ENJOY THE RIDE
With lumbering giant Roy Hibbert jettisoned to the Lakers over the summer, the new-look Pacers are downright Lilliputian. Their six highest-paid players stand 6'9" or shorter. And Hibbert's $14.9 million salary last season was more than Indiana will pay its top four big men this year. No roster is perfectly balanced, but Indiana's is as off-kilter as it gets for a team with postseason aspirations.
What the Pacers lack in height and bulk they are hoping to make up for with athleticism, playmaking and shooting. To make this unorthodox approach work, coach Frank Vogel has no choice but to shift gears drastically. In his four full seasons as coach, Vogel's defense-first teams have never ranked higher than 19th in pace. Now he'll have to run whenever possible while cranking up the on-ball pressure to help compensate for Indiana's weak interior D. He'll also lean on Paul George and a backcourt of George Hill (who played the best ball of his career down the stretch last season after returning from a quad injury) and newcomer Monta Ellis (the leading scorer last season on the up-tempo Mavericks) to break down defenses and create opportunities in the open court.
The real pressure falls on George, who hasn't sounded enthusiastic during the preseason about the burden that comes with a shift from small to power forward. But his versatility and superstar skill level should enliven a rough-and-tumble brand of ball so bland it inspired the marketing slogan Blue Collar, Gold Swagger.
A rival scout sizes up Indiana
A winning record is the right goal for them. They lost Roy Hibbert and David West—those guys were their identity. Their roster screams that they will shift from a defense-first approach to an offense-first one, playing faster and smaller.... Frank Vogel is such a good coach that he will adapt. I don't think he's on the hot seat yet, but management didn't do him any favors.... I don't really see why they want to play Paul George more as a four; he's arguably the best three man in the league behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Why mess with that? ... It's one thing to decide to move Hibbert, but then you come up with Jordan Hill? That's your back-up plan? ... Ian Mahinmi is only a starting center if you have a legit All-Star at power forward. He's a guy you want on your team, a solid backup, resourceful. Defensively he's a presence, but offensively he's not ready to take that next step.... There is some firepower. Monta Ellis brings a nice scoring punch; he's one of the better paint-attackers in the league. He will be a big part of their next identity. Historically, that means they'll be pretty average.... If you have Monta, Paul and George Hill, you have guys who can all handle the ball and set up opportunities with the drive. They can get to the free throw line and get your defense in foul trouble, make you feel like you don't know where they will hit you from.... Both C.J. Miles and Chase Budinger should benefit from all of those guys in the drive-and-kick game. C.J. will be a key guy for them because of the need for spacing and a knockdown shooter.
COACH FRANK VOGEL
(6th season with Pacers)
2014--15 RECORD 38--44
(4th in Central)
PG GEORGE HILL
16.1 PPG; 5.1 APG; 47.7 FG%; 35.8 3FG%
SG MONTA ELLIS*
18.9 PPG; 4.1 APG; 44.5 FG%; 28.5 3FG%
SF C.J. MILES
13.5 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 39.8 FG%; 34.5 3FG%
PF PAUL GEORGE
8.8 PPG; 3.7 RPG; 36.7 FG%; 40.9 3FG%
C IAN MAHINMI
4.3 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 55.2 FG%
SG RODNEY STUCKEY
12.6 PPG; 3.5 RPG; 3.1 APG; 44.0 FG%
SF CHASE BUDINGER*
6.8 PPG; 3.0 RPG; 43.3 FG%; 36.4 3FG%
PF JORDAN HILL*
12.0 PPG; 7.9 RPG; 1.5 APG; 45.9 FG%
NBA rank in shots per game of the Pacers' team leader last year (George Hill, with 12.4). How will a healthy Paul George change things? In 2013--14, George averaged 17.0 attempts, 11th in the league.
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES