Can Indy Get Over The Hump?

Posted: December 5, 2013 in sports

The Indiana Pacers got off to an impressive start, going 9-0, until they lost  to the Bulls in Chicago. Then the Pacers went on a 7 game win streak before losing to the Portland Trailblazers on the road. Right now Indiana sits at the top of the league with a record of 16-2. Coming into the season there were plenty of questions hanging over this impressive roster: Will Paul George continue his growth as a player and a leader? Will Danny Granger come back healthy? When Granger comes back, will he be inserted into the starting lineup again or come off the bench as the sixth-man? How much will this new and improved bench contribute? But the main question that everyone has is: Will Indy finally “Beat The Heat?”

During the off-season the Pacers drafted Solomon Hill from The University of Arizona. Position wise, this pick made little to no sense at all. It’s not really a logjam at the small forward position because when Granger comes back there will be little debate on who’s going to get minutes. There are some good reasons behind this pick though. Hill was a four-year college guy so we know that he’s been somewhat “battle-tested.” He’s also a good defender and is a versatile offensive threat with his slashing abilities and has a decent 15-20 ft jump shot.  Once again this goes back to him playing four years in college, he may not have that pure talent that some of these “super freshmen” have but he definently has had more time to develop his game before reaching the league and that does more good than bad. The worse that can come from multiple years in college is sliding down the draft board and no one wants that right? (Debate for another day). Compare this Solomon Hill pick to the risky Lance Stephenson pick back in 2010. A guy with great future potential but not enough minutes to test him out right away.

Another acquisition that has huge upside and just as huge of a downside is Chris Copeland. Pacer fans may remember watching last years playoff series against the Knicks wondering why Copeland wasn’t getting any minutes. During the season he torched the Pacers, so many people would expect that he’d get decent minutes in the playoffs. Every time Copeland stepped foot on the court he was scoring and making it look easy. After he a few three’s Mike Woodson would sit him and we’d never see him back in the game. He was the spark plug that the Knicks needed during that series but  Mike Woodson could not see that. Copeland was a rookie last year but he’s a veteran to pro basketball; playing overseas in various countries. His skill set may be limited offensively but the man surely knows how to hit shots from beyond the arc and he knows how to do it in bunches which is exactly what the Pacers need coming off the bench. Defensively he’s a nightmare, he has no versatility at all, hell, he can’t even guard his own position. But with his ability to score in bunches coach Vogel won’t have to have him out there for extended minutes.

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CJ Watson was picked up to run that second unit. He has a similar skill set to starting point, George Hill. He’s a scorer and a great defender. When Hill goes to the bench not much is dropped off, CJ can easily pick up the slack. Last season Indy went with DJ Augustine who was brought in to be a pure point guard of the bench and that didn’t work out. He couldn’t defend and he never really found his groove offensively. I like the acquisition of Watson for two reasons, he won’t have to try to carry the load offensively with this improved bench and his defense will be there every game. Last year when DJ came in he was the primary scorer. Tyler Hansbrough had two moves that rarely worked and Sam Young could barely even dribble a basketball. DJ never had a shot with that lineup. CJ has an improved Orlando Johnson, Luis Scola, and will eventually have a former all-star playing with him in Danny Granger. Of course that doesn’t mean it’ll only be second unit players out there playing with him but that second unit could be a subpar starting lineup in this league. There’s a few teams in this league that don’t even have a starting five that can compete with this Pacers bench (Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, etc).

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The next move really let the basketball world know that the Pacers are serious about contending for a title. Trading the inconsistent Gerald Green who was a huge bust signing last year, Miles Plumlee, and a future 1st round pick to the Suns for a crafty old vet. in Luis Scola. With Scola, the Pacers  don’t have to wonder what they’ll get from their back up big-men like in years past with Tyler Hansbrough. Sometimes Tyler would show up but most of the time he’d just be out there getting fouls and missing his “throw” shots at the rim. Scola has been through the fire, he’s an Olympian so he knows what it’s like to play on the big stage. He’s a model of consistency and he has great patience and poise whenever he steps foot on the court.

When I look at how much this team has grown it’s not so much from a skill development point, but rather from their sense of urgency, consistency and confidence. During the first eleven games of the season we’ve seen them have comeback victories and blow out wins over decent teams. Paul George has shown us that he’s found his comfort zone offensively and that he’s not afraid to take the big shots when needed. He’s became a more consistent mid-range shooter and he’s attacking the rim a lot more than he was last year. In the Pacers 103-96 overtime win against the Knicks his patience was on full display. He had a slow first half but turned it around in the second half and finished with 35 points, five rebounds, four assists, five steals, and two blocks. Not to mention playing great defense on Carmelo Anthony in the second half forcing him to alter his shots causing him to finish with a poor field goal percentage 35.7%.

When the Pacers traveled to Portland to play the Trailblazers they would be facing off against the current top team in the West. Even though this game was neck and neck for most of the way Indy lead for most of it. At the end of the game it looked like Portland was on pace to win until Paul George caught fire from the three-point line. He hit shot after shot to give the Pacers a chance to tie or take the lead but a few breakdowns on defense prevented that. There were some questionable calls down the stretch like the two fouls on Roy Hibbert that sent Lamarcus Aldridge last two trips to the free-throw line. Aldridge would drive to the basket leading with his leg resulting in Roy falling to the ground and hunched over in pain. The verticality rule would have been in full effect if Aldridge’ leg wouldn’t have kneed Roy on those two possessions. Call me bias all you want but based on other games around the league and previous games where that would happen, it would either be an offensive foul or a no-call. Nonetheless the Blazers flat-out won the game. Paul George had a career high of 43 points but that right there tells you that others didn’t do enough. Lance Stephenson only had 2 points and fouled out of the game, David West wasn’t consistent, the George Hill wasn’t looking for his shot and couldn’t figure out how to slow down Damian Lillard.

This season, without a doubt  is “championship or bust” for the Pacers. They have all the tools needed to succeed, They’re skilled at every position, they have size… at every position, and they have the best defense in the league. Defense wins championships and that theory will never be proven wrong. When you look at how their season ending last year, they have a bitter taste in their mouths and they know the pain of losing a game seven on the road and do not want to be back in that position again. Everyone on this team has worked hard to make improvements to their game, and with defense and their new depth on the bench they’re ready to go far.

 

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