The Pacers have been slowly building their over the past few seasons. After missing the playoffs the previous four seasons, Indiana has made it back the past two seasons, thanks to smart drafting and even wiser free agent additions. Larry Bird was most responsible for the turnaround, but he is now gone. Still, I think Indiana has a great chance to dethrone the Chicago Bulls.
Indiana made quick work of the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs last season. That was the first time Indiana had advanced past the first round since the 2004-2005 season, which happened to be Reggie Miller’s last season. Roy Hibbert turned into an All-Star center, posting career-highs in points per game (12.8), rebounds per game (8.8), blocks per game (2), and minutes per game (29.8). Despite all his accomplishments, the biggest is receiving a maximum contract from the organization; I think Hibbert needs to prove that he is worth the big bucks. His numbers are modest, and it’s player like him and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez that put up average numbers, then receive max contracts that ends up hurting other teams in the league who might have an up-and-coming center. What I am trying to say is Hibbert is not worth $13.6 million. In truth, he is worth, at max, $8 million a year.
Dethroning the Bulls would not have been an easy task if Derrick Rose was healthy. Fortunately, for Indiana, and unfortunately, for Chicago, he isn’t healthy and might not be healthy until the final months of the season. I think the Pacers have a more complete team that Chicago. I feel Paul George is going to be more consistent this season, as he enters his third season in the league. The Pacers know what they will get from veteran swingman Danny Granger, George Hill will come into ‘his own’ this season, now that he knows he will be the starting point guard because Darren Collison was traded to the Dallas Mavericks this summer for almost nothing in return (a move I would hate if I was a fan of Indiana), and veteran power forward David West will be solid, again, this season. The addition of D.J. Augustin will give the Pacers a solid backup at point guard, in case Hill struggles.
With all that being said, it’s time to go more in-depth on Indiana’s roster.
Point guard(s) – George Hill: He started only nine games last season, but during those nine games Hill played solid basketball. He stepped-up in the playoffs, averaging 13.5 points per game and shooting 37.5% from three-point range. Hill has the confidence of knowing he will be the starting point guard when the season starts, and, that alone should boost his confidence. However, if he does slip-up, Indiana has a solid backup option in Augustin.
Augustin will back up Hill at point guard, unless Hill under-performs.
Position Grade: B-
Shooting guard(s) – Paul George: He is extremely athletic, but was clearly over-matched when he was assigned to guard either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in the playoffs last season. His production suffered, too, when he shot 38.9% from the field and just 26.8% from the three-point line. George is still young, 22, and I think he has a good chance to be in the running for Most Improved Player this season. Even though Indiana is a well-balanced team on offense, I would like to see him be more aggressive on offense and attacking the basket (2.8 free-throw attempts per game).
Gerald Green has a good chance to back up George.
Position Grade: B-
Small forward(s) – Danny Granger: He talked a lot of smack during the Indiana-Miami playoff series, and wasn’t able to back it up against James and Wade. He is still a good player, with a sweet stroke and, more importantly, experience. He is never in the spotlight, but I don’t think he wants to be, either. Granger has gone about his business for all of his seven seasons in the league, even when he averaged 25.8 points per game in 2008-2009, the only award he won was Most Improved Player. He wasn’t named to an All-NBA team that year, and if he wasn’t named to one that year, he probably will never be named to an All-NBA team. No big deal to him, because he just goes about his business.
Sam Young will back up Granger.
Position Grade: B
Power forward(s) – David West: For his entire career, West has been a model of consistency. As West enters his 10th season, and since 2007, he has never had a season where he shot less than 47% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line. His leadership and experience will be needed this season, as it was last season, for Indiana to take the next step. Of course, avoiding the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals would be nice, but unlikely. For the first time in his career, West played in every single game in a season.
Tyler Hansbrough will back up West.
Position Grade: B-
Center(s) – Roy Hibbert: He finally got that contract every NBA player dreams of getting someday. Like I stated earlier, I thought Hibbert’s numbers were modest, at best, last season. But because he is one of the better centers in the Eastern Conference and because Indiana didn’t think it could afford to let him walk, they offered him the max contract. I just hope he plays up to the contract, because that’s a tall stack of money, even for someone who is 7’2.
Ian Mahinmi will back up Hibbert.
Position Grade: B
Projected Starting Lineup
G: George Hill
G: Paul George
F: Danny Granger
F: David West
C: Roy Hibbert
Starting Lineup Grade: B
G: D.J. Augustin
G: Gerald Green
F: Sam Young
F: Tyler Hansbrough
Bench Grade: B-
Coaching Grade: B- (Frank Vogel)
I think Indiana wins the Central Division, but is the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.