Larry Bird is ruthless in whichever scenario he’s in, and it’s obvious he wasn’t going to allow the Indiana Pacers to rebuild for long.
After climbing their way to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Pacers exploded. All that remained was Paul George, a definite superstar on both ends of the court. Frank Vogel guided the team through its ups and downs, but Bird allowed him to walk just as the Pacers equipped themselves to return amongst the league’s elite. With a combination of size and versatile scoring, it’ll be tough for any team to stop this soon to be Eastern Conference juggernaut.
Last season, they were able to grab the 7th seed after missing the playoffs for the 1st time in 5 years. George led them with 27.3 points a game, the most of any player in the opening round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to execute when it truly mattered against the Toronto Raptors in Game 7. Whether it was an uncalled foul or not on Ian Mahinmi, George didn’t put matter in his own hands; allowing the Pacers to fall flat of advancing to the next round.
At just 26 years old, it’s obvious that the sky is only the limit for Indiana’s franchise player, based on the determination he’s already displayed. After one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of basketball, breaking his leg in a Team USA practice in 2014, George returned stronger than ever. With already 2 Eastern Conference Finals appearances under his belt, he’s ready to guide this newly equipped Pacers roster to their full potential. That should include an Finals appearance, with George being one of the only players in the world capable of matching up with LeBron James.
PG13 might not be the only superstar in Indiana for long, with Myles Turner establishing himself as one of the most promising talents in the league last postseason. Against the Raptors, the Texas product showed off a versatile game on both ends of the floor. At the moment he can easily knock down midrange jumpers, while still holding his own down low in the post.
On defence, Turner is far ahead of schedule; having averaged 3.3 blocks a game against the Raptors in their series. His most notable swat of the season even came against “The King” of the Cavaliers; their biggest obstacle in the Eastern Conference.
Last season, Turner played power forward, but with Ian Mahinmi now playing for the Washington Wizards we should expect the 20-year-old to move up to center; where his 7-foot frame would be best utilized. His next step will have to be taking an extra step back behind the 3-point line, to be able to spread the floor for Indiana’s versatile offence. If he can do so, George won’t need to worry about moving up to play the role of starting power forward; something that didn’t please him last season.
Instead, Bird found a perfect fit this offseason with the acquisition of Thaddeus Young. The former Brooklyn Nets power forward can provide the perfect amount of hustle and versatility to thrive alongside Turner and George. He might not be able to spread the floor as much as the Pacers might hope, but he finds ways to score; averaging 15 points on 51.4 FG% and 9 rebounds a game last season, numbers only Karl-Anthony Towns and Andre Drummond were able to match.
The Pacers will also have enough pieces that are capable of spreading the floor. Bird said that he hopes to be able to score 105 points a game, which would of placed them as the 6th highest scoring team last season. This is a very possible goal considering their bench is filled with players like C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, and Aaron Brooks– all scorers that have all at one point averaged double digits.
The biggest threat on the bench should be Al Jefferson, who’ll make a good 6th man for this roster. Coach Nate McMillan will be able to use him down low for easy buckets, since the former All-Star has one of the most polished post games in the league. He didn’t have the most positive ending to his time in Charlotte, but a fresh start as the 1st option on the bench should do him wonders. As mentioned before, the Pacers have the ability to spread the floor to give Big Al all the space he needs to come close to averaging the 16.7 points he posts for his career.
Another set of scorers are in the Pacers backcourt, and will have the chance to become one of the best in the entire Eastern Conference. Joining Monta Ellis in George Hill’s place will be, a 2-time All-Star and an Indiana native, Jeff Teague.
The former Atlanta Hawks point guard is entering his 8th season in the league, and has proven himself after averaging at least 15 points in each of his last 3 seasons. His playoff performance against the Boston Celtics was disappointing, but Teague said he’ll be living in his parent’s basement; which should be enough to keep him focused for what’s ahead. Teague is also quicker and younger than Ellis, and will be able to fill in as the 2nd leading scorer on the team.
George, Ellis and Teague are all more than capable ball-handlers, but coach McMillan will be the one to make the biggest decisions. McMillan has been a coach for 12 years, having stints with both both the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trail Blazers. He’s guided both teams to 50-win seasons, but was never able to make it to the Conference Finals. After 3 years with the Pacers as an assistant coach, a team that ranked top-8 each season in defence and 1st throughout 2013-14, he’s been given the chance by Bird to take the franchise’s next step.
Bird likes McMillan’s “demeanour”, and thinks it was a “very easy” choice to pick him for the upcoming season. With the way things are going in Indiana, including a revamp squad and an evolving Paul George, McMillan will have the chance to guide this Pacers franchise back into title contention.
Poll: How far do you think the Indiana Pacers will get in the playoffs? https://t.co/vNyfQJ5EmW
— Rollin' In The Rye (@rollinintherye) August 24, 2016
All stats for this article are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
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