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NBA Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

Sep 25, 2012, 7:55 PM EDT

Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan Getty Images

Last season: The Pacers made moves to become a top-tier team in the East and they worked out. Roy Hibbert and Paul George both took some big steps forward, while David West added the consistent scorer they were looking for and George Hill provided balance with Darren Collison, though the two didn’t work well together.

The playoffs were kind of a proving grounds: Could this team, as constructed, compete? The answer was yes, to a point. The Pacers managed, in part on the back of the injury to Chris Bosh, to go up 2-1 over the Heat. They had them right where they wanted them.

Then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over and that was that. But the Pacers learned a lot, and established themselves last year. The question is if they can take that to the next level this year.

Key Departures: The Pacers traded Darren Collison to the Mavericks in a suprise move. Collison had been the better guard offensively than George Hill. But attempts to play the two together drew disappoinging results. With Collison headed for a big extension and Hill locked up at five-years, $40 million, it made sense to move Collison, but there may be a drag on the Pacers’ offense if Hill can’t become more of a playmaker and distributor.

Dahntay Jones was underused in Indiana and was sent off as a tag-along in the Collison trade. The Pacers also elected to let A.J. Price go, a pretty surprising move considering Lance Stephenson‘s boneheadedness and Price’s underrated production in limited minutes.

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, anyone? No? No? OK, then.

The Pacers traded Collison and Jones for Ian Mahinmi, a center who saw time behind Brendan Haywood as backup center in the Mavs’ championshp run and who actually played a big part in those Finals. Mahinmi gives the Pacers another true big to throw at Miami, and a better replacement center for Roy Hibbert, something crucial when the big guy gets in foul trouble.

They brought in D.J. Augustin on a cheap deal, getting a starting point guard (yes, it was the Bobcats) for a discount. Augustin will provide more of a pure-shooter point gaurd and can work with the second unit to help bridge the gap. Augustin’s also not a bad defender.

Gerald Green showed that he’s learned how to play last year and had a fantastic half-season with the Nets. The Pacers added him and he gives them an athletic three to bring off the bench, something that was missing last year. They have a fast, sleek second unit now, the opposite of last year’s reserve crew.

Three keys to the Pacers season:
1) Finding something that works offensively. The Pacers are yet another East team with a terrific defense and a horrid offense. They’re also yet another team with a lot of versatile, young talent and no superstar. Danny Granger keeps regressing in a distressing manner, Paul George is still a complimentary player, and David West is no longer at an age or health to carry a team. They need to find something consistent to turn to offensively they can rely on, and that may wind up having to be Hibbert. That idea is met with a lot of chair-squirming across the league.

2) George Hill has to figure out who he is. He was a jack of all trades in San Antonio and did a little of that last year. But the Pacers need him to be excellent in some regard. It can be defense, it can be off the dribble scoring, it can be perimeter shooting, but he’s going to have to give them consistent, excellent play in some regard. They need something to spark them and Hill may have to be it. They’ve committed to Hill as “the guy” at point guard. He has to play like it.

3) Let the big dogs eat. David West is a cold blooded assassin. Roy Hibbert had several games last year that he absolutely dominated the opponent. Too bad no one saw them. They have Mahinmi for depth, a more veteran Tyler Hansbrough, they’ve got some muscle. The Pacers are one of the few teams in the East with legit size. They need to rely on that and not be a team of perimeter wing jump shooters. They’ve got to create more efficient offense, and they’re without a real playmaker. So that means high-percentage buckets close to the rim. The bigs have to get possessions.

How it likely works out: This is the second best team in the East going into the season. Not Boston with its new bench or the Nets with their deficit-buster payroll or the Knicks with their drama. It’s quiet, consistent Indiana, and there is no reason going into the season that they shouldn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals. They landed third last season and wound up with the unfortunate second-round match-up with Miami. They need to get the second seed, make the ECF, then see what they can do against a tired Miami team. No more growth. No more development. The Pacers have arrived. Sink or swim time.

Prediction: 56-26. There’s no reason the Pacers can’t play at a higher level with a more versatile roster and less of a dropoff on the bench. Superstars may dominate the postseason, but great team defense and size advantages help you win any ballgame. The Pacers should be the No.2 team in the East.

  1. passerby23 - Sep 25, 2012 at 8:36 PM

    Indiana lost 24 games in a shortened season last year. They are arguably the same team as last year. I don’t see them going 14-2 in those additional 16 games. I see them going 53-29 for third in the East.

    Miami is the clear favorite, while I agree the Nets and Knicks are slightly below the Pacers, but two of Boston’s main problems – scoring and depth – have been significantly improved. The question of “should we rest our core for the playoffs even if it means a lower seed in the playoffs” shouldn’t be an issue this year with their depth.

    1. Miami
    2. Boston
    3. Indiana
    4. New York
    5. Brooklyn
    6. Philadelphia
    7. Chicago
    8. Atlanta

  2. nycalldayz - Sep 25, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    The great thing about blogs is that u can disagree with the bloggers by sharing your own opinion. And I strongly disagree with Matt Moore, this guy couldn’t be more wrong than a majority of his articles. I think Indian has regressed deeply. How they better? They lost Collins, Barbosa, Jones and Amundson. Those where Indian’s key bench guys and they’re now were replaced with Augustin, Mahinmi and Green! Seriously, Matt?

    You say they have size? Miami proved in that series that size means nothing it’s talent that’s triumphs. If size is such a factor, then how come Indy couldn’t close out especially Chris Bosh missing the entire series. The Pacers have no real superstar and believe it or not that matters, Matt. Just ask the Nuggests and Sixers. Lebron, Wade and Bosh are 10x better than Granger, Hibbert and West, fact.

    “This is the second best team in the East going into the season. Not Boston with its new bench or the Nets with their deficit-buster payroll or the Knicks with their drama”. With training camp and pre-season Boston, a veteran team should have no problem getting acclimated. Believe it or not the Pacers are not on the same level as the Celtics or even the Knicks. The Knicks, though they’re old as the “Golden Girls” combine are better than Pacers.

  3. telergy - Sep 25, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    First poster got it right. No way no how is Indiana second best team in east. That is asinine.

  4. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Sep 25, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    A lot if excitement in Indy for the team. If the good Roy shows up the Pacers are a tough playoff out. If not, they search for a shot.

  5. tcclark - Sep 26, 2012 at 12:22 AM

    Why does it seem like the last two sections were written by someone else? The whole article seems pretty negative (lost Collison, no stars, Granger going backwards, Hill needs to be playmaker) and then all of the sudden this is a team that should make the ECF easily and be 56-26? I was convinced that this was a top 3 seed in the East before this article and then you had me convinced that this was a 4-6 seed until the end. I don’t know anymore about the Pacers…

  6. 00maltliquor - Sep 26, 2012 at 2:18 AM

    Don’t be so sarcastic about Miles Plumlee, kid is gonna be very useful someday, if not right away. That was a very good draft pick up for where they got him at, you’ll see.

    I was the bigggest supporter of the Indiana Pacers last year, and for the past two years (I surprised many of my friends when calling them out as a surprise sleeper team to look out for, even called them out on here). That being said, I think they may just take a small step backwards this year, and not because the got worse but because other teams out East got much better. But with THAT said they should finish with the 3rd spot ’cause i don’t see anyone else eff’ing with ’em in that weak azz Central Division, ‘specially with Derrick Rose out. So by default. But I see them as the 4th best team out East. Roy Hibbert gets hurt and it’s gonna be a big drop-off.

  7. moseskkim - Sep 26, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    Ahh I am so tired of people overrating the pacers. This team is good but not that great. When they need a basket, who can they rely on? No one. Maybe David west. That’s it. They have enough versatility to win regular season games. They lack a true star though. Granger is not it. Paul George is an excellent defender but is very raw offensively. Don’t see why he is so hyped. I see them as a less talented spurs. Win some games in the regular season but when the playoff grind half court ball comes, they aren’t winning anything. I still put a roseless bulls (they were great in he regular season without him) and retooled C’s ahead of them. 30 games above .500?? No!!! 4th in the east give or take 1 spot.

  8. mungman69 - Sep 26, 2012 at 5:02 AM

    Ain’t no way Indiana finishes 30 games up. I think that they and Philly will fight for # 4 and 5 seeds. Miami, Boston and a surprise team go top 3.

    • tcclark - Sep 26, 2012 at 9:03 AM

      so by definition that surprise team can be anyone except Philly or Indiana who you expect to fight for the 4th seed. However, if you’re expecting anyone but Philly or Indiana, the real surprise would be Philly or Indiana being in the top 3. So therefore you actually do expect Philly or Indiana to be in the top 3.

  9. steelerfanforlife - Sep 26, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    30 games over .500??? Wow! I think they’ll be good but that is a very bold prediction. I’m not certain they beat the Bulls for the Central division! I would say they have a great year if they finish 4th in the East but I guess we’ll see.

  10. dysraw1 - Sep 26, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    the Pacers will be holding down the 3-4 spot that cat up top who said the Bulls an Hawks are a lock for the 7-8 spots, probably still votes T-Mac to allstar games

  11. metalhead65 - Sep 26, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    one of the reasons got rid of collison besides those you mention is the record the pacers had with hill as their starting point guard when collison went down with an injury. he is not as bad as you try and paint him at running the team. still do not get all the hate for plumlee where they picked him. the guy was not a top 10 pick and will fill the void of the retired jeff foster, a big body that rebounds and plays defense with a short jumper when needed. he did what he was asked to do at duke,what he was going to tell coach k he didn’t want to fill the role he had for him. give him a couple of years before you write him off.

  12. diamondmo33 - Sep 28, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    you have got to be kidding me.

  13. KOBEshigawa - Oct 25, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    The Pacers are undoubtedly the best boring team in the league. Yes, even moreso than San Antonio–at least the Spurs have Manu and Parker. They’re both fundamentally sound teams that play extremely hard, defend well and make open shots. That doesn’t mean they want to watch them. I’m not sure if Paul George is capable of being a dynamic player, but if the Pacers are going to move past a second round exit this year, it’s going to be on how much better he can get in just his third year

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