INDIANA PACERS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After a four-year stretch of lottery finishes and an even longer run of mediocrity, the Pacers generated some excitement in 2010-11, qualifying for the playoffs and giving the Bulls a very competitive series before bowing out in five games. It didnít start well for Indiana. They staggered through the first four months under the acerbic voice of head coach Jim OíBrien. Darren Collison struggled outside of a pick-and-roll offense; Roy Hibbert withered under the coachís criticism; Danny Granger tuned him out; OíBrien was reluctant to give Paul George minutes; and rotations at power forward and on the wing were constantly in flux. Team president Larry Bird finally jettisoned OíBrien late in January with the Pacers sitting at 17-27, and promoted Frank Vogel to head coach. Vogel led the team on a 20-18 run and snuck into the postseason as the only sub-.500 team. The improvement wasnít so much a response to Vogel, but much like Republican votersí reaction to Mitt Romney, the Pacers responded to anyone but OíBrien.
Vogel gets his first shot to the start a season as a head coach, albeit a lockout-shortened one with a condensed training camp, and weíll see the team/coach dynamic in a different light. The Pacers front office, buoyed by last seasonís playoff appearance and salary-cap room, are giving Vogel new weapons to sustain the modest success he achieved as a leader last season. Bird and general manager David Morway addressed two weaknesses, adding free agent power forward David West and trading for combo guard George Hill, who becomes an instant locker-room leader. There are pieces in place, but thereís still some work to do. They have the talent to increase on last seasonís win total, and there hasnít been substantial improvement from other teams in the Eastern Conference. A second straight postseason is expected.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The big-minutes guy is Danny Granger, who will see about 35 minutes a night at small forward. There are a few wing guys that can back him up, and weíll see Vogel go with Dahntay Jones or Paul George, depending on what skill is needed. At power forward, David West will step into the starting role, though the condition of his knee will dictate how much run he receives. Vogel can bring the high-energy Tyler Hansbrough off the bench, where the Pacers feel heís best suited. Filling out the front court will be center Roy Hibbert, who really is the key to any success. He played a career-high 28 minutes per game last year after shedding some pounds, and theyíll try to get him over 30 this season. Jeff Foster was brought back to spell Hibbert. The backcourt will shake out with Darren Collison, George Hill and Paul George splitting the 96 minutes available at the two guard spots. Hill and Collison will compete for the starting point guard spot, but figure on 30 minutes a night for each.
Roy Hibbert: Hibbert was one of the more hyped up fantasy sleepers heading into the 2010-11 season. While he didnít exactly explode onto the scene, the 25-year-old big man out of Georgetown finished his third season with averages of 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while playing under 28 minutes per game. He proved to be a solid free throw shooter (74.6) for a big man, but his 46.1 success rate from the floor left a lot to be desired. Hibbert often appears to lack motivation on the court, which leads to missed defensive assignments and unnecessary fouls. To live up to his full potential, Hibbert will need to play smarter and stay out of foul trouble. The Pacers are a young team with numerous players who could develop into building blocks, but Hibbert is the lone true center on the roster, so he should continue to have plenty of opportunities going forward. Heís not consistent enough at this stage of his career to anchor a fantasy teamís frontcourt, but Hibbert is a quality piece who has the upside to develop into a nightly double-double threat with solid defensive production.
Jeff Foster: Foster returns for a 13th season in a Pacer uniform. Heís seen it all in Indiana: from the perennial playoff contenders to the recent stretch of lottery dwellers, and he wanted to come back for the rebirth. Never once did his role or performance waiver over the years. As long as he stays healthy Ė Foster has been dealing with recurring back problems Ė heíll be a capable backup to Roy Hibbert at center. Heís a good defender and a better rebounder, who doesnít need a ton of minutes to be helpful.
Danny Granger: After failing to exceed 67 games in either of his previous two seasons, Granger remained healthy for all of last year, playing in 79 games and averaging 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 three-pointers, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.6 turnovers. Grangerís scoring took a slight dip as his minutes were reduced, and the Pacers ran fewer plays for him while getting center Roy Hibbert more involved in the offense. With coach Frank Vogel shedding his interim title, itís possible Grangerís offensive stats could take another small dip this year. After Vogel took over the coaching reins last season, Grangerís minutes dropped from nearly 36 per game to 32, but it might not be a coincidence that Granger finally stayed healthy when carrying a lesser load. And even in 32 minutes, he has the talent to be a highly productive fantasy asset across the board.
David West: West once again flew under the radar, putting together another quietly productive season. The eight-year vet finished his fifth consecutive season averaging over 18 points and 7.5 rebounds. His consistent mid-range game remained effective, as West drained over 50 percent of his shots from the floor for the second straight season. After suffering a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, West opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. He signed up for two years with the Pacers, who made adding a power forward its first priority after the lockout ended. West surely benefited from playing alongside Chris Paul these past six seasons, but heís proven to be a model of consistency, and head coach Frank Vogel should do himself a favor and work Westís pick-and-pop game into the offense. The knee will be an issue early on as he ramps up to game speed, but West was never an above-the-rim freak and should still be an effective producer.
Tyler Hansbrough: The power forward position was never settled last season, so there was a revolving door that included Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Hansbrough had his moments as a starter, particularly in March when he averaged 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in 18 games. However, the Pacers always feel Hansbrough is best utilized off the bench and looked to add a power forward in the offseason. With the signing of David West, that goal has been achieved. Hansbrough will bring is manic energy off the bench in an 18-20 minute-per-night role.
Jeff Pendergraph: Pendergraph joins the Pacers for 2011-12 after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. When healthy, Pendergraph has the smarts, fundamentals and effort to play and defend both forward spots, though he is a bit undersized at the four. There isnít much to his offensive game Ė Pendergraph scores mostly off the ball in transition, cuts or offensive rebounds.
Dahntay Jones: Jones is capable of filling in at both wing spots and will get his opportunities whenever head coach Frank Vogel needs to dial up the defense. He doesnít have a consistent jumper, but has some offense to him, mostly as a slashing finisher.
Louis Amundson: Amundson was traded to the Pacers during training camp, with Brandon Rush being sent to the Warriors. He should provide more depth for the Pacersí frontcourt, but heís unlikely to see much time.
Darren Collison: Based on an excellent stretch filling in for an injured Chris Paul in 2009-10, the Indiana Pacers acquired Collison last summer and thought theyíd filled their long-vacant point guard position. Not so fast. Collision struggled in his first season as a full-time player, though he did finish the year with pretty decent averages (13.2 points, 5.1 assists, 45.7 percent shooting in just under 30 minutes per game). Thereís plenty of room for growth, Ė Collison is just 23 Ė but the acquisition of George Hill from the Spurs could cut into his overall numbers. Hill has the ability to run the point, and according to some reports was being groomed as Tony Parkerís eventual replacement. But we could see significant stretches when both Collison and Hill are on the court. That could actually help Collisonís development; sharing the backcourt with a veteran that can initiate the offense could take a lot of the pressure off.
George Hill: A draft-night trade to Indiana should mean a big boost to Hillís fantasy value this season. Instead of backing up Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio, heíll most likely be sharing the backcourt with Darren Collison and solidifying the shooting guard spot thatís been in flux for years. Hill has been very effective as a fill-in to this point, averaging 14.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 0.8 steals per game in 55 career starts. Thereís no reason to believe his game wonít translate as he takes on a bigger role on a full-time basis. Itís not clear how the Pacers will use him, but itís not hard to envision Hill as a Ginobili-lite; a player that can look to score when needed or initiate the offense from the two spot at times.
Paul George: George was used as the teamís starting shooting guard down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, but his role is complicated by the Pacers acquisition of George Hill. Hillís exact role was not announced before teams were given a hush order at the onset of the lockout. Through 19 games as the teamís starting shooting guard, George averaged 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 three-pointers, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.4 turnovers in 24 minutes. His skill set is similar to Danny Grangerís, leading many to speculate that the Pacers are open to trading their franchise player. Regardless of Grangerís fate with the team, it appears Indiana is committed to using George as a starter on the wing. He should contribute in three-pointers, steals and blocks if given enough minutes this season, making him useful due to his versatility.
Brandon Rush: Rush was traded to the Warriors during training camp.
Lance Stephenson: Stephenson didnít ingratiate himself to coaches and teammates last season. The maturity issues that dogged him off the court carried into practice sessions and games. He was eventually demoted and pulled from the rotation for violating team rules. Thereís been little said about Stephensonís potential role on the 2011-12 team, though it will be hard for him to crack the backcourt rotation based on the personnel on hand, never mind the non-basketball stuff that showed up in his rookie season.
A.J. Price: Price was mostly the third point guard on the Pacers last season, getting a slight bump in minutes when T.J. Ford was let go mid-season. Heís a point guard in size only, as Priceís first instinct is to shoot. And he doesnít do that very well. With the addition of George Hill, the Pacers have a couple of point guards that will gobble up most of the available minutes.
Tyler Hansbrough: The addition of David West is expected to limit Hansbrough to a backup role; however, the condition of Westís knee is an issue. The Pacers said theyíll be patient with him, which means Hansbrough may get a larger role early on and throughout the condensed 66-game season.
Darren Collison: Collison will not be a major disappointment, but he is going to lose minutes to George Hill. The fact that he didnít play more than 30 minutes per game last season when the starting job was gift-wrapped for him speaks to the troubles he had running a team full time. He didnít adjust well to playing in a new system. Weíll need to see how head coach Frank Vogel wants to run the offense and, of course, who wins the starting job.