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NBA Storylines: Pacers among 5 most improved offenses


PROFIL BOL A - When it comes to title contention, defense remains the slightly more important end of the floor. In each of the last two seasons, there has been a team in The Finals that ranked in the bottom half of the league offensively.

But the Denver Nuggets won the championship last season after ranking 15th on defense. And this season, winning percentage has a stronger correlation to offensive efficiency than defensive efficiency.

With that in mind, here are the league’s most improved offenses from last season.

1. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers ranked 21st offensively last season, but they were in the top half of the league (14th) before losing Tyrese Haliburton for a few weeks. Still, this is a remarkable improvement, with Indiana’s points-per-possession jump being almost double that of any other team.

It starts with Haliburton. Even when you take pace into account, he’s seen big jumps in his points and assists per 100 possessions, along with big jumps in efficiency, both regarding scoring (true shooting percentage) and playmaking (assist/turnover ratio). His true shooting percentage of 66.6% ranks first among 126 players with at least 200 field goal attempts and his assist/turnover ratio of 4.80 would be the highest for a player who averaged at least 10 assists per game in the last 34 years.

Aaron Nesmith has an effective field goal percentage of 66.2%, up from 52.5% last season. That’s the biggest jump among 214 players with at least 200 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season. Obi Toppin has seen the biggest jump in true shooting percentage (from 56.5% to 68.8%) among that same group of players, with huge jumps in both the percentage of his shots that have come in the paint (from 38% to 59%) and his field goal percentage in the paint (from 61.9% to 77.6%). He wasn’t with the Pacers last season, but his efficiency (eighth in true shooting percentage among 239 players with at least 100 field goal attempts) has been a boost to his new team.

Along with the league’s biggest jump in effective field goal percentage, the Pacers have managed to see the league’s second-biggest drop in turnover rate, even though they’ve seen a big jump in pace. So they’re playing faster, but taking care of the ball much, much better. They’re assist/turnover ratio of 2.32 would be the second-highest mark for any team in the 47 seasons for which turnovers have been tracked, topped only by the Denver Nuggets’ ratio of 2.34 this season.

The Pacers have played a relatively easy schedule regarding opposing defenses, with 10 of their 22 games having come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 on that end of the floor. They’ll visit the league’s 30th-ranked defense (that of the Wizards) on Friday, and then it’ll be the league’s No. 1 offense vs. the league’s No. 1 defense (for the first time) in Minnesota on Saturday (8 ET, League Pass).

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Adding Damian Lillard will help your offense, even if he’s not shooting as well as he has in the past.

The Bucks have seen a pretty big drop in offensive rebounding percentage. But they’ve seen the league’s fourth-biggest jump in effective field goal percentage, its third-biggest jump in free throw rate, and its fourth-biggest drop in turnover rate. Their success is largely about their half-court offense. They rank last in the percentage of their points (20.4%) that have come on fast breaks or second chances.

Lillard’s effective field goal percentage of 50.5% is the second-lowest mark of his career, and the Bucks have actually been slightly more efficient with him off the floor than they’ve been with him on the floor. But he’s also one of only two players (Devin Booker is the other) who’ve shot 90% or better on at least eight free throw attempts per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is having the most efficient scoring season of his career, registering a true shooting percentage of 66.1% after scoring a franchise-record 64 points on 20-for-28 from the field and 24-for-32 from the line against Indiana on Wednesday. He’s taken 79% of his shots in the paint, easily the highest mark of his career, and his 21.7 points in the paint per game would be the most for any player in the last 24 seasons.

Because their early schedule has been East-heavy (seven of the league’s bottom-10 defenses are in the East), the Bucks have played more than twice as many games against bottom-10 defenses (12) as they have against top-10 defenses (5). The Bucks’ next game is against the Pistons on Saturday, so that ratio will be 13/5. But they’ll then face the Rockets’ second-ranked defense the following night (7 ET, League Pass).

3. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets had nowhere to go but up, having ranked last offensively by a healthy margin last season.

The biggest improvement has been from beyond the arc. The Hornets have seen the league’s second-biggest jump in 3-point percentage, from 33.0% (29th) last season to 37.5% (10th) this season.
The two additions to their rotation — Miles Bridges and Brandon Miller — have combined to shoot 39.2% from beyond the arc, while Terry Rozier (40.4%) has rebounded from a sub-par 2022-23 (32.7%). 

It’s helped that LaMelo Ball (though he’s missed the last seven games) has played a greater percentage of the Hornets’ minutes than he did last season, but they’ve actually scored more efficiently with him off the floor (112.4 points per 100 possessions) than they have with him on the floor (111.0 per 100).

Two seasons ago, the Hornets were in the top five offensively beyond the midway point of the season and finished eighth in points scored per 100 possessions. They’ve still got a long way to go to hit that level.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers lost one of the best offensive players of the last 25 years … and improved offensively.

The Sixers are the only one of these five teams that have seen a drop in effective field goal percentage. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey have each seen small drops in true shooting percentage.

But Philly has seen improvement in other factors of efficiency on offense, especially in offensive rebounding percentage, where only the Nets and Bulls have seen bigger jumps. Joel Embiid is registering the highest offensive rebounding percentage of his career (9.6%) and Paul Reed (eighth in the league at 12.3%) has had a more consistent role. Philly has gone from 27th (11.3) to sixth (15.9) in second-chance points per game.

The Sixers rank second in both free throw rate (31.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and free throw percentage (84.8%). The three Sixers with the most attempts have combined to shoot 88.8% from the line.
The Sixers are four games into a stretch of seven straight against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively, having won by 28 in Detroit on Wednesday. They’ll be back home for the second half of their home-and-home with the Pistons on Friday, before heading to Charlotte for the second half of a back-to-back.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Last season, the Thunder had the league’s most improved offense, scoring 10.4 more points per 100 possessions than they did in 2021-22 (when they ranked 30th), the third-biggest season-to-season jump in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play data. This season’s jump isn’t nearly as big, but it’s certainly not insignificant.

Like the Bucks, the Thunder have seen a big drop in offensive rebounding percentage. But they’ve seen the league’s second-biggest jump in effective field goal percentage, and that’s mostly about their shooting from outside the paint. They’ve seen the league’s biggest jump in 3-point percentage, while also going from 15th (41.8%) to first (47.7%) in mid-range field goal percentage.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has shot 84-for-154 (54.5%) on pull-up 2-pointers, the best mark among 54 players who’ve attempted at least 50 and up from 48.8% last season.

It also helps that the Thunder have added a rookie who ranks seventh in true shooting percentage (64.4%) among 126 players with at least 200 field goal attempts. Gilgeous-Alexander ranks 10th at 64.1%.
All five of these teams have played more games against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively than they have against teams in the top 10. But the Thunder (because they’re in the West) have the smallest differential (7 vs. 6) in that regard.

They have two big road games against teams that rank in the middle 10 defensively coming up, a visit to Sacramento on Thursday (10 ET, League Pass) and a game in Denver on Saturday (9 ET, League Pass).***

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