The Indiana Pacers hung in there until the end last year. They gave the Miami Heat outstanding competition but, unfortunately, fell just short. Indiana is in a good position moving forward, having secured long-term deals with Paul George and Roy Hibbert. As Miami gets older and Indiana’s youth gets more talented and experienced, there’s not a bad chance of Indiana taking the throne. Except there are a few problems…Chicago and Brooklyn are coming to take the Eastern Conference throne as well. Let’s take a look at the Indiana Pacers’ season preview:
Guards (A-): George Hill, Paul George, C.J. Watson, Lance Stephenson, Orlando Johnson
With Danny Granger back in the lineup, George will move back to the two spot, although shooting guard and small forward are interchangeable for the two. Assuming Indiana tries to make it work with Granger, George will spend significant time at shooting guard. It doesn’t really matter what position he plays because he’s easily capable of playing both positions at a very high level. George is heading in the right direction, on his way to becoming an NBA superstar. In my opinion, he is just as good, if not better, than Carmelo Anthony. He does a lot more than just scoring, which is mainly what Carmelo does. George Hill is a very solid point guard who knows how to take care of the ball and control the floor. Don’t forget about Lance Stephenson, a young player who really gave Indiana a lift in the playoffs with his tremendous effort and hustle.
Forward (B+): Danny Granger, David West, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, Solomon Hill
I think it would be a wise decision for Indiana to showcase Danny Granger and let him show the league he’s capable of averaging 20 points per game again. That is as long as it doesn’t disrupt the offense too much. Teams would call Indiana for a healthy Danny Granger if they see he’s producing at a similar level than he had before. If Granger’s injury problems continue to keep him out, Paul George would slide over to small forward and Stephenson would start at shooting guard. In the recent NBA GM poll, David West was ranked as the second toughest player in the league, right behind Kobe Bryant. David West’s overwhelming physical play was a huge reason for Indiana’s latest success. Luis Scola plays the exact same way and he’ll give opponents no time to rest when he’s on the court, backing up West.
Centers (A-): Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi, Hilton Armstrong
Roy Hibbert really grew up and acted like a top five center after all-star break last year. I think that really helped steer Indiana in the right direction. Before that, he had been known as somewhat soft and not willing to push harder. He suddenly became motivated and started playing the way a talented, 7-2 center should. Hibbert didn’t win Defensive Player of the Year but he must have been darn close, averaging 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He could be a top three favorite to win that award this year. Mahinmi is an underrated backup center. He’s been in this league about five years or so and does his job; he has solid post skills and is pretty mobile on defense.
Defense (A): Defense is what brought Indiana all the way to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Much like Tom Thibodeau, Indiana coach Frank Vogel’s gameplan starts on the defensive side. Indiana’s defense has ultimately opened up opportunities for it’s offense and made it a much more confident team. Between Stephenson, George, West, and Hibbert, this defense is a top product and is expected to continue that way.
Shooting (B+): Indiana ranked near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage last season, yet found a way to almost make the NBA Finals. With that said, the shooting definitely improved in the playoffs with much better spacing and shot selection. While Paul George makes a lot of threes, he can be inconsistent with his jumpshot but that’s something he’s working on. George Hill and C.J. Watson are both viable threats from the perimeter. David West is one of the finest mid-range shooters in the league and Luis Scola shoots the ball at a very similar level. The Pacers’ shooting should be significantly improved this year.
Experience (B+): Indiana has a very young lineup but they’re clearly basketball-smart enough to make the Finals. 33-year-old David West is a big motivational leader for the team and he helps turn the young guys into leaders themselves. Scola helps Indiana’s experience as well.
Standing – 2nd East: Expect the hungry Pacers to be right up there with Miami. They are at a comfortable place in the East right now and their season should be preparation for the playoffs.
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