his sophomore season, he didn’t quite make the step forward many had hoped would be with Sacramento, but he was still solid until they traded him to the Pacers in a package for Domantas Sabonis.

While the Kings are having a great season, it’s clear they’ve sold a potential future superstar. Haliburton averages 20 PPG on 48/38/85 shooting splits and leads the league in assists with 11.3. His brilliant passing and vastly improved style of play were showcased for Indiana this season:

Haliburton has 48 assists since his last turnover (an NBA record) and has been absolutely dominant when it comes to offense-making. He was certainly aided by Indiana’s plethora of deadly off-ball shooters, but he was also incredible as an inside passer. Several times he could find rolling bigs from high ball screens or cutters looking for open spaces on his drives.

He’s always been one of the best passers in the NBA, but his playmaking and advantage generation has improved significantly because he’s gotten much better as a driver. He’s been top 15 in trips per game this season and shoots 74% in the paint. Coupled with his high shot volume, he’s a truly versatile scorer, using his dribbling to break down defenses and knocking them out to open shooters.

As always, the filming was remarkable. He’s doing almost five pull-up triples per game and connecting at 39% of them, while also taking some spot ups and connecting them at a solid rate. He’s made the leap as both a goalscorer and passer this season and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The improvements in scoring have opened up more passing opportunities and he’s hitting every window he can find.

Haliburton has truly evolved into an offensive centerpiece. With his deadly shooting and enhanced slash, he finds his teammates at an all-time speed, using a variety of opportunities to create open looks for his teammates. He’s had plenty of help on the attacking end of the floor, but he’s the engine that makes everything work for this Pacers roster.

Off-ball shooters galore

Indiana’s offensive could not function the way it has without the help of the deadly shooters they have been able to acquire over the past year. Their top marksmen, Buddy Hield, Benedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, were vital to the success of Indiana’s attack.

Buddy Hield was the forgotten piece in the Domantas Sabonis-Tyrese Haliburton trade, but he had a great year for Indiana. He’s averaging 17 PPG and shooting 37% at nearly double-digit three-pointers a night. He excels in an off-ball role where he sprints off screens in threes and puts screens back to prepare for shots. He has even offended himself or created second page PNRs.

Bennedict Mathurin, a similar archetype player to Buddy Hield, has also successfully outplayed Haliburton, scoring easy shots from the perimeter. As Mathurin emerged from the draft, his greatest strengths were his ability to shoot as a goalscorer and attack from catch while he had to work on ball handling and his consistent creation. However, he managed to be one of the most efficient goalscorers in the league as a rookie because he was used perfectly.

He shoots and hits three-pointers with a high clip (5.8 attempts per game, 41.7%) and has used that shooting to force closeouts and destroy them with his athleticism and finishing ability. He reaches the line with unprecedented speed for a rookie (5.9 tries) and he was an excellent player attacking from the ball.

Finally, Andrew Nembhard was very solid as a rookie. He’s primarily a point guard, but his shooting ability means he can outplay the ball and drill three-pointers like he did against the Lakers. He’s also a really intelligent player with a tremendous feel for the game that fits perfectly into this squad.

Tyrese Haliburton surrounded by a trio of nuclear guards/wings who can shoot from deep from deep has proven to be the perfect combination. Since they’re also playing at one of the fastest paces in the league, they can step out and take turns running, and Mathurin in particular can use his athleticism as a play finisher or shooting can run wide and open a corner for Haliburton to give it to them to show. These shooters are essential to Indiana’s identity and their offensive production was needed.

Myles Turner’s genesis

One should always be cautious when a player breaks out in a contract year, but Myles Turner, who is having a career season, was also a big reason for Indiana’s success. Turner was always touted as someone who could break out offensively and become a big factor at this end of the floor, but he’s never been able to do so consistently. However, it looks like that has changed this season.

Turner averages a career-high 18 PPG on 54/40/83 shooting splits. He’s shooting volume threes and connecting with a ton from there, he’s finishing shots around the rim at a career rate, and he was able to attack the rim and take free throws (5.1 per game) at double the rate of last season. He gave Haliburton real option as a popper and roller in the PNR, and his efficiency around the rim (83%) and behind the arc (40%) made him a deadly play finisher.

He doesn’t create much of himself, nor does he expand his game as a transitional pull-up shooter, but his ability to easily take down open shots and free up space in the PNR has made him an incredible pairing with Haliburton. When you combine all of this with his all-world rim protection, Turner makes a solid case for becoming an all-star big this season.

Can the Pacers keep up the success?

The Pacers will likely participate in the Play-In tournament, but if they continue to play at this level, they could secure a top 6 spot in the East. With Haliburton’s brilliance as an offensive engine and her collection of over-skilled off-ball shooters, her offense is one of the most entertaining in the league. If they can continue shooting at this level, with Haliburton being a borderline All-NBA player, Indiana will secure a spot among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

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