Why Jim O'Brien Was Fired

by Jeff Fogle 1. February 2011 01:08

The day after Jim O'Brien was shown the door, the Indiana Pacers ended a six-week slump with a 104-93 Monday night win over the Toronto Raptors...

After starting the season 11-10, with extremely impressive road victories over Miami and the LA Lakers (!!), the Pacers had dropped 17 of 23 games in such ugly fashion that management decided a change had to be made. O'Brien had already been considered a lame duck coach because rumors suggested his contract wouldn't be renewed at the end of the 2010-11 campaign. The team was playing like the season didn't matter.

Last 23 Games:

Efficiency Averages: 99.1 on offense, 104.9 on defense
Efficiency Medians: 96.9 on offense, 103.3 on defense

(Efficiency is points scored and allowed per 100 possessions)

To give you some context, there is no offense right now in the league that's as bad as 96.9 in efficiency for the season. Cleveland was league worst at 97.1 entering Monday action. Milwaukee was second worst at 98.1. For more than a month and a half, Indiana had the worst offense in the NBA. I didn't see anyone report that in the mainstream media. But, THAT'S the crux of why he was fired. Even if management didn't sit around punching numbers into a calculator all day...the worst offense in the league is something they could see with their own eyes as they watched the games.

The defense, which had started the year very well (inspiring me to write about it at the time), had drifted back to about league average. You can't win with a horrible offense and an average defense. Maybe you're slightly better than New Jersey and Washington (two of O'Brien's six recent victims, with horrible Cleveland being another). You're not going to qualify for a playoff spot, even in the East where it's easier to get a seventh or eighth seed.

All of this was largely happening off the media radar. Indiana's just not part of the league's presentation right now. In fact, some were surprised because casual glances at the playoff picture showed that Indiana might still be a factor:

Eastern Race At Time of Firing:
7th spot: Philadelphia 21-26
8th spot: Charlotte 20-26
9th spot: Milwaukee 19-26
10th spot: Indiana 17-27

The Pacers were only two games away from the playoffs when O'Brien was let go. If you've mostly been watching football the past several weeks, it looks like Indiana fired a respected coach who was on the verge of making the playoffs! Instead, they fired a coach who's abysmal offense had just gone 6-17 to put the team in danger of not even competing for that eighth and final spot.

Note that Indiana's win Monday, coupled with a Charlotte loss at Utah, puts the Pacers just a game out of eighth place.

A win over Toronto doesn't mean you're ready to take the world by storm. But, new coach Frank Vogel (no relation, lol) will at least have a chance to turn things around and make a run at the Eastern playoffs.

Transition Points

*Charlotte's loss at Utah was a 83-78 yawner. But, it was notable because it represented another good defensive game for Utah!

We talked last week about the horrible defensive performances from the Jazz on their Eastern swing, then in TV games vs. the Lakers and Spurs. Two things happened after that Spurs game. Deron Williams had to miss some time with an injury, and the team started playing defense!

100 points allowed to Minnesota, 99.0 efficiency
96 points allowed to Golden State, 104.3 efficiency
78 points allowed to Charlotte, in what will grade out as one of the best defensive performances of the year obviously

That compares to:
116.1 defensive efficiency at Washington
104.4 defensive efficiency at New Jersey
119.6 defensive efficiency at Boston
103.2 defensive efficiency at Philadelphia
125.0 defensive efficiency at the LA Lakers
115.5 defensive efficiency vs. San Antonio

The six-game average was 113.9. The midpoints were the 115.5 and 116.1 marks.

It's dangerous to make knee-jerk reactions to something like this. But, obviously the team is playing MUCH better defense with Deron Williams in street clothes. Either everyone's rising to the occasion, or he wasn't doing as much as he should have been when the other team had the ball during that recent stretch.

*Utah's win was even more impressive because it came on night two of a back-to-back. Charlotte was in a hermit spot, meaning they didn't play Sunday, and won't play Tuesday. Other "hermits" vs. "b2b's" the last few days:

Rested New Jersey beat tired Denver 115-99

Rested Phoenix beat tired New Orleans 104-102
Rested LA Clippers beat Charlotte 103-88

Rested Dallas beat tired Atlanta 102-91

Rested Detroit almost upset tired Miami in an 88-87 loss
Rested Phoenix beat tired Boston 88-71

Some one-sided victory margins in there (with some big name teams going down), and Miami's close game was expected to be a blowout. There's a school of thought that says back-to-back fatigue becomes more of a factor the deeper you get into a season (because of cumulative fatigue in addition to short-term fatigue). Let's keep an eye on that between now and the All-Star break, when everyone will finally get a chance to rest up a bit.

*Orlando lost another game where three-point accuracy wasn't great and inside defense was soft...falling to Memphis 100-97 Monday night.

Treys: 8 of 32, 25% (38% adjusted)
2-Point Defense: 36 of 65, 55% allowed to Memphis

Hedo Turkoglu did make it to three field goals though. The Magic are almost an automatic loss if he only makes two or less. They needed a bit more from him tonight. Amazing...Dwight Howard played 45 minutes, yet the team still allowed a very high two-point percentage.

See you again Tuesday night...

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2/1/2011 1:35:27 PM #


Hi, Jeff. Thoroughly enjoy your take on the NBA use hoopdata.com info on a regular basis when evaluating the goings-on in the league on a daily basis.

From my POV, Jim O'Brien wasn't fired because his offense was amongst the worst in the league this season. He was fired because he failed to settle upon a consistent 8-9 player rotation which used the younger players on his squad with a good deal of upside, in a productive way, e.g.

PG - 1 Collison, 2 Price, 3 Stephenson and 4 Ford [vet]
OG - 2 Dunleavy, 2 George, 3 Rush and 4 Jones/D [vet]
SF - 1 Granger, 2 Dunleavy, 3 George and 4 Posey [vet]
PF - 1 Hansbrough and 2 McRoberts
C - 1 Hibbert, 2 Jones/S and 3 Foster [vet]

that generated consistent positive results, in terms of team offensive, defensive and rebounding production.

When a coach fails to display the ability to settle upon a consistent 8-9 player rotation in the NBA game it's a sure sign that he does not have a solid handle on what it takes to succeed in this league, as far as keeping the players on his own team satisfied with their individual roles.

Once this happens, it is only a matter of time until that specific head coach is then shown the door.

khandor Canada

2/1/2011 11:08:59 PM #

Jeff Fogle

Thanks Khandor very much for your comments. I agree completely that O'Brien had issues with his jumbled rotations. I think the very poor offensive efficiency showings the last seven weeks are a numerical representation of your excellent point. Though, it could turn out that he just didn't have workable options with this group of personnel to begin with. Time will tell with that.

Jeff Fogle United States

2/5/2011 1:40:31 AM #


Comparing means and medians is generally a useful addition beyond the norm.

Even greater consideration of volatility using quartiles, or a coefficient of variance, or splits of positive and negative variance from average could be good- for the most obsessed, inside teams or observers.

Crow United States

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Live one day at a time emphasizing ethics rather than rules.

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2/11/2011 8:13:57 PM #

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