The Battle of Young Superstars

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Indiana Pacers

As two of my three playoff dark horses, the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers both ooze the potential of making some type of playoff run especially after being battle-tested by each other in this fierce opening round matchup. Led by fierce, old-school head coaches Brett Brown and Nate McMillan, the 76ers and Pacers play with very similar styles offensively and remain very effective defensively in their own ways.

Taking advantage of their athleticism and length, these teams utilize their advantages on offense to run effective pick-and-roll plays, run a lot of motion for shooters off off-ball screens, and even can post up some – particularly Joel Embiid, Domanatas Sabonis, and Al Jefferson. With both shooting efficiently – Pacers are sixth (47.3) and 76ers are 10th (46.9) in field goal percentage – these teams know how to play to their strengths within their offense but it’s the amount of integrity and on-court IQ that truly separates these doppelgangers on offense.

Led by breakout phenomenon Victor Oladipo – averaging 23 points, 5 rebounds four assists and league-leading 2.3 steals per game – the Pacers make efficient use of every possession, ranking sixth in turnovers per game with 13.4.  Freed off of screens – 10th in screen assists (9.8) – with the league leader in three-point percentage (44.7) Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdonovic providing consistent perimeter threats, the Pacers can find themselves fulfilled on offense at times.

As one of the top hustling teams in the league due to their speed and quickness on defense, the Pacers clog passing lanes forcing 16.2 deflections (2nd in the league)  and 8.8 steals (2nd in the league) per game. This means that they are often on fast breaks as they rank fifth in the association with 14.6 fast break points per game. This also means that the Pacers could continuously run full court presses and it would deem effective. Expect Oladipo, Thad Young, Darren Collison and Lance Stephenson to become the main contributors in that category while Myles Turner (2nd in blocks per game – 1.9) and Sabonis hold down the paint.

As for the 76ers, their sheer height alone makes them brute forces in the paint and disrupt players trying to score anywhere on the floor. Led by budding superstars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers very seldom find themselves short – no pun intended – in hustle nor on the defensive end has they simply use their youthful bounce and quickness to completely disrupt their opponents. They do so by towering over ball handlers as they average the second most recovered loose balls per game with 9.2 while the middle of the paint is locked up, led by Embiid who is fifth in blocks per game (1.8). The Sixers also do a great job of creating second chances for themselves, averaging league-leading 47.1 rebounds a game and rank fourth in second-chance points (13.7).

The biggest problem the Sixers have is maturity and strategic stability in the response to mistakes and rough patches down the road. When the Sixers become flustered offensively, they can become sloppy. They currently average the most turnovers at about 17 per game. Nevertheless, when they get their offense working it becomes a poetry-in-motion style a basketball – averaging the second most assists per game (26.7) – where every player touches the ball until someone is open for the easiest basket possible. With the additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli and the return of Markelle Fultz, the Sixers do not have to continue to merely rely on the starters for a majority of offense and can continue to run unselfish, efficient offense.

In their three meetings, the Pacers lead the series 2-1 as all of the games have finished within 11 points. In the three matchups, Oladipo has struggled averaging 20 points but at a 39.7 percent clip. But it’s in defense where Oladipo and the Pacers stepped up – with a 43 percent field goal average and a 28 percent perimeter average – against the Sixers forcing them to turn the ball over about 20 times per game and stealing the ball 11 times accompanied by five blocks a clip.

These two young, rising rosters could see each other in the first round and will look to establish themselves as legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference.

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