clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Without Paul George the Pacers are screwed

New, comments

The injury is totally unfortunate, but really it just presses pause on the Pacers' upward aspirations.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As we come to emotional grips with Paul George's horrific injury, we turn to the practical ramifications. George is going to be out of commission for a long time, even in the best case scenario following a compound tibia-fibula fracture. (In simpler, more graphic terms: he snapped his leg.) He is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season, even though it's just August.

In short, the Indiana Pacers are screwed. They had already lost important offensive innovator Lance Stephenson to free agency after setting a red line salary limit that the Hornets stepped over. With George out of commission, Indiana's already totally mediocre (if not straight-up "bad") offense has lost its top two weapons and only solo artists. At this point, the Pacers' bread and butter play is going to be a George Hill-David West pick-and-pop with C.J. Miles in the corner, or maybe Rodney Stuckey in isolation. That is ... not promising.

Nate Silver thinks that the George-less Pacers could finish 44-38, and there is the unfortunately all-too-familiar example of the recent Chicago Bulls to consider. The Bulls, a defensive juggernaut who got by on offense, lost their most creative scorer in Derrick Rose in each of the past two seasons, but still got enough out of the rest of the roster to land in the middle of the East playoff picture. But the comparison has a few flaws. For one, George is much more important to the Pacers' defense than Rose is to that of the Bulls. George is no worse than the second most valuable defender for Indiana. Rose, though solid, was more like No. 4 for those Bulls teams.

But the biggest difference is that while Rose is more effective offensively than George, he also had more scoring help ready to step in. Joakim Noah has become a great playmaker, Luol Deng was around nailing jumpers for most of Rose's absence and the front office seemed to regularly find supplemental scorers (Nate Robinson, Mike Dunleavy, Marco Belinelli) who overachieved in Chicago. The Pacers really have just West, Hill and Roy Hibbert, plus new addition Stuckey. West and Hibbert don't do a whole lot of creating their own shots, either: well above 50 percent of each's shots were assisted last season, and Big Roy averaged less than 10 attempts per game.

Before Rose's first major injury in the 2012 playoffs, the Bulls managed finishing with the league's No. 5 offense. With Lance and George, the Pacers managed No. 23. That's the big difference between the Rose-less Bulls and the George-less Pacers. Indiana is already so bad on offense that losing its top two weapons could shove them to the very bottom of the rankings. If so, even repeating with the No. 1 defense in the league will only get them to around .500, and without George or Stephenson (both good defenders) stopping the newly high-powered teams in the East becomes a bigger challenge.

That's another issue worth mentioning: the East is stronger now. With the Heat partially broken up, one superpower becomes two ... one of which (Cleveland) is in Indiana's division. Rose is back, for real this time, which vaults Chicago back up the table. Toronto stayed the course, which was spectacular in the back half of last season. The Wizards bolstered their squad with Paul Pierce (replacing Trevor Ariza) and kept Marcin Gortat. Charlotte nabbed Stephenson, who is a great on-court fit for the Hornets. The Nets feel as if they have improved once you take Brook Lopez's return into account. The Knicks think they have sorted things out and could be a huge bounceback threat. The Hawks get Al Horford back. Some of those teams' playoff hopes could be mirages, but there's reason to like each of them over a hobbled Indiana.

But even if something like 44-38 or even 40-42 with a late playoff seed looks out of reach, there's nothing the Pacers can do but wait. Indiana will likely receive a disabled player exception in the range of $6 million it can use to sign or trade for a player, but there's unlikely to be anyone available who can come close to replacing George. Hibbert and West are signed through 2015-16 on massive salaries; Hill is signed at $8 million through 2016-17 and everyone else is much cheaper. Hibbert is too young to pawn off without getting a comparable talent in return. West, who is 33 years old, is likely to remain effective in by the time George is back in a year; little of West's game relies on the sorts of things age tends to rob athletes of. (In fact, West came into the league with the skilled, savvy game of a 33-year-old.)

And George is too good to bail on, obviously. He's 25 and was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. You don't trade that for lesser talent or for chances at a top draft pick unless you know George will never be the same again. And given that this injury isn't the knee, ankle or back (areas where the danger is much higher for long-term effects), Indiana is probably fairly confident that George will quickly re-find himself in 2015.

Given how Larry Bird seems to feel about Hibbert, you can't rule out a major trade that manages to make Indiana worse in the immediate term but more flexible for when George is back. But barring that, it seems that this horribly unlucky injury will just press pause on the Pacers' aspirations. Let's hope they pick up where they left off when George is back on the court.


Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.