STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
If the old cliché holds true and defense wins championships, the Pacers would likely have hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season. Although that didn't come to fruition, the Pacers still saw success in coach Frank Vogel's third season at the helm, as he led them to their first division title since the 2003-04 season. Their success carried over to the playoffs, where the Pacers capped their season off with an impressive run, taking LeBron James and the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Defensive play was key to their run, just as it had been to their success in the regular season. In the 2012-13 season, the Pacers led the league in defensive field goal percentage (42 percent), perimeter defense (32.7 percent) and points per shot (1.10). If they are going to sustain the success they achieved over the past few years, defensive play will once again be the primary factor.
The Pacers' impressive playoff run transformed Paul George into a superstar, as the third-year guard/forward averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists over the Pacers' 19 playoff contests, effectively showcasing his diverse skill set. George expects to assume a role as one of the teams' go-to leaders and offensive threats along with veteran forward Danny Granger, who is returning after missing nearly all of 2012-13 with lingering knee issues that eventually led to surgery. The playoffs also served as a stage for the coming out party of Roy Hibbert, who finally elevated to being the paint scorer and defensive presence that the Pacers were expecting when they acquired the first-found pick in 2008. Hibbert caused serious problems for a Heat team trying to get to the basket, and his defensive play was one of the main factors that got the team there in the first place. The Pacers' current and emerging superstars will look to carry their playoff momentum into 2013-14.
Despite the aforementioned players stepping up in big ways, the depth of the Pacers' bench had been considered one of the teams' weaker points. Team president Larry Bird was keen to address this issue during the offseason, adding forward Chris Copeland and backup point guard C.J. Watson through free agency. The team also acquired veteran forward and proven scorer Luis Scola in a trade that relinquished Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, along with a lottery-protected first-round draft pick. These new weapons, along with a healthy Danny Granger, should allow the Pacers to retain their status among the league's elite and remain in the conversation of legitimate title contenders in 2013-14.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Pacers will continue to utilize their primary core of George, Hill, West and Hibbert, but after that, minutes should be up for grabs. The biggest competition will be for the fifth starter, as Danny Granger will be returning from a knee injury that limited him to five games last season. He will likely assume the position that Lance Stephenson took over last season, but if the team finds it more effective to utilize Granger as the anchor of the bench rotation, they may choose to go in that direction. Acquisitions Chris Copeland and Luis Scola will also garner significant minutes off the bench this season, bolstering the bench scoring that was one of the team's most prevalent weaknesses last season. First-round draft pick Solomon Hill has also been impressive, and coach Vogel figures to ease him into the rotation at some point this season.
Roy Hibbert: Hibbert spent the summer working out with Spurs legend Tim Duncan, who helped him expand various facets of his offensive game, especially in the low post. He was able to work through his offensive struggles and came through for the team in a big way in the playoffs, putting up 17.0 points per game over 19 playoff appearances. The 7-2 center also impressed with his defensive play, as his intimidating presence gave the Heat all sorts of trouble getting to the basket. Hibbert put on noticeable muscle mass in the offseason, which will help make him be a force to be reckoned with in the paint in 2013-14. If he is able to sustain his playoff numbers over the full course of a season, he will easily be one of the top-producing big men in all of fantasy.
Ian Mahinmi: Mahinmi saw his minutes limited due to the emergence of Roy Hibbert last season but will still remain one of the Pacers' key offensive threats in the paint off the bench. Along with Hibbert, Mahinmi also worked out with the Big Fundamental in San Antonio this summer, which should show by some improvement in the veteran's low-post play.
Danny Granger: After missing the majority of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury, Granger will look to pick up where he left off as a team leader and offensive threat. He is now healthy, and should be ready to resume his starting role at the beginning of the season. Although questions about his health and lingering trade rumors may cause his fantasy value to dip, he could turn out to be the steal of this year's draft if he retains a prominent role on the team and returns to pre-injury form.
David West: Fresh off a three-year, $36-million dollar deal with the Pacers, West will remain a fixture in their starting lineup this season. As a presence in the post and a double-double machine, West provided veteran leadership in their playoff run while contributing double digit scoring in 18 of 19 contests. Coach Frank Vogel does have Luis Scola knocking on the door for minutes at forward though, so if he feels he needs to rest his nine-year veteran, Vogel may be more comfortable doing so than last season.
Luis Scola: After coming over from the Suns in an offseason trade, Scola will provide the Pacers with yet another scoring option off the bench. The veteran will provide leadership and help the younger big men with their offensive game, but his defensive limitations will ultimately cut into his minutes on a defense-oriented squad. He may not be the fantasy performer he once was, but the praise he has earned from coach Frank Vogel likely means he will get his fair share of opportunities to put up points.
Chris Copeland: Copeland was acquired via free agency this offseason in a series of moves designed to help bolster the Pacers' bench, an area of weakness throughout last season. Despite undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason, all signs point to Copeland being ready to go for the season opener. If he was able to average 8.7 points per game and shoot 42 percent from beyond the arc with lingering knee issues for the Knicks last season, who knows what the forward could be capable of when fully healthy.
Solomon Hill: Many critics saw Indiana's decision to select Hill in the first round as a stretch, but the rookie has done nothing but impress so far in Pacers camp. His impressive run started in the Orlando Summer League, where he shot 55 percent from behind the arc and posted 22 points in their victory over the Sixers. Head coach Frank Vogel believes that Hill is ready to contribute right away, so despite the Pacers making several key additions to their bench this season, all signs point to the 22-year-old finding his way into the rotation.
Paul George: George broke out as one of the league's emerging superstars in 2012-13 and is preparing to be the team's No. 1 option this season. Even with the return of Danny Granger, this is clearly still George's team, and he is ready to assume a leadership role. After making himself a household name due to his playoff performance against the Heat, George appears poised to lead the Pacers to another deep playoff run. Not only will George provide owners with offensive numbers, but his tall frame and defensive play will cause his blocks and steals numbers to add up as well. Overall, his utility as an all-around player should make George an unquestioned first-round pick in just about all formats.
George Hill: Primarily known as a combo guard, George Hill carried much of the scoring load for the Pacers in 2012-13. This made him a solid fantasy option at the point, as he put up 14.2 points per game. His offensive production is likely to take a slight hit in 2013-14, as the Pacers added several additional scoring options that should leave Hill less likely to have to find his own shot. That being said, an improved squad should provide Hill with more options to distribute, and provided that C.J. Watson doesn't cut too heavily into his minutes, Hill should remain a serviceable fantasy option in the coming season.
Lance Stephenson: Stephenson is likely to come off the bench this season due to the return of Danny Granger, but the preseason will play an important part in determining the roles of these two players. Stephenson has stated that he trusts head coach Frank Vogel's decision-making and will come off the bench to do whatever it takes to help the team. It remains to be seen, however, if Stephenson's production will suffer a significant drop-off due to his change in roles.
C.J. Watson: Watson will serve as an insurance policy to starting point guard George Hill this season and will play a role in improving the Pacers' weak bench scoring from last season. Coach Frank Vogel may also look to move him over to shooting guard at times, which will help increase the six-year veteran's minutes.
Orlando Johnson: Known for his outside shooting ability, Johnson may warrant some bench minutes at the wing this season but likely not enough to deserve much fantasy consideration.
Donald Sloan: Sloan will likely see limited minutes off the bench this season as a backup to point guards George Hill and C.J. Watson.
Solomon Hill: He won't even be the first Hill from the Pacers taken off draft boards this year, but Solomon shouldn't be overlooked in his rookie season. Depending on the role he earns in Frank Vogel's offense, Hill might be worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues, or possibly a mid-season pickup down the stretch.
Lance Stephenson: If a healthy Danny Granger comes back to take over Stephenson's starting spot, the Pacers simply have too many additional bench options for Stephenson to be able to make the same impact as last season.