When thinking of the Indiana Pacers’ past teams, what comes to mind? The Paul George days, facing off against a historic Miami team in the early 2010s? Maybe the Jermaine O’Neale-led Pacers of the 2000s? Or perhaps the Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Mark Jackson combinations in the 1990s? Memories of past lineups shape a team’s legacy, regardless of titles. It can be hard to notice when such memories are being made in the present, but this year’s Pacers have the potential to go down as one of the franchise’s most memorable teams.
Their current defensive identity may be forgettable, posting a 120.9 defensive rating (DRTG), the second worst in the league. However, their electrifying offense has made history, with an offensive rating (ORTG) of 123.6, making them the lead horse in offensive potency after 18 games. If this number holds until the end of the season, we are looking at the greatest statistical offense of all time.
The driving force behind this historic performance is young star Tyrese Haliburton. Acquired through a trade with the Sacramento Kings last season, the 6’5” guard has become a standout player in the NBA. Haliburton has excelled in playmaking and shooting, with elite levels in both areas, and his athleticism ranks near the top among explosive guards.
In the playmaking department, Haliburton’s processing speed, pace, and accuracy of his deliveries are top-tier. He leads the league in assists per game at 11.8 and has the highest box creation score in the league at 22.3. His mastery of different looks in pick-and-roll schemes has developed similarly to the other best playmakers in the game.
Despite his unconventional shot form, Haliburton has never dipped below 40% from three in his career. His midrange shot ranks second in terms of players shooting greater than his 57% mark with a minimum volume that matches his 4.9 field goals attempted.
Haliburton’s dynamism overextends defenses, causing a constant scramble mode when opponents fail to score against the Pacers. His speed in full-court possessions doesn’t give defenses any time to set up, leading to easy looks for teammates. His changes in acceleration in the half-court around multiple screens always stress defensive rotations, giving the Pacers an avenue to score.
While Haliburton is the chief impetus on Indiana’s pace, there is an incredible willingness from the rest of the team to sprint up the court on every possession, freeing them to shoot extremely early in the shot clock. Indiana currently possesses the fourth-fastest pace in the last 30 years at 104.2, leading the league in shots per game. Their pace is so dangerous that opposition teams are in a constant scramble mode if they fail to score against the Pacers’ defense (posting a 134.3 ORTG after getting stops).
The Pacers’ effective field goal percentage is the highest of all time at a mind-blowing 59.1 per cent. Their offense has relied heavily on drives, being the most in the league, and being top five in 3-point percentage. Additionally, the roster construction, with shrewd off-season acquisitions, has suited the high-flying offense. The balance of ballhandlers and decision makers enriches this system by permitting the coach, Rick Carlisle, to always have a spark on the floor.
The historic offensive output in Indiana has arrived on the back of multiple records being set in this category over the last few years. This is not to demean Indiana’s monumental start to the season, but rather to show how far the league has come in under a decade and where it still might go in the years to come. Look to the resurgent Sacramento Kings last year, following a similar mold and becoming a Western Conference playoff team. Indiana’s offense has followed suit. The Pacers fit perfectly with the rapidity required for a system that takes around a third of their shots in the first eight seconds of the shot clock. The early signs suggest that we have an emerging team that Pacers fans will be able to look back on and reminisce about the excitement their offense generates.