The Indiana Pacers are in a state of total uncertainty at their post positions right now. Power forward David West opted out of his contract because he didn’t feel the Pacers were going to be a title contender, according to WTHR Channel 13’s Bob Kravitz. Disappointing center Roy Hibbert is on the trade block, as Indiana looks to dump his $15.5 million salary for next season.
But how about that new perimeter trio of George Hill, the newly acquired Monta Ellis and Paul George? The Pacers have to like their talent on the perimeter. It’s a group that can make Indiana a playoff team in the Eastern Conference pretty much regardless of who starts at the interior positions.
Why do I think so? Let’s focus on three reasons.
The Pacers’ proposed new offensive style should work
According to Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, via the Associated Press and USA Today, Indiana is looking to play smaller and more uptempo in 2015-16. Although George will likely start at his normal position of small forward, he’ll also see some time at the 4 spot, Bird said. The squad’s pace factor was No. 19 in the NBA last season with George out most of the season, but that ranking would likely move into the top 10 if Larry Legend is serious about this plan.
How does that fit the style of the Pacers’ perimeter trio? Quite well, actually.
Hill is a long, athletic combo guard who specializes in finishing at the rim and making spot-up threes. He shot 40.4 percent on catch-and-shoot looks from behind the arc last season and also shot 70.2 percent at the rim, a borderline ridiculous number for a 6’2″, 180-pound guard.
His skill set is perfect for a transition attack, where he can knock down threes or swoop down the lane for a deft finish.
As for Ellis? Well, he was made for the fast break. He’s got some of the quickest wheels in the league, and he can contort his body in a variety of ways to get shots off at the rim:
His long-range shooting ability is poor for a guard, but Indiana will look at him more as a ball-handler and finisher than a spot-up shooter in transition.
George, although he’s still getting back his athleticism from a broken leg last summer, is just one year removed from doing this:
It’s safe to say Hill, Ellis and George will be able to produce quite a few points (and highlights) in transition next season.
The Trio is Talented
In today’s NBA, we should be past the point where guys like Hill are massively underrated, but we aren’t quite there yet.
The former IUPUI standout is excellent on both sides of the ball and advanced statistics are in love with him. Hill may not have the traditional skill set of a floor general, but he had a 21.5 player efficiency rating and earned 0.203 win shares per 48 minutes in 2014-15.
For some context, the former statistic ranked him fifth among point guards (behind only Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving) and the latter number slotted him ahead of LeBron James.
Yes, ahead of LeBron James. Obviously, Hill isn’t quite THAT good. But the point is, he’s a lot better than most NBA fans think.
Many thought Ellis was deserving of an All-Star nod with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014-15, and they had a point. The shooting guard led Dallas with 19.8 points and 4.5 assists per game before the break, buoying the Mavs to a 36-19 record.
He tailed off down the stretch, but some of that was due to his questionable on-court fit with mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo, who the team acquired in December.
George is still a bit of a question mark with the status of his leg. But if he returns to form, which he showed in flashes during his six-game stint at the end of last season, he’ll once again be the Pacers’ best player .
Remember, George was getting MVP consideration at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, lest you forget how good the All-Star small forward is.
The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy might come close, but they won’t have quite the balance; the Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng could be there, too, but Wade’s balky knees can ruin that trio.
The Trio Fits Well Together
Remember that Ellis-Rondo fit that was questioned earlier? Neither guard has a good three-point shot, so that badly clogged the paint for the Mavs.
Rondo played the first two playoff games of Dallas’ first-round series against the Houston Rockets, and then was benched for the rest of the series. In contests Rondo played, Ellis averaged 20 points and 3.5 assists on 33.3 percent shooting.
Not coincidentally, those numbers jumped up to 30 points and 6.3 assists per game on 54.2 percent shooting for the former Mavs shooting guard in the final three games.
With Hill and George flanking him, Ellis won’t have that problem.
We’ve mentioned Hill’s spot-up shooting ability already — you definitely can’t leave him alone on the three-point line.
George is also lethal from downtown. He shot 43.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in 2013-14, acting as a nice off-ball option on possessions where Indiana elected to use Lance Stephenson as its primary ball-handler. Remember, that squad earned the East’s No. 1 seed and advanced to the conference finals.
If Ellis buys into the No. 2 role (admittedly a big “if”), he can be George’s Stephenson, a slashing shooting guard with strong ball-handling abilities who can take some pressure off of George.
Defensively, Hill can cover any point guard (and smaller shooting guards, when necessary) while George can lock down the opponent’s best wing with his All-Defensive First Team chops. Ellis is the only perimeter player the Pacers would have to hide on that end, but usually teams have one guy on the perimeter who you can afford to guard with a below-average defender.
What’s the point of all this? Basically, don’t forget about the Pacers in the East.
Their starting post duo likely won’t be very good, but this squad should still be better than it was last year, when it missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker. George coming back and the addition of Ellis should make up what they’ll (probably) lose in West and Hibbert.
Head coach Frank Vogel gets his role players to play hard, as well, so you can count on decent production from the bench, as well.
No, Indiana won’t get the No. 1 seed again, but the Pacers have a shot at a top four seed in the East in 2015-16 on the strength of their elite perimeter trio.