We are now three games into the Darren Collison injury. How have the Pacers looked different without him?
Darren Collison has been one of the biggest surprises on the Indiana Pacers roster this season. Victor Oladipo has gotten all the storylines, and deservedly so. His trade buddy, Domantas Sabonis, has also gotten to be in the spotlight thanks to the high profile trade he was involved in. But Darren Collison has also been punching above his weight this year, so when it was announced he would miss time having arthroscopic knee surgery, there were questions about how well Indiana would play in his absence.
What Collison brings to the table is quality passing and efficient scoring while keeping everything together on offense. He has an offensive rating of 110.5, just barely second on the team to Victor Oladipo. He is currently averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is the third-best mark of his career and leads all Pacers. In terms of efficiency, he is currently rocking a true shooting percentage of 60.8 percent, which leads the team and is top 50 in the league. Put all those stats together and you see a story of a player who checks all the boxes of an offensive leader and initiator whose presence alone generates a positive impact.
So how is the team playing without him? Looking at some of the key stats in games with and without Collison can help us learn some things about this team.
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You’ve seen the stat that the Pacers are 0-6 without Victor Oladipo, which is a perfect representation of his impact. The opposite has been true for Collison, who the Pacers are 4-1 without so far this season. At first, that makes D.C. seem replaceable, but the statistic (like all stats) requires context. Those four wins were against the Denver Nuggets (who were without Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap), the New York Knicks (who were without Kristaps Porzingis), the Phoenix Suns (who stink), and the Boston Celtics (who were on a back to back). All four of those wins were ones that the team got despite Collison not playing, not because he wasn’t playing.
In the box score, Collison’s unavailability shows up more substantially. The passing has been largely similar, the Pacers average 22 assists per game when Collison plays and 24 in the five games where he sits. This can be attributed to the fact that Darren Collison simply shoots more than Cory Joseph does – there are less total assist opportunities for the team when he plays.
The turnovers have been essentially identical, the Pacers cough it up 12.8 times per game when the veteran plays versus 13 when he doesn’t, which doesn’t tell us much of anything.
Efficiency-wise, the squad has been chugging right along without Collison. They actually have a higher three-point percentage in games he doesn’t play with 38.1 percent, slightly more than the 37.2 percent they have with him. Shooting is a higher variance stat, so this could be small sample size theatre, but it could also be because of the teams increased assist figures; catch and shoot threes go in at a higher rate than others.
So what does all of this tell us? It seems bizarre that the team is playing fine without Collison, and possibly even better. What it tells us is how well Cory Joseph and Joe Young have played in his stead.
Cory Joseph is supplying the passing, averaging five assists each night in his starts this season. The Pacers offensive scheme involves a lot of shots that come after an entry pass, so it makes sense that the starting point guard would dish out the goodies for his teammates regardless of who it is.
For the three-point shooting, you can thank Joe Young. He’s made 50 percent of his deep balls since Darren Collison’s surgery, supplying a huge boost to the offense.
So, what can we take away from this? Two things. One is that we cannot make any judgments about the meaning of these stats after only five games, the sample size is way too small. The other takeaway is that the reserve point guards on the Pacers are very talented and can be plugged in at any time. We will have to see if the backups can continue to produce in Collison’s absence.