Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
I am extremely high on the Indiana Pacers this season. This is a team that fought to get the eighth seed in the East last year when almost nobody pegged them to be a playoff team and then went on to really challenge Chicago in the most evenly 4-1 series in a long time.. The Pacers entered the off-season intending to build on their success and the in process they set a prime example for small market teams looking to compete – and they did without having a superstar on their roster.
Prior to making their personnel decisions, the Pacers made a very smart move by hiring Frank Vogel, who was the interim coach last season and went 20-18 during that stretch, as the permanent head coach. Vogel brought a whole different style of play to the Pacers when he took over for Jim O’Brien, raising the pace and unleashing some players that were previously in O’Brien’s dog house. And after being snubbed by the Lakers for their head coaching position, Brian Shaw, one of the best coaches around, came to Indiana and bolstered Vogel’s staff.
The Pacers traded the 15th overall pick to the San Antonio Spurs to get combo guard George Hill, who is from and went to college in Indiana, re-signed role player extraordinaire Jeff Foster this off-season, agreed to a cost-effective, low-risk, high reward deal with David West and traded surplus shooting guard Brandon Rush to the Golden State Warriors for Louis Amundson.
The only questionable move that Indiana made this off-season was amnestying James Posey. It’s not that the team really needed Posey but on a $6.9 million expiring deal, I think they could have flipped him to a team, perhaps the Celtics, who are considering signing him now that he is a free agent, and gotten something back. But with a condensed off-season you can understand why Indiana acted swiftly rather than waiting things out and potentially losing out on David West.
Indiana’s off-season was pretty much perfect other than that. They did lose Josh McRoberts to the Lakers but they followed that up by trading Brandon Rush, who never really set himself apart at the shooting guard spot during his time in Indiana, for Amundson. Amundson doesn’t stretch the floor like McRoberts nor is he one of the league’s sneaky good dunkers but he is very active and can give you 15 minutes a night or more of pure energy. Remind you of anyone that also plays for the Pacers?
To get George Hill, a hometown favorite, for the 15th pick in a weak draft was a great move. Hill provides some nice flexibility for Vogel when it comes to line-ups. Aside from being Darren Collison’s back-up, Hill can also play alongside him at shooting guard and even defend some small forwards in small line-ups. Though Hill said he will miss some things about San Antonio, he’ll get to play at home and in front of a growing fan base.
Re-upping Jeff Foster was a move that only the nerdy basketball community can truly appreciate. To the average fan, I’d imagine Foster looks like a talentless fellow that lacks effectiveness because he has no consistent scoring threat, has been dunked on a few teams and likes to play the Matt Barnes role of fake tough guy. But to the dedicated viewer, Foster is the perfect back-up center, particularly for a team like the Pacers, whose defensive attitude is partly adopted from his style of play. Foster was tops in the NBA in offensive rebound rate last season and while he may not possess elite athleticism, he works his tail off on the boards and on defense. And even if your back-up center can’t score, for 15 minutes a night you can deal with that.
And then there was Indiana’s big move, which is the one that set them apart from the up-and-comers and put them into the top five in the conference, at least in my opinion. While those other three moves are nice, without a big time acquisition, Indiana would probably be battling for the seventh or eighth seed again this season.
Hit the jump for more on the Indiana Pacers…
The David West signing changes everything for the Pacers. Aside from the fact that West is an all-star player and he’s coming to the Pacers, which provides them with more talent and a top flight offensive weapon, scheme wise West is exactly what the Pacers needed. I’m sure you’re saying “Who couldn’t use an all-star power forward with a well-rounded game?” but here’s why David West is such a perfect fit.
The Indiana Pacers ranked 21st in the league in attempts at the rim per game last season. While that ranking reflects on their guards, who aren’t great at attacking the basket, it also reflects on the fact that they don’t have a lowpost scorer. Last season, in 70 games, David West took 290 shots at the basket compared to 241 for Roy Hibbert in 81 games. The Pacers also ranked 25th in the league in shooting percentage from 16-23 feet last year. West made 47% of his mid-range jumpshots last season while Hibbert made just 30% of his. While Hibbert may be a center, he was given a similar workload as West and it’s fair to compare them. As you can see, Hibberts two biggest weakness on offense are addressed by West’s acquistion.
Another weakness of Indiana’s offense last season was the pick and roll. The Pacers ranked ranked 27th in the NBA in points per possession produced by the pick and roll ball-handler and 26th in points per possession produced by the pick and roll big man. West is one of the league’s best pick and roll/pop big men and will give Indiana’s offense a dynamic it completely lacked last season.
Admittedly, part of the problem was Darren Collison, who was just average running the pick and roll last season, but he should improve this season with a better pick and roll big man in West running it with him. By the way, West and Collison already have some experience together as Collison played in 76 games in the 2009-10 season and was the starter for most of the season while Chris Paul was out with an injury. And even if Collison doesn’t make improvements in the pick and roll (which I doubt), then Indiana’s acquisition of George Hill will be even better than previously thought. Hill is one of the league’s most underrated pick and roll players and worked wonders with the Spurs last season. Hill produced .917 points per possession as the pick and roll ball-handler last season (87th percentile, excellent) and pairing him with West, particularly in the high pick and roll, will be a killer play for the Pacers.
With a young core of Collison, Paul George (who may very well break out this season as Indiana’s starting shooting guard), Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Hibbert (and that’s a good starting line-up anyways) to go along with their additions they made this summer, Indiana is going to make a lot of noise in the East this season. The only thing that will hold up the Pacers from being serious contenders this year is Danny Granger not rebounding from his down season last year. If Granger can get back to producing back like he did in his 08-09 Most Improved Player season then the Pacers are going to be very, very good this season. They should finish in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the top five in pace, and the top four in the Eastern Conference
Prediction: 39-24, 2nd in the Central Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference