Fans of the Indiana Pacers got to witness a major step forward with their budding young team last season. The Pacers were able to win a playoff series last summer for the first time since 2005 and they’ll be expected to not only repeat their performance, but to also improve upon it. The Central Division is there for the taking and they have become the favorite. The now departed Larry Bird helped create a fantastic young core for the Pacers and new GM Kevin Pritchard is ready to watch them all enter their prime. It's time for the Pacers to flourish.
For years, this team was centered around their young All-Star swingman Danny Granger. He often carried the load for a team that was very lacking. Indiana is hardly a large market and their free agent aspirations are hardly ever high. This is a team that had to rebuild and turn around their franchise around with the draft. The aforementioned Granger was brought in after the 2005 draft, their All-Star big man Roy Hibbert introduced himself to Pacer fans in 2008, and the insanely athletic Paul George joined the team in 2010. The Celtics, Heat, Thunder, and Lakers have the “Big 3’s” that get the most press, but Granger, Hibbert, and George are about to make some noise.
It's not often where you have multiple young studs mature into their primes at the same time, but this could be the case in Indiana. Most people know about Granger at this point. The former Most Improved Player can hit a shot from anywhere on the court and should get used to his less vital role on the team. He no longer has to be an All-Star swingman for this team to win. Paul George is someone who has improved every season since coming to the NBA and all signs point to him becoming even better. He can jump out of the arena and if he can just develop a consistent jumper, he’ll become a deadly offensive weapon. Roy Hibbert was awarded for his first All-Star season with a very fat contract this past summer. He had plenty of suitors, but Indiana stepped up and brought him back. It’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is and become the best center in the East. There’s a very real possibility that he will be starting in the paint for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game.
In what was considered by many to be a surprising move during the offseason, the Pacers sent PG Darren Collison to the Dallas Mavericks, along with Dahntay Jones, for big man Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi will be able to spell Hibbert off the bench, but it is clear Indiana lost talent in this move, rather than gained it. That being said, George Hill remains on the team after taking the starting job away from Collison last season. During their playoff run, Hill was the man bringing the ball up the court during crunch time. Collison became dispensable. In one of the more underrated moves of the offseason, D.J. Augustin was added to the roster of the Pacers to replace Collison. Not many people have heard of Augustin due to him being a part of the Bobcats his whole career. The stats show he’s a solid performer and his value will shine in a reserve role for the Pacers. I applaud Indiana’s management for making sure there are no holes in the roster in time for the beginning of the season.
Someone who really impressed me as I followed the Pacers last year was David West. His play on the court was decent enough, pretty much exactly what they were looking for. What really stood out to me was his leadership, namely in the playoffs. Every team huddle, West was in the middle shouting encouragement and direction to his teammates. When the Pacers flirted with eliminating the Heat in the playoffs, it was West demanding that his teammates get off the floor, stop celebrating and remember that there was still work to be done. At 39-years-old, head coach Frank Vogel is one of the youngest in the league. It’s so important to have a guy like West on your roster who can act as an extra coach in the locker room, on the bench and on the court.
Gerald Green proved last year in New Jersey that he’s not just a dunking machine. He’s playing for a contender now and should his solid play continue, he’ll be a very valuable commodity coming off the bench. The idea of both him and Paul George running the floor together sounds like an alley-oop fan’s dream. Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough is still nuts, but his physicality is back and may even be playing alongside his brother Ben for the upcoming season. Good role players are key to a solid team becoming a great team.
You often hear there’s no parody in the NBA. Top teams dominate and the rest are left to flounder. Don’t tell that to the Indiana Pacers. They have rebuilt their franchise with young players and have, thus far, held on to them. We could be embarking on a future where the Pacers are not only competitive, but viable contenders for an NBA Championship. This is the very definition of a "dark horse" team.
Season Outlook: The Pacers will win the Central Division, garnering upwards of 45 wins and have multiple All-Stars.
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