The Indiana Pacers Will Contend This Year
Don’t underestimate the Indiana Pacers. This team is going to make some noise in the playoffs.
It was less than two years ago that the Pacers were going nowhere under former head coach Jim O’Brien. Danny Granger was surrounded by a young and inexperienced supporting cast. When O’Brien was fired, Frank Vogel became the team’s interim head coach at just 38 years old. The general consensus around the league was that the Pacers were too young to compete with the Eastern Conference’s elite.
However, Indiana exceeded all expectations last season and made the transition from up-and-coming team to legitimate contender seemingly overnight. The Pacers advanced to the Conference Semifinals and took the Miami HEAT to six games. Over the offseason, the Pacers kept their core intact by re-signing starters George Hill and Roy Hibbert. They also bolstered their second unit by adding D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi. Now, entering the 2012-13 season, Indiana is deeper and more confident than ever.
“Our bench has improved,” Hibbert said. “People can score at every position. We have three or four guys on the bench who could start for other teams, so we have gotten better in those aspects. We are very capable. We have veteran guys on the bench and starting that know how to play.”
The dramatic improvement in the Pacers’ roster started last season with the addition of Hill from the San Antonio Spurs and two-time All-Star David West from the New Orleans Hornets in free agency. Hill arrived with 20 games of postseason experience and West brought the veteran leadership the Pacers needed.
“David [West] is just an event,” Hibbert said. “He knows how to check the pace of the game. He knows when to turn it on, so we follow his lead.”
The improved play in Indiana was not solely the result of adding experienced help. Vogel has done a good job of quickly developing the young players he inherited and the Pacers should be commended for their ability to draft talent.
“We have drafted well and done a good job of [getting] guys,” Hibbert said. “We have worked extremely hard during the summers. You have to buy into the system and buy into the way that things go. It takes a lot of hard work and it doesn’t come overnight. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
The entire Pacers starting lineup is back, with plenty of experience and chemistry. The Pacers aren’t considered a star-studded team, but they have three players – Hibbert, Granger and West – who have been All-Stars. This is a starting unit that should be getting a lot more respect. Adding Augustin, Green and Mahinmi gives Indiana’s second unit enough toughness and experience to effectively play Vogel’s style of smash-mouth basketball. The players know what their goal should be for this season.
“Obviously we want to [contend], but we know it requires a lot of hard work and determination,” Hibbert explained. “I think that we can, but we don’t want to get to overzealous and think we can go right there.
“We have aspirations and [the coaches] know, but we are a veteran-run team and we know what we have to do, what we are capable of and what goes into doing it.”
It should not have come as a surprise that a team with one current and two previous All-Stars finished last season third in the East and fifth overall in the NBA, but after last year’s hard-fought series against Miami, the Pacers should be considered a serious contender this time around. Not only has the Pacers’ bench improved, many of this team’s best players are just entering their prime and will be significantly better than last year.
Vogel has a group of young players who are becoming a group of talented veterans. With some All-Star leadership already in place and internal improvement expected, the Pacers will threaten the best the East has to offer once again.