NBA Off-Season Preview: Indiana Pacers
Record (45-37) The 2016 season began with a lot of hope in Indiana. The return of superstar Paul George after a gruesome leg break in an early scrimmage for team USA in 2015 and the acquisition of a talented guard and scoring threat in Monta Ellis gave the Pacers a new look to their offense. Couple this with dealing Center Roy Hibbert to the Lakers, and the Pacers finally looked poised to deploy a run and gun offense that had the firepower to keep up with teams like Miami and Cleveland in the East. The Pacers year began rocky however as growing pains saw a slow start for Ellis and an early injury to promising rookie out of Texas Myles Turner. Paul George kept hopes in Indiana alive posting a career year in points (27.3) assists (4.3) and rebounds (7.6), proving more than capable of shaking off the memory of his injury in 2015. After squeaking into the playoffs in a weak conference year and then quickly bowing out in seven games to the Toronto Raptors, the Pacers fired Coach Frank Vogel and face another off-season of questions. The Pacers have several holes to fill including point guard after their experiment with temperamental guard Ty Lawson fizzled out. There are several guards available this year including Atlanta’s Jeff Teague and Memphis’s Mike Conley that the Pacers could look to add to their roster but their number one priority must fall on retaining Paul George who has garnered attention from several other teams. They must also look to fill the role of Center to aid Myles Turner who looked promising his rookie year especially on the defensive end posting over 3 blocks a game, but after dealing David West and Roy Hibbert the Pacers have been missing size in the paint. The risk of signing a “chucker” in Monta Ellis proved to pay off in Indiana as his slashing play-style meshed well with George Hill who connected on better than 40% of his catch and shoot threes. Ellis proved he has skilled decision making capabilities and should be a bright spot on the roster moving forward. Indiana found their replacement for Frank Vogel in assistant coach Nate McMillan. McMillan has a strong record as a head coach for 12 seasons of the Seattle Super Sonics and Portland Trail Blazers, accumulating a record of 478-452 in the NBA. GM Larry Bird seems to be gearing the Pacers toward a fast paced small ball lineup that should fit well with Ellis’s proven ability as a decision maker as well as Paul George flourishing at the 4 spot, where many thought he would be undersized. This is where some are left scratching their heads as McMillan has proven to favor a half-court defensive grinding style. Looking ahead to the 2016 NBA Draft Indiana sits at the 20th pick in the first round with several intriguing options for their lineup. Indiana is not a high-profile free agency destination so improving through the draft is a must, and a skill Larry Bird has shown to have. In addressing their backcourt, rumors have circled around Kentucky’s Tyler Ullis and Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin the latter of which has received comparisons to Russell Westbrook and posted an impressive 14 points 5 assists and 4 rebounds showing the well-rounded game the Pacers would need to run an up tempo offense. There are also some interesting options in the front court including Vanderbilt center Damian Jones who would pair nicely with Myles Turner. The real head turning pick could be 19 year old Thon Maker. The 7ft 1in center has been a YouTube sensation since he was 14 but chose to stay for an extra year of high school in Canada rather than declare for the NCAA leaving questions over his development and skill as he did not play against the same level of competition as his college counterparts. Larry Bird has never been one to shy away from risky decisions so do not be too surprised if the Pacers make a move on the young Sudanese center.
NBA Off-Season Previews
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics – Brooklyn Nets – New York Knicks – Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors Central Division: Chicago Bulls – Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers – Milwaukee Bucks Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks – Charlotte Hornets – Miami Heat – Orlando Magic – Washington Wizards Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks – Houston Rockets – Memphis Grizzlies – New Orleans Pelicans – San Antonio Spurs Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets – Minnesota Timberwolves – Oklahoma City Thunder – Portland Trail Blazers – Utah Jazz Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Clippers – Los Angeles Lakers – Phoenix Suns – Sacramento Kings