The Indiana Pacers have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, including two conference finals. They were built to win a championship and got sidetracked. With Paul George healthy again, a new head coach in Nate McMillan and interesting additions like Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson, Larry Bird is trying to get them back in a position to win a championship.
The disappointing ending to the 2014 NBA playoffs changed everything. Losing in the conference finals to the Miami Heat (third consecutive playoff exit against LeBron James and co.) despite having home court advantage seemed to break something within the Pacers, in a series that wasn’t as close as the 4-2 final score suggests. The playoffs were filled with abysmal performances and twice almost getting knocked out by far inferior teams.
Roy Hibbert seemed to lose his ability. Someone whispered into Lance Stephenson’s ears and told him he’s a superstar. Things started to break away. Then Paul George broke his leg while on the pre world championship tour with Team USA, and the Pacers entered a season without any hope, simply passing the time until George is back. They almost made the playoffs, but all the while, they made the decision to pretty much break up the core of the previous years, or simply made players want to leave, like David West.
Last season was good, as George re-established himself as one of the best players in the NBA, and the defense remained fantastic even without Hibbert, ranking third in efficiency. But the Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs. They played hard to watch basketball, ranking 25th in offensive efficiency. Isolations, slow, unimaginative. George is the guy who gets the ball in his hands most of the time, but he isn’t the kind of star who forces each possession through him. Monta Ellis was a disappointment, George Hill was never going to become something he simply isn’t, which is a leading point guard.
The Pacers went out and made changes. Jeff Teague arrived from the Atlanta Hawks. He might not be among the elite point guards in the NBA, but he gives the Pacers someone who isn’t afraid to take initiative, fits in well with good team defense, can knock down 3’s, creating for himself and others, which probably means we’ll see a lot less of Ellis next season.
The other change the Pacers made was adding Jefferson. A big man who stopped being a building block for the Hornets last season, Jefferson adds something the Pacers haven’t had in almost a decade: A big man who can score in the paint. The addition of Thad Young only cements the new approach, while moving George back to his more known role of small forward. The Pacers want more offense, trust Nate McMillan that he’ll be able to generate defense from this group, and are counting on Myles Turner to become a defensive force this season, his 2nd in the league.
Best Case Scenario
At least 51 wins and a playoff series victory. That’s the basic of it. The Pacers aren’t looking at this season as a building season. They want to change the team into an offensive, efficient machine. Even the lesser cogs in this build, Joe Young and Georges Niang, if they get some minutes, were offensive stars in college. Aaron Brooks is all about quick points and basketball off the bench. The Pacers were actually with the 11th fastest pace last season in the NBA. They brought in Teague to make it even quicker, and to perhaps take some load off of George. If the Pacers move up in 3-point ranking (35.1%, 14th in the NBA), it probably means Bird’s plans about the offense have worked.
Worst Case Scenario
Standing in the same place or dropping. Being more specific, that the new concept of a more offensive-oriented team becomes a burden on a defense that will certainly be weaker compared to last season. There’s always a balance that needs to be kept, and if the Pacers become a team that’s easily scored again without actually improving by that much on offense, maybe even making the playoffs, while scrambling the DNA of the team and getting rid of a smart, successful coach for his assistant could end up being a very bad move.