The Indiana Pacers took full advantage of Derrick Rose's absence last season, winning the Central Division and pushing the Miami Heat to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals. And this was all without the services of Danny Granger, who missed almost the entire season due to a knee injury.
Paul George stepped up in the absence of Granger, earning himself All-NBA Third Team honors and a shiny new maximum contract extension. Roy Hibbert also improved immensely as the season went on, and he was especially good against Miami in the postseason.
With Granger expected to be back in the fold to go along with an improved bench, the Pacers should be even more formidable this season. Can they make the next step?
George Hill - Hill often gets a bit of a bad rap for not being a "true" point guard, and he received some of the blame for Indiana's playoff loss to Miami. While it's true that George laid a few clunkers against the Heat, the Pacers' starting lineup was generally excellent in that series. Per NBA.com, Indiana's starting unit posted an offensive rating of 109.5 and a net rating of 12.6 against Miami. Hill could certainly stand to be a better distributor, as he averaged just 4.7 assists last year and is at 3.0 per game for his career. Hill is inconsistent running the pick-and-roll, which really hurt in Game 7 against Miami. However, the 27-year-old is a solid shooter, excellent defender and a solid option at $8 million per season.
Paul George - George showed glimpses of his immense talent in his first two years in the league, but he was able to shine last season with Granger out of the lineup. George took over as the Pacers' top option, finishing the year with averages of 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists. George stepped his game up even further in the postseason, and now that he's Indiana's "Designated Player," he'll be expected to step it up another notch. George is already a great two-way player, but he could vault himself into superstardom if he can improve his offensive efficiency. As good as George was last year, he shot under 42 percent from the field. His shot selection could certainly stand to improve, and turnovers were a problem at times, especially in the postseason. But at 23 years old, there's plenty of time and room for growth.
Danny Granger - Granger played just five games last year due to patellar tendinosis, a degenerative knee condition that forced him to undergo several surgeries. Granger is allegedly healthy, although it still remains to be seen how the knee responds to game action. If Granger is able to stay on the court, the recurring question that has come up is whether he and George will be able to co-exist. Granger was the clear top option before his injury, but with George's rise to stardom, he'll likely have to take on a smaller role. That may actually be for the best, as Granger had seen his offensive efficiency drop prior to the knee issues.
David West - West has been an integral part of the Pacers' frontcourt the past two years, and the team rewarded him with a new three-year contract this offseason worth over $36 million. It may be a bit risky to give a three-year deal to a 33-year-old who has recently suffered a major knee injury, but West showed no signs of decline last season. After seeing a drop in his production his first season in Indiana after his ACL surgery, West returned to form last year. West averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting a shade under 50 percent from the field. With this new contract in hand, more of the same will be expected out of the veteran big man.
Roy Hibbert - Hibbert got off to a disastrous start offensively last season, shooting under 38 percent in November and 41 percent in December. But Hibbert improved as the year went on, and by the last few months of the year, the big man was a force on both ends of the floor. Hibbert anchored one of the NBA's stingiest defenses last year, posting a defensive rating of 95.6, per NBA.com. Offensively, Hibbert became more of a go-to threat down low, which he really showed against Miami in the postseason by scoring 22.1 points per game in the series. And oh yeah, the big dude got even bigger this offseason.
Lance Stephenson - With Granger out last season, Stephenson took on a much larger role than expected and started 72 games. While the 23-year-old was a bit erratic, he showed a lot of promise and will likely act as a spark plug off the bench this season.
Luis Scola - The Pacers added to their frontcourt depth by acquiring Scola from the Phoenix Suns in late July. Scola will provide bench scoring and be another talented big man to throw at Miami.
Chris Copeland - The Pacers used part of their mid-level exception to nab Copeland, who got inconsistent playing time with the New York Knicks last season. Copeland will help space the floor for Indiana, as he shot 42 percent from long range last season.
C.J. Watson - Watson has committed several key errors in the last two postseasons, but he's an upgrade over D.J. Augustin at the backup point guard spot. In addition to running the point, Watson can also provide even more three-point shooting.
Ian Mahinmi - Mahinmi saw his production drop last year compared to 2011-12, and he was almost a complete non-factor in the postseason. The 26-year-old is probably a bit overpaid at $4 million, but he's not a bad option to have as a backup center.
Deep on the bench
Solomon Hill - The Pacers selected Hill with the 23rd pick in the draft. The Arizona product likely won't play much, but he could see more time than expected if Granger isn't able to stay healthy.
Orlando Johnson - Johnson, a second-year shooting guard, shot 38.3 percent from long range in his rookie season.
Donald Sloan - Sloan played for three different teams in two years before joining the Pacers this offseason to add depth in the backcourt.
Frank Vogel - The Pacers have enjoyed quite a bit of success since Vogel took over as interim coach in 2011. Indiana's calling card under Vogel has been its defense, as the team had the best defensive rating in the NBA last season and also posted strong defensive numbers in 2011-12. Vogel can be questioned for some of his decisions in the postseason, specifically his choice to sit Hibbert in a key moment in Game 1 against Miami. However, Vogel is still young at just 40 years old and he'll most certainly learn from his mistakes.
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