A few weeks ago, I previewed the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. I ranked the Indiana Pacers second, a position many experts probably would have deemed a little too generous. Now, 10 games through the season, they are the best team in the NBA, but still have not received the attention they deserve.
Through a combination of shutdown defense and timely shooting, the Pacers have rocketed to a 9-1 start after 10 games. They were actually undefeated through nine games until a letdown against Chicago. Since they were playing against a talented team on the road, this loss is entirely understandable. Outside of this game, the Pacers have not just been the best team in the NBA, but the gap between them and the rest of the field is not even close. Roy Hibbert has been an absolute beast defensively, while Paul George continues to establish his stardom. All this comes without the team’s former star, Danny Granger, who continues to battle nagging injuries.
The most dangerous aspect of the Pacers is their lack of apparent weaknesses. Over the offseason, they tremendously improved some ineffective areas that led to a six-game Eastern Conference Finals defeat against the Miami Heat. Their main weakness last year was their lack of depth. They relied heavily on their starting five of George Hill, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. Beyond these five, they did not have much talent to turn to when their stars got into foul trouble or struggled from the field. This year, it has been a completely different story. The addition of Luis Scola has provided a major source of rebounding and gritty defense off the bench, improving an already great defensive unit. C.J Watson and Chris Copeland provide secondary scoring options, upgrading the Pacers’ guard depth.
Yet despite all of these improvements, many people continue to doubt the validity of the Pacers’ success. Why do people continue to focus on inferior teams? Well, it seems like a classic case of Spurs syndrome. For years, the Spurs have received little attention despite creating one of the best dynasties in NBA history (even to this day, Tony Parker remains a woefully underappreciated point guard). The reason for this under-appreciation is not tough to pinpoint: the Spurs play a fundamental style of basketball that is sadly characterized as boring by many casual fans. Their ball movement is pristine and their team defense is second-to-none, but fans would rather see flashy alley-oops and no look passes. The Pacers also suffer from Spurs-syndrome. They are a team centered on stingy defense, akin to the Spurs. Even their budding superstar Paul George is a team player.
Teams like the Heat gain the lion’s share of the attention due to their big names and flamboyant plays. They have won the previous two NBA championships so this attention is not unwarranted. However, less established teams also receive more attention than the Pacers. For example, the Golden State Warriors are one of the most exciting teams in basketball due to their dynamic offensive trio of Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. Their offensive prowess makes them very fun to watch. The only bad thing is that it draws the focus away from superior, yet more fundamental teams like Indiana.
Hopefully the Pacers eventually get the attention they deserve. However, the popularity of teams like the Warriors and Heat proves that fans care more about flash than substance.