In the next two weeks, the Armchair crew will be taking on the NBA Regular Season preview. We will be taking on each team individually and looking into what to expect from each.
Last Season: 38-44
Key Losses: David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Damjan Rudez
Key Additions: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Myles Turner, Joe Young, Jordan Hill, Glenn Robinson III, Rakeem Christmas
“What a difference a year makes,” is a phrase people uttered often while watching these Pacers and Larry Bird hopes that they will say this once again next year. After losing Paul George (immediately following his extension) for the season the Pacers were stuck in purgatory. With Lance gone, an already uncreative team became stagnant and too reliant on David West post plays and Rodney Stuckey dribble drives. This was not a pretty sight.
In the off-season, they decided to head into an entirely different direction. Bird firmly put his fist down and established this team as his own. That means that Roy Hibbert and his most marketable basketball skill, height, were traded to LA as the Pacers began to lean out for speed. They brought in Monta Ellis to help facilitate that, and hopefully some on ball creativity. Ever since Lance left, this team has been just slightly more entertaining offensively than the Hornets, but still well below the value of watching paint dry. With Ellis, at least there is a degree of unpredictability they lacked since Stephenson.
This is a team now built for speed and small ball, with Paul George set to get some minutes at the 4 whether he likes it or not. While I do like the idea of his length to stretch the floor, one has to wonder how much abuse is warranted for someone coming off a major injury at the hands of say… Z-Bo. It’s a crazy thought, and while it works with someone like LeBron, George is on the other side of a “built like a human crossed with a mustang” biological scale.
In reality however, it might actually be crazy enough to work. With Hill and Ellis splitting the majority of the ball handling, Stuckey would run the three as a slasher, spotting George up against slower defenders. He is not particularly creative off the dribble, so building a team around guys who can facilitate for him is key here. Monta will definitely inject a lot of dynamic motion into this as he darts around the court. Myles Turner is the big question mark and while his athleticism is ready, it remains to be see how his skill set will readily translate on that end. I’d like to see them take the ball out of Hill’s hands and use Ellis as the primary ball-handler which will let this offence flow more.
Defensively they will still be stingy and getting back a top 5 defender will help that. The problem now lies with replacing the immovable wall that was Hibbert. Once again, Turner has the skill-set to step in and patrol the rim, but he is far smaller in the width department, which will encourage teams to drive. If Turner can figure it out quickly, the Pacers can be a solid defensive team, just not a great one. The big question here is once again George. If he is indeed seeing minutes at the 4, guarding bigger guys will leave him beat up and depleted going the other way, which means they will either have to lean on Monta for periods of the game or switch George up strategically with the match-ups.
Either way Vogel is on the clock here to figure out how these pieces fit together best.
Plausible best-case scenario: The Pacers adjust to a faster pace and George slots in at the 4 giving teams match-up nightmares on the offensive end while adjusting well on defence. Monta gives this team some much need adrenaline and unpredictability moving forward. They post a positive record and they get back into the playoffs with a second round.
Plausible worst-case scenario: George at the 4 experiment is a disaster and while Monta helps with the ballhandling, the team continues to have spacing issues all around the court. The mis-matched personnel decisions start to show and the Pacers squeak into the bottom seeds of the playoffs then get bounced quickly.