Indiana Pacers: 45-37
Key Additions: Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Jeff Teague, George Niang, Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Evans, Kevin Seraphin
Departures: George Hill, Solomon Hill, Ty Lawson, Jordan Hill, Ian Mahinmi
The Indiana Pacers are coming off of an offseason that can only be described as transformative. After taking the Toronto Raptors to a Game 7 on the road, the Pacers were bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Upon that early exit, Indiana decided to part ways with long-time head coach Frank Vogel in favor of Nate McMillan. The shift in leadership, and the subsequent offseason moves that were made by the higher-ups in the organization, put emphasis on adding a bit more scoring to what was, at some times, a very sluggish offense in 2015-2016. The Pacers made strides in the 2015-2016 season after missing the playoffs the previous year, and had at least gotten themselves back into the conversation as a mid-level team in the Eastern Conference. But after the first round exit, they decided to completely overhaul the roster.
Indiana swapped the defensive-minded George Hill for the run-and-gun Jeff Teague, added a post presence in Al Jefferson, and traded for Thaddeus Young. These three key additions will now be added to the core of Paul George, Monte Ellis, and Miles Turner. A time that was seen as one on the rise in the Eastern Conference last season has now added three quality, starting-caliber player and are ready to burst into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers season will, for the most part, be decided by the play of Paul George. George is a top-10, top-15 player at the worst and he has proven that he can carry a team pretty much on his own. For the first month of the 2015-2016 season, George was considered to be one of the front-runners alongside Steph Curry in the MVP decision. He has the ability to score the ball in bunches, and has become one of the better defensive players in the league at his position. The next step in his progression will be his ability to make those around him better. The addition of scorers like Thad Young and Jeff Teague should help him out in that respect, but he needs to show that he will be able to spread the ball around and help others find their offense.
Although certainly past his prime, Al Jefferson could have a considerable impact on the success of the Pacers. While it would best serve Indiana to play with more tempo on the offensive end with their first unit, sliding Jefferson into the second unit might be the best use of his talent. Jefferson is a skilled low-post player, but his lack of speed and perimeter range take away from what the starting unit would be able to accomplish. If the Pacers allow Jefferson to work against backup bigs, he may become an incredibly effective scorer for the reserve lineup. Sure he could still start if that’s the route they want to go, but Young fits much better in the up-tempo style that they are moving toward.
The only question that remains now with this team is whether or not they did enough during the offseason to put themselves in the conversation as a top team in the Eastern Conference. The additions of Teague, Young, and Jefferson have upped the talent on the roster, but will those additions translate into more wins. Last season the Pacers were one win away from upsetting the Raptors in the first round, now the realistic expectations for this team would be at the least to win a round in the playoffs. If you are making bets on “dark horse” contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers may be one of the safest bets. With the pieces that they brought in and the stylistic change that they are looking to make, they have the versatility to give a lot of teams problems. There is no question that they are leagues behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they could at least make it an interesting series. And when thinking about the Pacers and their chances against the other top teams in the Eastern Conference, Paul George would be the best player on the court against any team other than the Cavs. That counts for something.
Indiana Pacers: 49-33