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Column: Diagnosing, curing Pacers' woes

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The Indiana Pacers are 3-6, and as many have pointed out on Twitter, most believed the 6-3 Colts would be the ones owning the 3-6 record after nine games. It’s not like the Pacers have run some sort of elite team gauntlet; the combined record of their opponents through Wednesday’s games was 30-38. Worst of all: Danny Granger — there’s still plenty of time to jump back on his personal bandwagon — is out until at least mid-February. Here are two observations and two suggestions to curtail Indiana’s woes:

Observation: The fall of Roy

It’s unfair to single out one player on a team-wide descent, but Roy Hibbert has gone from All-Star to also-ran quicker than the ink dried on the four-year, $58 million contract he signed in July. All of Hibbert’s numbers are down from a year ago, but the two that stick out are field goal percentage and free throw attempts. Before this season, the 7-2 Hibbert had never shot less than 46.1 percent from the field; he’s currently shooting 38.6 percent. Worse, he’s averaging 1.7 free throw attempts per game — less than backup center Ian Mahimi. Now, Hibbert doesn’t normally spend much time at the charity stripe — his career-high in free throw attempts per game was 3.7 last season — but after averaging a double-double and three blocks a game last postseason, many expected to see that same rim landlord return this fall. It hasn’t happened. The best way to reestablish Hibbert would be to involve him in the minute details of the offense. Bring him out on the perimeter to help initiate plays and set more screens. Let him work from the high post. And implore the wings to cut through the lane to utilize Hibbert’s passing acumen.

Suggestion: Donnie Walsh should set up optometrist appointments

The Pacers president of basketball operations must be enduring flashbacks to his days running the Knicks. Indiana’s offensive numbers are as ugly as they seem. Paul George, David West and Hibbert are on track for their worst shooting seasons as professionals. George Hill is converting a mere four one-hundredths of a percent more of his field goals this year than he did in his rookie season, the worst season (shooting-wise) of his career. According to ESPN, the Pacers rank dead last in the NBA in effective field goal percentage, and second to last in assist ratio, offensive efficiency, pace factor and true shooting percentage. Translation: Not only can’t Indiana hit the broad side of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but all those bricks are weighing down its possession totals. And don’t think this problem will be rescued when — or if — Granger returns, as his field goal percentage has declined in each of the past four seasons. Bottom line: When a jump shooting team like Indiana struggles from the field, it’s going to struggle to win. Barring major personnel changes, Pacers’ fans will have to live with this, though a reasonable uptick in shooting percentage should to be expected.

Observation: Indiana failing proverbial ‘eye test’

At risk of sounding like a hidden camera dating show, the Pacers simply look lethargic. There’s been more shoulders slumping, blank expressions and bad body language than I can remember all of last season. Young players like D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green and Lance Stephenson have never contributed to a winning team, and sometimes it shows in their decision-making. I’ll never accuse an athlete of not putting forth maximum effort without viable proof, but the vibe coach Frank Vogel’s crew exhibits has me wondering.

Suggestion: Think tank (for the draft lottery)

Allegations of tanking arise each year in the Association, but the process is nearly impossible to prove, mostly because no one in an organization would ever go on record confirming said tanking. However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Pacers. They weren’t winning the East this season unless Miami suffered a catastrophic injury to its Big Three. Now, Indiana isn’t even in a position to seize the East if a potential Miami misfortune occurred. And when it comes to tanking, all-in is the best policy. Impact players are hard to come by in the second half of the lottery (just as the Phoenix Suns). Among the top players likely to be available near the top of the 2013 draft are Indiana pivot Cody Zeller, UCLA freshman wing Shabazz Muhammad and Kentucky freshman big man Nerlens Noel. Looking ahead, Tyler Hansbrough, Augustin, Stephenson and West are all potential free agents. Out of that group, only the 32-year-old West’s expiring contract is a true asset. He could likely be flipped to a Western Conference team (Grizzlies, Spurs, Clippers) in need of power forward help in exchange for picks or a promising young player. Or the Pacers could fully embrace their doldrums and hope Zeller falls into their lap.

Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at gfreking@greenfieldreporter.com

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