Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Pacers
2012-13 Record: 49-32; lost to Heat in Eastern Conference finals
Coach: Frank Vogel (fourth season with Pacers)
What the Pacers need is for a superstar and a point guard to emerge. Until that happens, they remind me of those old Hawks teams that were very good but never quite good enough.
While he is close to being a superstar, I don't think Paul George is a great decision-maker. His next step is to become a player defenses have to double-team to get the ball out of his hands. What he is right now is a great transition player who can score and slash, and he can also post up. When the pressure's on, can he deliver? I don't think we've seen that enough yet. George is a good defender. He benefits from being long and athletic and having David West and Roy Hibbert behind him.
The return of Danny Granger [who played only five games last season] changes the dynamic. When he was last playing a lot, it was his team: He had the green light. After he got hurt, they became more of a team at both ends of the floor, and now they're bringing back Granger, who I think most people would say is a me-first guy. Most leopards don't change their spots -- especially in a contract year. I think having him back will be an issue at the end of games and other important times. Who gets the big shot? Who is Frank Vogel calling the play for?
With Granger out last season, Lance Stephenson became a starter. He's a competitive, tough-minded player who can play a couple of positions, depending on the opponent. Stephenson has a mindset of proving to everyone that he belongs. You could see that last year: It was important to him for everyone to know that he was an important part of their team. He took a lot of pride in one-on-one matchups at both ends of the floor, but those battles appeared to overwhelm his thinking at times.
I still don't know how far they can go with George Hill, who is in that second tier of point guards. Hill has a lot of responsibility to get shots for Hibbert, West, George and now Granger. He has to be a strong leader who is comfortable not scoring and comfortable running the team and getting everybody the ball in their spots. I haven't seen him pull off all of that yet. As a defender, Hill is good but he could be better. He has a tendency to foul when he applies pressure. In some situations, they'll ask Stephenson to defend the point. They could also use George because of his length.
Hibbert spent a lot of last year adjusting to the pressure that came from signing his big contract. I don't think he responded very well, but I also don't think they passed him the ball as much early because of George's emergence and West's ability to score in the block and in pick-and-pop. Hibbert had his best games against teams like Miami, where he has a big matchup advantage and they really milk him. When he's in the game, it makes sense to play through him and use him to collapse the defense.
He's a pretty good offensive player. He's not Brook Lopez, but he is better than a majority of the centers in the East. He's just bigger than so many opponents, so it becomes hard not to double-team him or worry when they are throwing the ball to him. Hibbert makes it easier for his teammates to get open jump shots in the pick-and-roll when he's rolling hard.
West is also a willing defender who is pretty good on the ball. He's not afraid to lead. You see him grabbing guys and getting everybody together. He'll yell at guys when they haven't had a couple of good possessions in a row, getting them to do the right things. West and Hibbert are a good complement because West has enough range on his jumper to space the floor. They give Indiana a traditional look that a lot of teams don't have anymore.
Trading for power forward Luis Scola was a great complementary move because he's not going to demand the ball. He's not a tremendous outside shooter, but he moves the ball, knows how to play and is a pretty smart team defender. They might miss Tyler Hansbrough's aggressiveness and activity, but there were also a lot of times last year when the ball stopped with him. The way their team is built, they're better off having Scola, who helps them play unselfishly.
As for their other reserves, Ian Mahinmi was an impact player in some games last season. He provides a big body when Hibbert is out, which means they don't have to change their philosophy when they go to the second group. Chris Copeland can stretch the floor. If C.J. Watson plays like he did for Chicago, he'll help them. But he took a step back last year [with Brooklyn], and he isn't a floor manager as a point guard, which is what they need.
Vogel has a pretty good connection with the players, who play hard and compete. He's done a great job with them defensively; they have a great mindset. Offensively, he's good enough. I would think a creative offensive mind could help them. After the Pacers lost assistants Jim Boylen [now a Spurs assistant] and Brian Shaw [now the Nuggets' head coach], Nate McMillan was an important pickup for their staff. I was surprised that McMillan didn't get a head-coaching job somewhere.