LY W-L: 49-32
Key Additions: David West(resigned), C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill
Key Departures: Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Jim Boylen(assistant coach)
Analysis: The Indiana Pacers run to the Eastern Conference Finals was the breakthrough performance of the playoffs. After defeating both the Hawks and Knicks in six games, the Pacers were one game away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2000 — losing to the Miami Heat in seven games.
The number one rated defense in the NBA, allowing just 96.6 points per 100 possessions, boasts two of league’s best defenders, Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Head coach Frank Vogel designed Indiana’s defense to funnel everything to Roy Hibbert and force opponents to take difficult mid-range jump shots. After a disappointing regular season, Hibbert dominated as a rim protector and on the low block in the playoffs. The block on Carmelo Anthony in the second round, and the offensive charge he drew on LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals were staple plays of Hibbert’s postseason. The former Hoya averaged 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds in nineteen postseason games.
Paul George has emerged as one of the league’s best two-way players. George played phenomenal defense on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the postseason. His defense gets talked about the most but his passing ability is super underrated — averaging 5.1 assists per game in the playoffs.
Indiana will be one of the few teams next season to return its entire starting lineup. The cast of Hill, Stephenson, George, West, and Hibbert averaged 108.6 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, which would have been 4th in the league. The resigning of David West is crucial. Indiana’s advantage against other teams in the East is their size and rebounding. West complements Hibbert well because he’s a remarkable mid range shooter on either spot ups or in pick ‘n pop situations. Since West can stretch out to 17 feet, it allows Hibbert to go to work in the post without facing many double teams.
It is exceptional how well Indiana fared this past season without a workable bench. When Hibbert, George or West sat, Frank Vogel did not have anyone to call on to buoy the offense. Backup point guard, D.J. Augustin, couldn’t dribble or defend anyone. Sam Young was essentially a traffic cone on offense because he cannot dribble without traveling or shoot a three pointer without missing by a foot. Ian Mahinmi is a decent backup center because he can protect the rim and is a good screener, but he didn’t give Indiana much on offense.
The Pacers upgraded their bench at the point guard position with C.J. Watson. Watson, unlike Augustin, can dribble a basketball comfortably against pressure. Last season with Brooklyn, C.J. averaged just 0.8 turnovers per game and shot over 40% behind the arc. Replacing Tyler Hansbrough are wings Chris Copeland and first round pick Solomon Hill. Copeland isn’t much of a defender, but was great from distance for the Knicks last season — shooting 42%. The Pacers are also getting back Danny Granger from injury but they look better without him. Don’t be surprised if his name is floating around trade rumors before the deadline.
(Projected) 2013-2014 W-L: 51-31
The question for Indiana is can they continue to build on their success in the 2013 playoffs. I think they can but I’m not sure if they grab the third seed again. The Bulls are getting back Derrick Rose. Brooklyn has revamped its roster. And Miami, well, they have LeBron James. Indiana must continue to be the best defensive team in the league and find sustainable production from its bench if they want another shot at the Eastern Conference Finals.