During the summer Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw visited Paul George at a workout in Los Angeles. After a strong regular season George had trailed off in the playoffs, shooting 38.9% from the floor and struggling to defend Miami's Dwyane Wade in the pick-and-roll. So as George prepared for next season, Shaw wanted him to know what was at stake. "I told him that everybody in the starting lineup is basically already who they are with the exception of him," Shaw told The Indianapolis Star. "Whatever steps he makes are going to be the same steps the team will take."
Shaw is right: The Pacers bring back a solid nucleus, fortified the bench with free-agent signees D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green, and are pulsing with confidence after pushing Miami to six games in the conference semifinals. Development from George—who keyed in on his ballhandling and three-point shooting this summer—would make the Pacers a real threat to win the conference crown.
COACH: Frank Vogel (3rd season with Pacers)
2011--12 RECORD: 42--24 (2nd in Central)
OFFENSE: 97.7 ppg (13th)
DEFENSE: 94.4 ppg (10th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 20.7 ppg (24th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE PACERS
They are going to pound you inside and get after you defensively. They have all the pieces to beat any team in the conference, including Miami.... David West is a shotmaker. From 15 to 17 feet he's as good as they get. They run those little pick-and-pops for him, and he is money.... Roy Hibbert emerged as one of the leaders of that team. When he played well, this team was unbeatable. He filled in gaps, protected the basket and rebounded. When you have somebody who can guard a big in the post without a double, it makes life so much easier. Offensively he showed great touch.... Paul George has to develop a pull-up shot. He has to get better at handling it on pick-and-rolls and be able to pull up off the dribble.... George Hill fits Frank Vogel's system better than Darren Collison did. Hill is more of an execution point guard. To win in May and June, you have to be able to score from your sets, and Hill is better with that.... Tyler Hansbrough is a bull in a china shop, and if he gets it, it's going up.... The pressure on Danny Granger to be the No. 1 option got to him. They are deep enough that he shouldn't have to feel that way. West is their go-to player, not Granger.
The backcourt of Hill and George develops, and the burly front line overpowers the field as Indiana advances to the Finals.
Progress stagnates, bodies—particularly 32-year-old David West—break down, and Indy is bounced in the first round.
The Pacers' road winning percentage last season, the fourth best in the league. It was also their fourth best since they joined the NBA in 1976 and their first winning road record since 2003--04.
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (GEORGE)
JOHN BIEVER (WEST)