Alfes: What's keeping Pacers afloat minus Oladipo?

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Without Victor Oladipo, the Pacers figured to take a plunge in the Eastern Conference standings, where they would inevitably fall to the Celtics or Raptors or Bucks or 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.

Well, that hasn’t been the case since Oladipo went down on Jan. 23.

Losing a two-time All-Star to a ruptured quad tendon has consequences, but Indiana is still atop the EC ladder thanks to its defense, the fourth-best unit in the NBA. Coach Nate McMillan, a superb defender during his playing days, has instilled a sense of tenacity and spearheaded his team to a 12-10 record since Oladipo’s season-ending injury.

The Pacers (44-25) have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA (105.6), trailing only Milwaukee (104.9). One season removed from taking the eventual conference champion Cavaliers to seven games, this year’s squad looks primed for a deeper run in 2019 with its star player watching from afar.

Two of the more notable defensive metrics are defensive win shares (DWS), which quantifies an individual’s defensive success, and defensive rating, which measures an individual’s efficiency at preventing the opposition from scoring. Neither is perfect, but they are accurate when it comes to ranking the game’s best on the defensive end.

With that said, here are Indiana’s best defenders in relation to the rest of the NBA…

Myles Turner: 3.8 DWS (7th in NBA) and 100.4 defensive rating (4th in NBA)

Thaddeus Young: 3.5 DWS (10th) and 104.8 defensive rating (16th)

Domantas Sabonis: 2.9 DWS (16th) and 102.9 defensive rating (8th)

Darren Collison: 2.8 DWS (17th) and 106.8 defensive rating (26th)

Cory Joseph: 2.5 DWS (20th) and 106.8 defensive rating (26th)

You could make a case that the Pacers have five of the top-50 defenders in basketball, with Young and Sabonis potentially in the top-10 and Turner likely in the top-five. Effective defense has stirred a winning formula, even in the face of adversity.

Turner has been a blocking machine ever since he arrived at Texas, and his league-leading 2.8 blocks justify that notion. Young is the wily veteran who has never averaged less than one steal per game over his 12-year career. Sabonis is the understudy to Arvydas Sabonis, who never allowed more than 97 points per 100 possessions — which is elite — throughout his Hall of Fame career. Collison is unexpectedly having the best defensive season of his life, with both of his figures above being career-bests. Joseph began his NBA tenure with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs from 2011 to 2015, a group that thrived on defense.

But enough about the numbers and fun facts, let’s take a look at the tape to see what makes the 2018-19 Pacers special…

Without Oladipo, the Pacers still believed they could pursue a top seed in the Eastern Conference and improve upon a 2017-18 campaign in which they nearly dethroned LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Well, that’s been the case all season.