Why losing Paul George and Lance Stephenson will cost Pacers 10 wins


(Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana Pacers star Paul George suffered a gruesome injury on Friday night during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas, and despite successful surgery, the 24-year-old will likely miss the entire 2014-15 season.

It is a huge loss for an Indiana team who went 56-26 last season before losing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, especially after Lance Stephenson accepted a three-year, $27 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets this offseason.

Before the injury, the Pacers were a contender to win the Eastern Conference and were very much built to win now. By splitting their mid-level exception, Indiana signed C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez, two players who were brought in to provide some firepower from beyond the three-point line.

Miles isn’t as good a defender as Stephenson but is a better three-point shooter (39.3 and 35.2 percent, respectively) and can stretch the floor. Miles also converted 26 of 54 (48.1 percent) from the corner three.


C.J. Mills 2013-14 regular season shot chart

But now, the Pacers need to replace George’s minutes as well, and that won’t be easy.

Since being drafted 10th overall in the 2010 NBA draft, the Pacers have a net rating of plus-5.6 during the regular season when George was on the court and minus-1.5 when he was on the bench for a plus-7.1 differential. In the playoffs, that number balloons to plus-16.4.

According to NBA stats, the Pacers most frequently used lineup last season was George, Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West. They played 1,468 regular season minutes. The next most frequent five-man lineup was Danny Granger, Ian Mahinmi, Luis Scola, Stephenson and CJ Watson, who played 185 minutes during the regular season.


Small sample size caveats aside, without George and Stephenson in the lineup Indiana will have a problem scoring. With those two off the court, the Pacers scored 101.3 points per 100 possessions (OffRtg) and allowed 99.9 (DefRtg), which gives us an expected win percentage of .557, or 46 wins over an 82-game season. That would still be good enough for a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference but far short of the top seed Indiana enjoyed just a few months ago.

And if they do make the playoffs, that means Roy Hibbert is now the star of the offense.

Hibbert averaged 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game during the 2013-14 regular season while shooting 43.9 percent from the floor but was inconsistent during the playoffs and was fifth on the squad for win probability added.


Roy Hibbert shot chart, 2013-14 NBA Playoffs

Whoever the Pacers give George’s minutes to won’t be good enough: It is not easy to replace a 2013-14 NBA all-defensive and all-NBA selection. The best they can hope for is another run in 2015-16.

(Previous version incorrectly stated Pacers’ 2013-14 record as 52-26 and 12-win difference without George and Stephenson, their record was 56-26 and it should be a 10-win difference.)

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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