2013-2014 Indiana Pacers Season Preview
At the start of last season, there weren’t a lot of teams that looked like they had the guns to make a real run at the Miami HEAT, but based on the way the Indiana Pacers played them in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals, they seemed like as good a bet as any to overthrow the defending champs. That didn’t happen, and for the second year in a row they were eliminated by Miami in the postseason, but that exciting, overachieving, defensively proficient Pacers squad turned a lot of heads in the meantime. With a deeper bench, more experience and the return of Danny Granger, there’s a good chance that Indiana will be even better this season. Perhaps this is the year that they finally beat the HEAT.
- Joel Brigham
In & Out
Additions: Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan
Subtractions: Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Jeff Pedergraph
Five Guys Think…
Last season, the Indiana Pacers came one win away from their first NBA Finals appearance in 13 years, but the even better news is that they got even better over the summer while the two-time defending champion Miami HEAT stood pat. Getting Danny Granger back should help the team score more points (a serious weak spot for them a year ago), but more importantly the bench was seriously bolstered by the additions of Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson. Chicago will make it difficult for the Pacers to repeat as Central Division champions, but Indy is one of only two or three teams in the conference with any sort of chance at knocking off Miami. Some would argue that they’re better built for an upset than any other team in the East.
1st place – Central Division
– Joel Brigham
Each season, Indiana has advanced further and further in the postseason, culminating in last year’s seven-game series against the Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, the next step for the Pacers is to represent the East in the NBA Finals. While that’s easier said than done given Miami’s star-studded team, this is the most talented squad that the Pacers have had in years. Not only should they see internal improvement from Paul George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson, they’ll add Danny Granger, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland to an already loaded core. One thing is certain: Frank Vogel will ensure that Indiana is one of the best defensive teams in the league during the 2013-14 season and that they’ll be ready to contend for a title.
1st place – Central Division
The Indiana Pacers are a team on the rise. In back-to-back seasons the club has given the two-time defending champion Miami HEAT all they could possibly handle in a pair of exciting playoff series, falling just short of pulling the upset. As a result the expectations for the Pacers are rising steadily rising with the return of former All-Star forward Danny Granger and the acquisition of Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland via free agency. In addition, emerging All-Star forward Paul George has yet to reach his prime and appears to be one of the league’s next stars. However the Pacers will face a stiff challenge in defending their Central Division from 2013. The Chicago Bulls, with the return of former league MVP Derrick Rose, will likely return to the top of the Central, but make no mistake the Pacers will be one of the toughest outs in the league come playoff time.
2nd place – Central Division
- Lang Greene
It would have been very easy for the Pacers to think that they’re going to improve enough by default with the return of Danny Granger that they didn’t need to do much this offseason. After all, they were just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals without him. However, they did no such thing. They went out and had as good of an offseason as anyone, adding rookie Solomon Hill, signing Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and David West and trading for Luis Scola. It also looks like they’re going to avoid any drama with potential restricted free agent Paul George as he confidently stated recently that he will have a long-term contract extension in place before the start of the season. The rest of the East, especially the teams at the top, improved a lot, but so have the Pacers. They’re clearly the class of the Central Division and with enough internal development they could end up being the best team in the league.
1st place – Central Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
After struggling to get consistent bench production last season, the Pacers rode the emergence of All-Star Paul George and highly-praised big man Roy Hibbert to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, this season, they have upgraded mightily, adding Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson. If Danny Granger returns to form, continues to be a prolific three-point shooter, adjusts and excels as the go-to scorer while playing with the Pacers’ second unit, the team may experience similar success to what they enjoyed last season. Now, without former associate head coach Brian Shaw, coach Frank Vogel must adjust and have his team prepared to play with 100 percent effort each night—a struggle for a young team. The return of Derrick Rose obviously adds an interesting dynamic (and obstacle) in the Pacers’ quest for division supremacy. That they only bested the Rose-less Bulls by 4.5 games last season, though, probably points to the Bulls recapturing the division. That is, assuming Rose is the same player we last saw in the 2012 playoffs.
2nd place — Atlantic Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player – Paul George – With Danny Granger having missed almost the entire season due to injury, someone had to step up offensively, and Indiana’s lone All-Star last season, 22-year-old Paul George, was the guy who picked up the slack. George, who in is third NBA season broke out in a major way, averaged a career-high 17.4 ppg last year, and even with Granger back in the fold that shouldn’t change George’s new role as alpha dog in the Pacers’ offense.
Top Defensive Player – Roy Hibbert – Offensively, Roy Hibbert started last season on a very shaky note, but one area where he never wavers is on the defensive end. Still one of the league’s tallest players, Hibbert finished fourth in the league in blocks with 2.6 per game, and as everybody saw in the Miami series, he can stand up to just about anybody in the NBA, including four-time MVP LeBron James.
Top Playmaker – George Hill – While players like Paul George, Danny Granger, and David West are likely to score more points than Hill, none of those guys are quite as gifted at initiating offense as Hill. Last season, Hill was Indiana’s third-leading scorer with 14.4 ppg, but he also led the team in assists with 4.7 apg. As far as playmaking is concerned, Hill is the best that Indiana has, and there are plenty of talented players on this roster to benefit from that playmaking.
The Clutch Player – Paul George – Last season, the Pacers did a number of different things when the game was on the line; sometimes George Hill would take the last shot, but other times they’d dump it in to David West to manufacture something. George, however, has the best +/- (+47) in the clutch than anybody else on the team, and since he’ll likely be more of a focus on offense this year, he’s the safest bet to take the final shot in close games.
The Unheralded Player – Lance Stephenson – If you subtracted $6,000 from Lance Stephenson’s 2013-2014 salary, he would not pull in a million bucks over the course of the season. That makes him one of the biggest bargains in the league, even though his postseason coming-out party put him on the map for even the most casual NBA fans last spring. With Danny Granger coming back, he may return to being underappreciated, but his teammates and coaches can’t help but love his toughness and swagger.
Best New Addition – C.J. Watson – While George Hill has done better as a full-time point guard than many people expected, the Pacers really do have moments—especially defensively—where they need a more traditional point guard. Watson brings that without sacrificing much of Hill’s playmaking ability. D.J. Augustin was a massive disappointment as Indiana’s backup point guard last season, but Watson will be significantly more reliable in that role for 2013-2014. Chris Copeland also will prove to be a nice addition for the Pacers.
- Joel Brigham
Who We Like
1. David West – We know that West is a good player. Bad players don’t get three-year, $36.6 million contract extensions, nor do they average 17.1 points per game on 49.8% shooting from the field. But West’s value to the Indiana Pacers extends beyond his statistical contributions. Ask Roy Hibbert why he’s seen so much improvement over the course of the last two years, and he’ll answer, unflinchingly, “Because of David West.” He’s a veteran that commands respect from referees and knows every trick in the book for surviving in the post, and that has unquestionably rubbed off on the younger players on this team. Yes, he’s important as a player, but he’s even more important as a leader.
2. Paul George – He’s not there yet, but people already are starting to ask the question about whether or not Paul George could someday surpass Reggie Miller as the most popular Pacer in the history of the franchise. Heading into the last year of his rookie deal, George has a massive extension waiting for him just as soon as Indiana officially decides to proffer it (and according to George, “There will be a deal signed and sealed on the table before the season.”) The player himself has said he plans to play at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse for a long, long time, but how good can he really be? More likely than not, very good. He’s gotten exponentially better in each of his first three seasons, and the Pacers have gotten better with him. Last year was his first All-Star appearance, but it certainly won’t be his last.
3. Roy Hibbert – After starting off slowly at the beginning of last season, Roy Hibbert really came on for the Pacers, especially defensively. By the time the Eastern Conference Finals rolled around, he looked as good as he did all year, averaging 9.9 rebounds and 17.0 ppg on 51.1% shooting in seven games against the HEAT. He also finished the year fourth in blocks per game with 2.61, and apparently he’s gone on a weight-lifting binge all summer and has added some significant weight in muscle. Here’s what Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said about him in August: “He’s really bulking up and really excited about just being even more of a physical presence, especially on the offensive end — really pounding defenders down low and playing our identify of smash-mouth basketball.” In other words, get ready for a huge year from Roy Hibbert.
4. Lance Stephenson – In terms of NBA bargains, there are few players in the league that do as much as Stephenson for so little pay. At just a shade over a million bucks, this guy is an absolute steal, even if he does come off the bench this season to make room for a healthy Danny Granger. Stephenson is a terrific two-way player that pushes the pace for Indiana and gives them some much needed edge and attitude. There’s still a chance that he’ll start for the Pacers so that Granger can help the second unit score some points, but whether or not Lance starts doesn’t matter; he’ll be an invaluable role player for Indy this year, particularly as he plays for his first big NBA payday.
5. Frank Vogel – For all the flak Vogel got for letting LeBron James make that layup at the end of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals last year, there’s no question that Vogel is an excellent coach that is getting the most out of his team. He’s not necessarily the tactician that some of his colleagues would claim to be, but he’s an unbelievable motivator and hard worker that is at least partly responsible for the development of the guys listed above. He’s a Rick Pitino disciple, remember, starting off as a student manager at the University of Kentucky, so work ethic really isn’t going to be a problem for him. He’s been one of the top finishers in Coach of the Year voting for two years in a row, and there’s a good chance that will happen again in the spring.
- Joel Brigham
An argument could be made that Indiana was the best defensive team in the league last season, an argument that can be supported by a number of statistics, including opponents’ points per game (90.7, 2nd in the league), opponents’ field goal percentage (.420, 1st in the league), opponents’ three-point percentage (.327, 1st in the league), blocked shots (6.3, 4th in the league), and rebounds (45.9, 1st in the league). Head coach Frank Vogel got his team to play some serious defense last year, and with essentially the same group coming back, that shouldn’t change in 2013-2014.
- Joel Brigham
Indiana did not run an efficient last offseason, and unless players improve individually this offseason, there’s little reason to believe that will change a whole lot in the coming year. Last year, the Pacers were 23rd in points per game (94.7), 26th in field goal percentage (.436), and 22nd in three-point percentage (.347), which aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect from a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers need their offense to catch up to their defense if they want another crack at a deep playoff run.
- Joel Brigham
What will Indiana do with Danny Granger?
While fans would love to see the expiring contract of Danny Granger shipped off for some package of goodies from a willing trade partner, that trade partner so far has not presented itself. That means Larry Bird and Kevin Pritchard have two choices in dealing with Granger: either hold onto him and hope that he and Paul George form a scary duo, or let him play long enough to reestablish his trade value and then find a deal. One way or another, the Granger Era in Indianapolis is coming to a head this season.
- Joel Brigham