Culture of Hoops

2016-17 NBA Preview: Indiana Pacers

Image courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr.

Atlantic: Boston Celtics | Brooklyn Nets | New York Knicks | Philadelphia 76ers | Toronto Raptors
Central: Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Milwaukee Bucks
Southeast: Atlanta Hawks | Charlotte Hornets | Miami Heat | Orlando Magic | Washington Wizards
Pacific: Golden State Warriors | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Phoenix Suns | Sacramento Kings
Northwest: Denver Nuggets | Minnesota Timberwolves | Oklahoma City Thunder | Portland Trail Blazers | Utah Jazz
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs

Presenting an NBA preview of the Indiana Pacers that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season. 

It’s easy to look past the Pacers. Their star player, Paul George, is relatively quiet in terms of headlines. They rarely make stupid headlines like the Knicks, 76ers, or Nets. They don’t play in a flashy place like Miami. LeBron James is still the King of the East and the Pacers pose no real threat.

That looks to change this season. Paul George is coming off an impressive Team USA showing and poised for a big year. New additions Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, and Al Jefferson will look to bolster an offense that ranked 23 out 30 last season. Let’s see what Pacers fans can expect from their squad this season.

What’s Good… Paul George: The PG13 chapter of Paul George’s career has gotten off to a hot start. He returned from that nasty leg injury arguably better than when he left. We’ve seen this with athletes before (Drew Brees, Blake Griffin) and George followed the tradition, notching a career-high in points per game (23.1). In the playoffs he finally became the good kind of selfish and torched a Raptors team for 27.3 points per game including hitting 41-percent of his threes. If George can take that version of himself into this season then the rest of the league is in for trouble.

George once gave LeBron a mild challenge in the east, but let’s be honest, did anyone actually think the Pacers would beat the Heat four times? The answer is hell no. LeBron was at his peak and George was still becoming a star. This season George can give the King a run for his money. Playing in Nate McMillan’s looser system George can run around the floor and be free, finding opportunities in transition like he did in Rio this summer. With no true second option in Indiana (but much improved supporting cast) George will be free to run amuck and that will lead to a lot of point for Indiana and PG13.

What’s Bad… Second scorer: Speaking of no second option, that is what’s holding the Pacers back from the elite. You can’t win with one main scoring option, contrary to popular belief. Every championship level team needs at least one or two scoring threats outside of their lead scorer. Even Michael Jordan and Bill Russell had other stars to help lead their respective teams to the promise land. Paul George is no different. He’s never had a star sidekick or anything close. As of now its Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young, or Myles Turner. Before it was Lance Stephenson—who will become a legend in China like Stephon Marbury—and Roy Hibbert (insert insult here). David West was probably the closest thing he had to a sidekick and West’s prime ended seven years ago.

The Pacers have made a handful of good moves in the offseason bringing in scorers Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, and Jeff Teague. Still, none of those guys will scare a defense enough into not focusing solely on George. It’s the same reason Carmelo Anthony has struggled in New York and James Harden’s reputation has plummeted in Houston. Maybe second year big man Turner is up for the task. Regardless, team president Larry Bird has to know that if he doesn’t get another top guy around his franchise centerpiece bigger problems await them in 2019 when George’s contract expires.

X-Factor… Myles Turner: If there is any player on the roster who has the potential to be George’s running mate it’s Myles Turner. The second year big man had an impressive end to his rookie season hitting 49-percent from the floor. This season he will be the Pacers’ starting center with Al Jefferson backing him up. He is active on defense, showing that he can slap your shot with a sad dose of reality. On offense he has soft touch down low or put the ball on the floor and shoot off the dribble if needed.

As he begins his sophomore season Turner will have a greater workload and will be given the opportunity to take on a bigger responsibility. Jefferson is past his prime and what he has left in the tank is anyone’s guess. Turner will have to be on the floor in crunch time given his rim protection and ability to score and shoot free throws (72-percent from the line last season). For the Pacers to be among the elite he will have to become the guy George looks to when the defense is focused on him.

Bet On… Paul George finishing top 5 in MVP voting: There’s a common theme going on with the Pacers this season if you haven’t noticed—Paul George is really good. During the offseason the team made the message clear about how they plan to play this season—play fast and win now. Team president Larry Bird tossed out defensive minded guys like George Hill and Ian Mahinmi for Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson. They passed on a drafting a younger player to develop in favor of landing talented scorer Thaddeus Young. Defensive minded head coach Frank Vogel is gone and Nate McMillan, who plans to implement a quicker and looser offensive system (not as many set calls) has replaced him.

All of this should add up to an apex year for PG13. George will be given the freedom to run the floor and take whatever shot he wants. He has never averaged more than 4 assists a game in his career, but you can toss that up to playing with defensive-centric players. This year he should easily set a career-high in assists. If he gets doubled Monta Ellis and Teague should be open. If they’re not open, Young, Jefferson, or Turner will be. George has been given the keys to the car and chances are he will drive the Pacers into the postseason.

Crystal Ball Says… Pacers snag a top five playoff seed: As of right now the Pacers are favored to finish third in their division behind either the Pistons or Bulls. I don’t buy that. The Pistons will be without Reggie Jackson. The Bulls are stealth tanking to me until proven otherwise—there is no other explanation for signing two ego maniacs with no jumper—and the Bucks are still figuring out who they are. If George does what I think he is capable of doing there is no reason they don’t finish behind the Cavaliers in the Central and snag a top five seed.

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