The puzzle pieces have changed, but the picture of the sailboat they form has not.
Under Frank Vogel, the Pacers have relied heavily on their starters. Between them, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert excel in all areas of the court, offensively and defensively, and really balance each other. But even when the pieces were slightly different – Danny Granger in place of Stephenson or Darren Collison in place of Hill – the positive results remained.
2013 playoffs (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)
- Starters: +69 in 209 minutes
- Other lineups: –45 in 319 minutes
2012-13 regular season (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)
- Starters: +284 in 1,218 minutes
- Other lineups: +42 in 2,700 minutes
2012 playoffs (Hill, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)
- Starters: +86 in 240 minutes
- Other lineups: –71 in 293 minutes
2011-12 regular season (Collison, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)
- Starters: +189 in 1,000 minutes
- Other lineups: +29 in 2,198 minutes
In some ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because, the more they play together, the better they play together. Even when the main lineup changed, Indiana showed a strong commitment to the new lineup.
In each of the last two seasons, the Pacers have had the league’s second-highest raw plus-minus. The No. 1 team has changed around them, and in both cases, Indiana held a huge lead over No. 3.
This achievement combines two factors, quality and quantity. For example, a unit that outscores opponents by 1 point per minute and played 10 minutes together (+10) would rank ahead of a unit that outscores opponents by 3 points per minute and played 3 minutes together (+9).
- Thunder (Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins): +288
- Pacers: +284
- Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Udonis Haslem-Chris Bosh): +157
- Suns (Steve Nash-Jared Dudley-Grant Hill-Channing Frye-Marcin Gortat): +208
- Pacers: +189
- Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Joel Anthony: +108
The Pacers’ top lineup led the NBA in raw plus-minus in the 2012 playoffs, and it again leads during the 2013 playoffs.
But the peril of the Pacers’ plan is showing with the injury to Hill, who’s still day-to-day. Every team would miss Hill’s defense and outside shooting, but the Pacers will especially miss how Hill interacted with Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert. More so than other teams, Indiana is shook by an injury to a single starter regardless of which it is.
So, D.J. Augustin stepping into the starting lineup will challenge a lot of what Indiana likes to do. When Augustin plays with the Pacers’ other four starters, they’re +5 in 25 minutes during the playoff, though 17 of those minutes came during Game 5 against the Knicks with Hill out (+2). But, using a larger and seemingly more reliable sample, Indiana was –17 in 93 minutes during the regular season with that unit. That was the Pacers’ most-used lineup that was outscored by opponents.
Maybe Vogel now wishes he had given more playing time to lineups besides his starting unit. But if he had, maybe the Pacers wouldn’t have come this far in the first place.