2013-14 record: 56-26
Key Additions: CJ Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Damjan Rudez
Key Departures: Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner, Rasual Butler
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG: George Hill, SG: Rodney Stuckey, SF: Solomon Hill, PF: David West, C: Roy Hibbert
The Indiana Pacers have already talked about how the goal for this season isn’t to win a championship, but rather to make the playoffs. I like that, it shows they’re realistic and willing to take things one step at a time. There’s nothing worse than a bad team that really believes they’re going to be great. Still, as admirable as their realization of adjusted goals are, I think even the playoffs are a stretch for this Indiana team.
Since Paul George’s injury, there’s been a lot of talk about how the Pacers were the best team in the East last year. Well yes and no. Yes, they were the top seed in the East, winning 56 games, but the problem is that they started the season 42-10. That’s an excellent start and had plenty of teams across the league fearing Indy. But then they limped home, winning only 14 of their last 30 and looking like anything but a championship contender. Then they could barely scrape their way past a mediocre Hawks team in the first round. Things weren’t pretty for the second-half Pacers, and that was when they still had George and Lance Stephenson.
Now, sans those two, this team is looking weak. We’re left with a duel for best player between Roy Hibbert and David West, a couple of guys who have no chance of being the best player on a contender, at least not with where their careers are currently at. George Hill has shown flashes of being a solid player, but he’s far off of the level that a top-tier point guard in today’s NBA is. And really, I don’t know that I’d call him a point guard. He’d be a great fit on the Suns or another team that runs an unconventional backcourt, but in the more traditional Indiana offense, his weaknesses will be apparent. Without Stephenson to handle the ball, Frank Vogel is going to have to make some drastic changes to the way their attack is structured or else they’re going to have major problems moving the ball.
Stuckey still has some quality play left in him, and he should provide a bit of backcourt versatility for this team. Still, they’re very weak at guard, and that means even the slightest injuries could slam this offense to a halt. The depth problems aren’t quite as present in the frontcourt, so if Indiana wants to be successful, they’re going to have to rely on their solid big man rotation.
There aren’t any superstars present, but West, Hibbert, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi should be enough on defense to give other teams’ bigs fits. There’s also Lavoy Allen who has the ability to space the floor. That’s a huge perk when you consider that this team isn’t filled with the most agile guys. They’ll have to run the offense through the bigs and hope that makes up for the lack of talent and depth at the other three slots.
X-Factor: Damjan Rudez
This team is thin. In fact, thin is an understatement. This team is Kevin Durant in his rookie season. If anyone else goes down with an injury, they’re doomed even further. But when you look at the depth chart, there’s a major lack of depth at the 3. That means international signing Damjan Rudez is going to get some major minutes. He’s an unconventional rookie at 28 years old, but the 6’8″ sharpshooter has proven himself on the international level. Now it’s just a question of whether that international play can translate to the NBA.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Roy Hibbert
If you don’t remember Hibbert’s contributions to the Pacers few playoff wins last year that doesn’t mean you’re losing your mind. He was almost completely absent from the lineup in any important situations. That’s because his offense was a liability to the point where his defense couldn’t make up for it. That hurt his popularity a fair bit in the Hoosier State, so he’s got some work to do before he’s back in good graces. If he can prove he’s capable on offense and good on defense, then maybe he can snag a couple more Parks and Rec cameos.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
What’s more important for this team now is the way these players are going to fit in once Paul George returns. I talked about Rudez, but CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey are both going to be playing to retain a spot on next year’s team. Vogel needs to look at this season as an extended 2015-16 preseason, tinkering to find the best group of guys and rotation for PG-13’s return. If you think the Pacers are going to be good by then, this year can provide a preview.
Best Case: Hibbert bounces back, George Hill emerges as a micro-star in Paul George’s place and Rudez learns from Scola to become a quality NBA player. 37 wins.
Worst Case: Hibbert plays like he did in the 2014 playoffs, the team tries to run the offense through David West, and George returns far before his body is ready.
Projected Record: 31-51