This season will have a new feel and look to Pacers’ fans. They will have a more up-tempo style this season, and also employ more small ball tactics. The Pacers will look to spread the floor this year with smaller players than they have had in the past. Last season, the Pacers hopes for a trip to the playoffs were thought to have been vanquished before the season even began with Paul George suffering a gruesome leg injury during the summer in a Team USA exhibition game. With the loss of George for most of the season, the Pacers struggled to find any consistency as the season went on. George did come back during the latter part of the season and provided a spark that had the Pacers within one game of making the playoffs. George Hill had a career year last season in George’s absence, as he became the main player on the floor for the Pacers when he played. George Hill had his share of injures during last season, and he was only able to play in 43 games. The Pacers were hurting last season, with injuries to most of their core players. With everybody fully healthy and a younger and quicker lineup than in previous seasons, the Pacers look to be a surprise team in the East and make this their year to return to the playoffs.
The Pacers this season will look very different than in years past. The Pacers have made it clear they want to go small and play the transition and up tempo offense. They started the overhaul and transformation this past offseason. After Larry Bird made it clear that the Pacers were going to try to alter their style of play and no longer rely on a big lineup anchored by an inconsistent center in Roy Hibbert, veteran forward David West departed Indiana by opting out of his final season to chase a ring with the San Antonio Spurs. When West left, the Pacers went all in on the transition by then trading Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers for a draft pick and more importantly, salary cap room to add players who could support a spread attack expected to improve the team’s offensive production. Luis Scola and C.J. Watson also left Indiana. In the Draft, The Pacers selected Myles Turner out of Texas. Turner replaced one vacancy in the front court with a lot of youth and upside, but little hope to make a major impact this season. He will be relied upon to be a good defensive player in the frontcourt, but may not log many minutes in his rookie season as he looks to develop his inside game a bit more. Being drafted at only 19 years old, he has a lot of promise for the future of the Pacers. A supporting role off the bench would be fantastic as the team develops Turner alongside other front-court players such as starting center Ian Mahinmi, and backup power forward Lavoy Allen and another new face, Jordan Hill. While the Pacers expect to play with small lineups that feature Paul George at the power forward position, they will play plenty with traditional lineups and back-up center Jordan Hill is showing signs of bolstering those units. Monta Ellis was the team’s biggest free agent signing and headlines the backcourt changes. Ellis will run along with George Hill in the starting lineup and probably handle some point guard duties along with rookie back-up, Joe Young. The Pacers swapped Damjan Rudez for Chase Budinger who Frank Vogel expects to help the team run and gun while fitting in a variety of different lineups.
The Pacers biggest strengths this season is having a fully healthy Paul George back in the lineup. A healthy Paul George is critical to any success the Pacers hope to have this season and so far, he has wiped away any doubts he is ready to deliver a big season for the Pacers. While he hasn’t fully embraced all of the side effects associated with his role in a spread attack, he has certainly made it work on the offensive end, averaging 19 points per preseason game in 21 minutes. With the Pacers emphasis on offense, George will lead the way, but making an elite impact at the defensive end remains where he can make himself stand out among the top players in the league. How he is used defensively in the spread attack will be intriguing since he surely won’t be guarding a power forward when the opponent’s best player is at a different spot on the floor. This is where the flexible roster comes into play since it gives Frank Vogel options to vary his attack, unlike in years past. Now with the ability to go small or big, long or fast, Vogel can get back to his roots to throw multiple matchup options at an opponents to find better scoring opportunities.
This will also show up on the defensive end where the Pacers remain dedicated to being stingy and a tough defense despite the early emphasis on offense. One area where the prior Hibbert anchored defenses struggled was with handling the spread attack from teams like Atlanta and Miami. By being able to match those lineups, Vogel expects his defense to be able to harass perimeter shooters better while still being able to leave a rim protector in the paint. That’s where Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill will have to step up their games, as they struggled in the paint last season.
This season, the Pacers look to make the jump back into the playoff picture. They believe they have a team that can compete in the Eastern Conference. With a fully healthy Paul George back, and a new up tempo team, the Pacers could look to make headlines across the league. This is a young team that has ditched the old vets and inconsistent players to look ahead towards the future. A future with a faster paced offense while keeping the same old philosophy of tough defense. There is no reason not to believe this Pacers team can’t win at least 40-45 games. After almost making it to the playoffs last season without their superstar, the Pacers can make the leap back this season and make their return trip to the playoffs. This new run and gun Pacers team will be a fun to watch as the season progresses.