The Indiana Pacers might look a bit different on the floor next season, but some of the faces may look fairly familiar. They finished 38-44 this last season, in ninth place in the East, having missed Paul George for nearly the entire season. Reports are that George is working out and playing at nearly 100 percent these days, and that means potentially big things for the Pacers.
It’s easy to forget, but just two years ago in George’s breakout season they were 56-26 and played a tough series with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, George had that disgusting injury, Lance Stephenson cashed in with the Charlotte Hornets and was never seen or heard from again, and now Rodney Stuckey, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson are unrestricted free agents. Roy Hibbert and David West could become free agents as well, but they’re expected exercise their player options.
The Pacers would like to bring back Stuckey as a sixth man, and while they want to stick with a more traditional starting lineup with Hibbert at center, they plan to give George some run as a stretch 4 next year with Hibbert on the bench. Pacers president Larry Bird had some interesting quotes regarding Hibbert shortly after the Pacers’ season ended (via IndyStar):
“We assume he’s going to be back and if he comes back, we’re probably going to play another style,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird. “And I can’t guarantee him anything. He’s going to have to earn it.”
“I was talking to coach earlier; we’d like to play a little faster tempo,” Bird said. “And that means we’ve got to run a little faster, maybe at times play a little smaller. We just got into it, so I don’t know what style, but we’d like to change it a little bit. … But I would like to score more points, and to do that, you’ve got to run.”
This is a fairly progressive move for an organization that has been traditional in the past, and I think it can work in stretches. If George truly can come back from having his leg snapped in half to be the player he was before, he can handle playing power forward without problem. (He’s already preparing for minutes at power forward.) He can guard bigger players, especially the main competition in the East.
Guys like Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova and Chris Bosh play on the perimeter frequently, and George is good enough defensively to be able to handle defending any of those players. I could envision the Pacers using a lineup featuring George, Stuckey, David West, Solomon Hill and George Hill, based on what’s currently on their roster.
For this to really work, though, they’re going to need shooters. The Pacers were No. 12 in the NBA in three point percentage, but a lot of that had to do with Watson and Stuckey’s high shooting percentages. There’s a decent chance that neither player is going to return, and we’ve seen some solid evidence that teams that are able to shoot the three have success in today’s NBA.
The good news is that the free-agent market is loaded with shooters and scorers, such as DeMarre Carroll, Lou Williams, Danny Green, Gerald Green and Marco Belinelli. The Pacers won’t have a ton in the way of cap space, but they might look to trade Hibbert (assuming he opts in to his $15.5 million player option), West (same assumption for his $12.6 million option) or Ian Mahinmi to clear out some space.
It’s possible they address this need through the draft as well, as there are some shooters who could still be available when the Pacers are set to draft at No. 11. Devin Booker, a freshman guard from Kentucky, might still be available at that point. He’s a fantastic shooter but is the youngest player in the draft at still only 18 years old. Bobby Portis, an Arkansas sophomore, is a floor spacing big man who could work for the Pacers.
Either way, for the Pacers to keep up with the movements of the league, they’re going to need to somewhat go the route of the Chicago Bulls. Chicago brought over Nikola Mirotic from Europe and added Doug McDermott (stop laughing, the jury is still out) in the draft last year to help turn things around on the offensive end. While Mirotic didn’t shoot a high percentage, he showed the promise the Bulls saw when they drafted him. McDermott struggled to get off the bench, but he could help them moving forward.
The Bulls are now set under Fred Hoiberg to run a high-octane offense with guys like Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler running and filling the lanes while attacking the basket. Having guys like Mirotic, McDermott, Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy (if he’s re-signed) on the wings will help them rack up the points. The Pacers need to think about building their roster in the same manner if they think they’re going to speed up their offense as well.
The silver lining of missing George for a season is that the Pacers get a high draft pick and could come away with some serious talent from this draft. If they’re unable to address their shooting needs through the draft, they’re going to need to get creative in free agency. But they have some building blocks in place, and with George back on board, they could be looking at chasing down the Bulls and the Cavaliers in the Central Division.
Bird is right; if that chase is going to be serious, they’re going to need to run a little faster.