I hope they fall on their face because they're scary. They have a big, tall frontcourt, a tall backcourt and great depth. They are going to pound you inside and get after you defensively. They can do it all. They have all the pieces to beat any team in the Eastern Conference, including Miami.
David West was a big part of their success last year. He's a shot maker at power forward, and that helps make them a great half-court team. From 15-17 feet, he's as good as they get. They run those little pick-and-pops for him at the top of the key, at the elbow, and he is money. He gives you one escape dribble, and you can't stop that jump shot. He never overexerts and he is always in control. You can't anticipate his timing shooting off the dribble. He gets that shot off so quickly. You get him in his range and it's game over.
My only question with West [who is 32 and didn't miss a game last season after coming back from ACL surgery] is if his body will hold up. Can he stay away from injuries and do it again? The season got long on him. I think he got frustrated a little in the second round of the playoffs against Miami. He played through it, but his body looked worn down. He's a leader, though. I can recall him grabbing some of his teammates when they were doing things wrong and straightening them out. He's like Kevin Garnett in that respect.
[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Pacers this season]
Roy Hibbert also emerged as one of the leaders. When he played well, this team was unbeatable. It wasn't always because of scoring. He filled in gaps, protected the basket and rebounded well. When you have someone like Hibbert who can guard a big man in the post without a double team, it makes life so much easier. You are not worried about rotations. It's still tough for Hibbert when teams try to make him come out and guard pick-and-rolls. But you live with that because he has become so good at individual defense in the paint.
Offensively, Hibbert showed great touch last season. He was able to hit face-up jump shots. His offensive rebounding was big for them, too. He can grab an offensive rebound and "quick" it in, just lay it right up, instead of having to catch, collect and then dunk. He doesn't let the defense come and get him. A lot of big men have to pull it down, so you foul them and force them to shoot free throws. But Hibbert gets the ball back up to the rim before you get a chance.
The pressure on Danny Granger to be the No. 1 option got to him. I think he felt he needed to be their leading scorer, but they are deep enough that he shouldn't have to feel that way. He had some dreadful shooting nights against Miami in the playoffs. What he has to do is make open jump shots, defend on the perimeter and not turn the ball over, which he was better at last season. I don't think he will ever be their primary option. West is their go-to player, not Granger, because he will make the play if he doesn't have the shot. Playing two-man game with West and Granger is a great option for them.
Paul George is the biggest question mark in the starting lineup. He has to develop a pull-up shot. He can catch and shoot from distance or attack the basket, but he has to get better at handling it on pick-and-rolls and be able to pull up off the dribble. I think he can. With his size and his length, [he might think] why pull up when I can just dunk on people? He's a good defender with that length. He has the athleticism to chase people off screens and be a stopper. Experience will help him as far as being in control a little more.
[Ben Golliver: George an X-factor in Eastern Conference]
George Hill fits coach Frank Vogel's system better than Darren Collison [who was traded to Dallas in the offseason]. Hill is more of an execution point guard. Last year they wanted to make sure they got ball movement, so they started him late in the season over Collison, who has a good motor in transition. Some teams try to speed up the game. Some know they are going to have to execute in the half court to be successful, and that's what Indiana was looking to do. I'm sure they went back and forth on that. To win in May and June, you have to be able to execute and score from your sets, and Hill is better with that.
[New backup point guard] D.J. Augustin and Collison are pretty much the same thing. Augustin can push the tempo, though he's not as much as of a freelance, off-the-wall runner as Collison. He's a little more of a point guard, but not much. Charlotte had all kinds of problems last year and he got caught up in it. He got beat up mentally.
I've never been a fan of Gerald Green's. I was as surprised as anyone that he came back [to the NBA after being in the D-League] more in control last season with the Nets. But I'm still not convinced. In Indiana, expectations are higher and mistakes are not going to be tolerated. And he plays sloppy.
[Chris Mannix: Central Division preview]
Tyler Hansbrough is a bull in a china shop. He's a black hole: If he gets it, it's going up. You can't play him at center long minutes and I don't know if he can be more than a 20-minute-per-game backup big man. But he can score, and he gets to the free-throw line. It makes him a good backup for West.
The Pacers play 10 guys -- Ian Mahinmi will be part of that mix, too, as a backup big man who can finish and rebound -- which is fine in the regular season. But when it gets down to it, they are going to have to go with seven or eight. How to shorten the rotation will be one of coach Frank Vogel's challenges.