10 Thoughts on the Indiana Pacers in 2011-2012 (NBA Season Preview)

1.       The Pacers are starting to look an awful lot like the championship Detroit Pistons, if not in terms of individual talents, then in terms of group quality playing together and the whole being more than the sum of their parts.


2.       This team should not be as good as they are on defense.  Roy Hibbert is huge but immobile, the wing defenders are good, but not elite, and they’re undersized everywhere but the 3 and 5, and at the 5 Hibbert plays smaller than his size.  Still, though, he’s the key to this team’s season and perhaps future.  Several times last year he looked unstoppable offensively, and if he plays that way, this team could be up to a #5 seed in the East.  He’s never going to be an elite passer, defender or rebounder, but he’s solid to good in all those areas, and at times he’s an elite scorer in the post.  With better conditioning, he can be just that far more often.  Let’s see what effect the lockout had on him.


3.       Danny Granger, the team’s star 3, is its other major scoring piece.  He’s a high rate, high efficiency scorer, but a mediocre passer and turnover prone.  With these strengths known, he’d really benefit from another high usage player he can work off.  Hopefully, that’s Hibbert, but there are other options here.  He’s also a very good small-ball 4, a fact that’s continually overlooked, and can defend top guys with reasonable success.  People constantly talk of trading Granger, but unless the return is huge, he plays within himself enough that he really benefits the team and losing him would make them worse, but not enough worse for a relevant draft pick.


4.       Granger and Hibbert got a major boost in scoring help with free agent signing David West, who at $10 million a year for 2-years is a major bargain.  West is a wonderful pick and pop player and good team defender.  Yes, he’s coming off a major injury, but his game isn’t athleticism based anyway, and he should really help in not only scoring, but making sure everyone else is in their proper role.


5.       Notably, this helps Tyler Hansbrough.  Hansbrough is a very hard worker and very good scorer, but that doesn’t make him any more athletic, which, with Hibbert at least, is a liability on defense.  He’ll do better with Jeff Foster in the second unit, where he can be the primary scorer and really cause matchup nightmares.


6.       The team’s main issue at this point, is point guard play.  Darren Collison is very good, but might be better served as a bench player.  He’s very fast, can shoot and finish, but is a mediocre distributer.  On a team with a ton of pick and roll players, that’s just unacceptable, as he really needs to be better at kicking out after penetration.  Backing him up is combo guard George Hill.  Hill is a stellar defender and shooter who plays within himself.  Hill is a better shooter and athletic enough to finish, but isn’t really a good passer either.  If Hibbert becomes dominant in the post, both Collison and Hill will benefit, but someone who can really pass would do wonders for this team.


7.       The Pacers do have one guy who seems likely to become a star, though his real position is the same as that of Granger, their erstwhile best player.  Paul George seems to be a budding star – he can shoot already, finish at the rim, rebound, defend, and shows a willingness, if not great ability, to pass.  He’s young and raw, but the potential in every facet of his game is amazing.  He’s the best argument for moving Granger, but, again, only then if for a top passing 1 who can guard the 2 capably, a top rebounding and defending athletic 4 to take pressure off Hibbert, or a top young 2 to better fit the positions needed. There simply aren’t a lot of those kinds of players available in the NBA (though, strangely, Iguodala fits and Granger fixes the 76ers shooting issues…)


8.       Coach Frank Vogel doesn’t always get this team to play as hard as you’d like, but when they do, they can play with anyone.  This is a very good team defensive team that can score.  Consistency is key, but since Vogel took over, you can see the improvement.


9.       This is a team that just seems 1 player away.  Even a Josh Smith level star might make this team contenders and they have both trade pieces and tons of cash.  No one, however, seems to want to play in Indiana, a huge, but not insurmountable problem.  The right draft pick or trade does more for this team than nearly any other in that it doesn’t have to be a homerun, but just the right move.


10.   Deep, but inconsistent, the rushed schedule benefits this team of aggressive players.  They can keep opponents on their heels and surprise people, but how far they go ultimately depends on how aggressively and intelligently their most important players develop.  Still, they’ve gone from a bubble playoff team to one only barely out of contention – Larry Bird has done an extremely admirable job.   If anyone is going to shock the Celtics in Round 1, it’ll be these guys, although they might just be too highly seeded for that.