The lost season rattled the foundations of the Indiana Pacers. With Paul George back they’re playing basketball that’s fun to watch after a very long time of something very different, while it seems George is handling his new position well enough and playing at the highest level of his career.
Splitting his time between the ‘3’ and the ‘4’, George is averaging 27.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 45.5% from beyond the arc and doing a great job of combining inside and outside, also getting to the line more than 7 times a game. George’s injury that kept him out for most of 2014-2015 didn’t set him back as a player. It just delayed the inevitable of him becoming as good as he is right now, which might be just another step towards something even greater.
But George doing well in the new small ball world, with George Hill, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles completing a starting five with a rotating big man (Ian Mahinmi or Jordan Hill), isn’t that surprising. The Pacers starting the season 11-5, so far playing against just one Western conference team (the Lakers on the road and beating them 107-103 with George scoring 39 points), is the bigger surprise. The Pacers still playing great defense (98 points per 100 possessions, 3rd best in the NBA) is surprising as well. They’ve been remodeled to fit what works in today’s NBA, but so far without losing too much of what made the 2012-2014 Pacers do so well.
Can the Pacers actually make a run for the Eastern conference title? Right now, no. They don’t have a deep enough bench to compete in a playoff series with the Cleveland Pacers, and are probably inferior to the Chicago Bulls as well despite having a better record at this point. A team’s true strength is usually known a bit later in the season. Through injuries, and through teams working out a way to play against them after meeting each other for two, three and four times.
But the Pacers are refreshing to watch. Not a team that tanked to get to this place, but quickly retooled after a process got stuck at the LeBron James level, things turned unlucky with George’s injury and Stephenson escaping in what might be a career ruining move. Building around George is a sound idea, and although it’s not going to get them to a title in 2016, there seems to be a solid enough foundation to try and once again rise from this level to be taken a bit more seriously when talking about championship contenders after the big free agency surge of the 2016 summer.