After dominating the Eastern Conference for most of the season, the Pacers have fallen off a proverbial cliff. Since the All-Star break, they are right around .500 (15-14 with yesterday’s win over the Thunder). There are, as one might except, several culprits. Roy Hibbert has essentially stopped scoring at all. David West has stopped rebounding. Paul George’s newfound accuracy has gone by the wayside (his FG% has hovered around 40% since January, and his TS% hasn’t been above .550 for an entire month since then). Lance Stephenson’s raw assist rate has dropped (4.0 per game in February, 3.1 per game in March). Perhaps most harmfully, their much-improved bench has been beset by injuries and inconsistency. C.J. Watson missed the better part of a month to injury. Things have not been going well for the Pacers, and yet they still have a shot at the #1 seed, which is testament to just how good they were the first half of the season.
Losing is just as collaborative an effort as winning is, so the Pacers’ recent slide is hardly the fault of one player. That being said, I’d like to focus on what I believe to be the biggest determining factor: the Pacers’ acquisition of Evan Turner. Turner, a career .426 shooter, was enjoying his “best” season as a pro in Philly due almost entirely to his 24.4 Usage Rate, which would rank second on the Pacers this season behind Paul George’s 28.3 mark. I suppose it was reasonable to assume that, upon becoming a member of the Pacers, Turner’s offensive output would become more reliant upon quick cuts and off-ball movement, and not the staid dribble in a circle and take a 15 footer attack that has characterized his NBA career thus far (the same sort of offense that makes a good college player with a high usage seem like a sure-fire NBA player to people who think the two games are analogous to one another).
Turner was brought in as a contingency plan for Lance Stephenson, and in many ways, he plays like a dime store version of Lance. Conceivably, one could see how the Pacers could mistake him for a suitable replacement. I admit to falling for the hype a bit. I thought that, since Danny Granger was essentially a non-factor, the addition of an actual NBA player would be an upgrade. To be fair, Turner hasn’t been able to dominate the ball to the extent he did in Philly, though not for a lack of trying. He’s hitting a startling .478 from deep as a Pacer, albeit while taking significantly fewer shots. He barely gets to the free throw line, and while he remains a decent passer and occasionally effective defender, his Offensive Win Shares remains well in the negative, as they have for his entire career. While the prevailing opinion is that trading Danny Granger hurt the Pacers, it’s more apt that trading for Evan Turner did more harm than good. As always, basketball remains a fluid, collaborative effort, and the troubles of one team are hardly the fault of one man.