Tha Sports Junkies 101

Can the Pacers win the East?


The Pacers are ready to take a jump, but can they challenge Toronto and Cleveland?

The Indiana Pacers may have one of the most random collection of players I have seen.  How will they fair in the team’s first season under new head coach, Nate McMillan?

During the off-season, the Pacers kept together almost every core player on last years 45 win team, losing only George Hill in a trade that would eventually land them Jeff Teague in return. The loss of Head Coach Frank Vogel was huge.  Vogel is a brilliant defensive and set-pieces coach that always had the Pacers playing hard. The Pacers just gave away a top 10 coach. I’m guessing they aren’t big fans of consistent winning/playoff appearances. Frank Vogel or not, this team is still talented enough to break even their own expectations.

Paul George is coming off his first full season back from that brutal leg injury back in 2014, George had his best season of his career, posting career highs in almost every category except for FG%, likely due to another career high in his usage rate (His 30.4 usage % was 10th highest in the league last season). George is only 25, he has yet to hit his true prime, and he could take another huge leap this season after averaging 23/7/4 last season. Paul’s numbers were good enough for another All-NBA team selection. He is one of the leagues best two-way players and will come out looking to dominate every night, and most nights he will. Paul George is one of probably 2 or 3 defenders in the league who can give the best defensive effort against LeBron. He is hands down the second best small forward in the East and I expect he will be in the conversation for MVP. George will dominate his match-ups night in and night out.

Monta Ellis still loves to shoot the ball. His usage rate was the lowest since his rookie season, but that could be better for the team overall. He’s always been thought of as a gunner, which can be bad thing. Ellis did, however, take 300 less shots this season playing more minutes. If his mentality can continue to be less about him getting shots and more about using his quickness to create for players like George and Myles Turner, his role in his second season with this team should be much more fluid.

Myles Turner is coming off a stellar rookie season that could have been even more impressive if an injury didn’t cost him 22 games. A slow start to the season still couldn’t stop him from earning 2nd team All-Rookie, including a game against the Warriors in which he put up 31/8. A healthy sophomore season will lead to higher production.  The experience he gathered during his rookie campaign will only help in his progression.

Retaining Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles sounds good on paper, if the year were 2013. They are both coming off very sub-par seasons in which they’re efficiency just wasn’t consistent, but these two coming off the bench still adds that scoring threat from the second unit, something teams like Boston and Chicago are lacking.

Personally I thought the Pacers refusal to renew Frank Vogel‘s contract was crazy.  Vogel has proven that he is one of the smartest coaches in the league.  He should have Orlando headed in the right direction with what will eventually be another great defense.

The Pacers decided to promote assistant Nate McMillan, who has had a few 50 win seasons coaching in Portland and Seattle, but little playoff success. He had been an assistant under Vogel for 3 years which should make for a smooth transition to head coach. He was the reason for some pretty good offenses when Portland had a healthy Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge. Paul George and Myles Turner may just be that next great duo.

Losing George Hill was a definite blow, he was an excellent two-way player who could play with just about anyone at anytime.  Losing a player like him is a blow to any team. Luckily, they landed Jeff Teague. Teague, who was an all star just 2 years ago, saw some decline in his stats last season (However, his 3PT% did increase from 34% to 40%) and after being “pushed out” by Dennis Schroder, he’s looking for a clean slate in Indy. Teague isn’t exactly the defender Hill is, but he’s great at attacking the rim and can run an offense. The Teague and Ellis combo is a top 5 backcourt in the East that can score the ball. Teams like Cleveland, Toronto and Boston will be the challenge in the back-court, Teague and Ellis will have to contain the multitude of scorers and play-makers the opponent is going to throw at them.

The ’15-’16 Pacers team won 45 games last season. Indiana then went out and added Thaddeus Young, who I swear has been in the league for 25 years, but apparently he’s only 28. He averaged an extremely quiet 15/9 last season for the Nets. Playing Thaddeus at Power Forward and Myles Turner at Center will create a mobile front-court that can score from inside and outside the paint. Both are solid rebounders who are quick enough to run the floor, teams will have to play smaller to get their big guys to keep up with them.

They brought in a veteran, Al Jefferson, who is actually a steal at 3yr/30mil.   His last two seasons have been injury riddled, and his stats have sharply declined. He’ll enter this season healthy without having to be the lead guy anymore, both very beneficial factors for the 31-year old.  They also made some additions to help the bench scoring, with big man Kevin Seraphin and Aaron Brooks. Brooks is a guy who will try to score every possession. This team will have 8-9 guys that can contribute any given night,  The bench is extremely valuable, and the Pacers have a deep one.

So they have their superstar, a great young rookie, solid guard play, bench depth, plenty of scorers, and a top 10 defense.

Is that good enough to contend with the top teams in the East?

The East is definitely getting better and more competitive in the past decade.   Only 4 games separated the 3 seed from the 8 seed last season. Cleveland and Toronto will both win 50+ games next season, barring something drastic happening.  Teams like Boston and Detroit are both looking to break that 50-win mark.  The top of the East will be stacked.

The Pacers have the talent and the defense to surface over 50 wins. If they can stay healthy, this team will win over 50 games and finish top-3 in the East. The Pacers should only get better as the year goes on.  Here’s to hoping they peak at the right time.


Follow me on Twitter @ZackGeoghegan


(Image via (Statstics via Basketball Reference)