What We Learned About the Indiana Pacers This Season
Even before the season kicked off, we knew Indy was primed to dethrone the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, what with a powerhouse lineup and a fortified bench. The Pacers were also expected to build on their postseason run last season.
Two rounds into the current playoffs, these premonitions turned out to be true.
Sure, the Pacers secured the No. 1 seed in the East, but they don't have the swagger of the conference's best team ready to take on all comers.
Are you listening, Roy Hibbert?
Surprisingly, his downfall is just one of the interesting storylines that spiced up the Pacers' season. Paul George's rise to stardom and the Evan Turner fiasco, among others, also made this a season to remember (or forget, depending on how Indy fares in the postseason).
The Pacers Bench Still Sucked
The Pacers took out Sam Young, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Ayres (formerly Pendergraph), Miles Plumlee and Ben Hansbrough from last season's bench.
As this season wore on, Orlando Johnson and even Danny Granger were no longer in the equation.
In came Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Rasual Butler, Andrew Bynum, Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner.
Same old result.
In terms of bench production, the Pacers ranked second to last in the entire league in 2012-13. This season? After that massive bench overhaul?
Indiana ranked just 27th, per HoopsStats.com.
Time and again, the shock troopers' shortcomings did Indy in—sometimes in very embarrassing fashion, no less.
Another one was their 107-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of their recently-concluded first-round series. Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack combined for 37 points as the Hawks reserves outscored Indiana's 45-23. Remember, the Hawks led by 30 at one point before they hung on for the win.
Watson's elbow and hamstring injuries were certainly a factor in the Pacers' second-half slide. Indy was just 7-11 without him.
Scola showed flashes of brilliance in his first year as a full-time reserve, but age (33) is catching up with him fast.
Had this group gotten its act together, the Pacers would not have struggled as much as they did in the season's second half.
Evan Turner Is a Bust off the Bench
Without a doubt, Evan Turner was a solid starter for the Philadelphia 76ers.
However, he is a bust as a bench player for the Indiana Pacers.
Yes, Roy Hibbert's second-half ineptitude has reached epic proportions. How about Turner, you ask? Since he first donned Pacers blue and gold on Feb. 25 against the Los Angeles Lakers, he already has six scoreless games, per ESPN.
Four points in 17 minutes. Two points in 20 minutes. Three points in 16 minutes. These were some of his regular-season stats from April alone.
So far, he has yet to make a significant impact in the playoffs.
This is the second overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft?
In fairness to Turner, he is an immense talent who can create his own shot, knock down the mid-range jumper and drive the lane with the best of them.
However, he's an awful defender who has been a bad fit as a reserve. Things could eventually change should Lance Stephenson bolt for free agency and Turner takes his place in the starting lineup.
But what if Stephenson opts to stay? It's anybody's guess if Turner's play off the bench improves, if at all.
It looks like Larry Bird's gamble on Turner has backfired.
We Want More of Chris Copeland
Time and time again, Pacers fans have been clamoring for more of Chris Copeland.
When Indy signed Copeland last summer, he was hailed as "The Future of Pacers Basketball."
It turns out the Pacers really meant that.
Copeland was expected to spark the Pacers' weak bench and provide a scoring punch like he did the season before with the New York Knicks. He's primarily known for his long-range shooting, but he can also take it to the rim and post up effectively.
The knock on him was his defense, but he held his own in this regard as the season wore on. Proof of this was Game 5 of the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. He bodied up and stifled Paul Millsap on the defensive end, helping Indy whittle what was once a 30-point lead to just nine.
In this regard, Copeland told Pacers.com's Scott Agness in the aftermath of that 10-point loss to Atlanta that he is a better defender than most people think:
I'm not Ron Artest in his prime or nothing like that but I don't feel like a liability by any means. I feel like I'm a solid defender. I have a lot to learn, I have a lot of growing to do and I think I will continue to get better. I just think the fact that my offense stands out a little bit more that they say,'It's not his offense so it's got to be his defense.'
The way they talk about me sometimes I'm like,'It's not that bad.'
Why sign a player of Copeland's caliber if you're not going to maximize his potential? Let's hope coach Frank Vogel will play more of "Optimus Cope" moving forward.
Show Lance Stephenson the Money
Consistency, versatility and a lot of swagger were Lance Stephenson's ways of making a statement in 2013-14.
Don't forget his five triple-doubles.
Four of the Pacers starters—George Hill, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert—had to struggle through some tough stretches at one point or another during the season.
West, if you recall, had a rough start to the season but managed to put together a string of solid games. It wasn't enough to prevent his scoring average from dropping by three points, however (from 17.1 to 14.0).
Stephenson also had his share of bad games, but he was the steadiest among the starters. While Paul George was throwing bricks, Stephenson was displaying his improved mid-range game.
When Roy Hibbert was stuck in his infamous funk, Stephenson was grabbing rebounds like a madman and dishing nifty assists a la Mark Jackson.
Stephenson told the Indianapolis Star on March 1 how he's out to prove all of his naysayers wrong:
I feel like, by me being in the NBA, I'm the underdog. Everybody's criticizing me. They don't believe in my game. I just try to prove them wrong. I don't feel like I have that spotlight that I had back then on me now.
(The spotlight) humbled me because I went from the top back to the bottom, and now I'm trying to work my way back to the top. It definitely humbled me and it made me work harder every day.
He is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, per HoopsHype.com. That being said, this writer has mentioned it before, but it bears repeating.
Please show Lance Stephenson the money.
2013-14 Was a Difficult Year for Larry Bird
Pacer Nation had every reason to be excited when Larry Bird announced a he'd be returning to Indiana's front office a year ago.
With Bird in tow, the Pacers were looking to build on last year's postseason run. Plus, after a one-year hiatus, a healthier Bird looked to steamroll Indiana's opposition with shrewd transactions which only he can pull off.
Let's look at the more noteworthy ones he's made since his return:
- Signed C.J. Watson and re-signed David West—solid moves which assured steady, veteran presence in the locker room.
- Signed Chris Copeland—relegated to a 12th man role on the bench, could have played more.
- Traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a future first-round pick for Luis Scola—proved to be a good move, although Scola struggled immensely in February and March.
- Made Paul George Indy's franchise player—Bird's best move all year. He locked up the Pacers' best two-way player who's destined to be MVP in a season or two.
- Signed Andrew Bynum—Bynum played in just two games and will not play for the Pacers again due to knee issues.
- Traded Danny Granger and a future second-round pick for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen—Bird's worst move to date this season. Turner has been a dud off the bench. Allen hasn't seen much action.
Bird took a gamble on the last two moves. It sure would have been nice to have Bynum regain some of the form that made him an elite center several years ago, but his knees are simply too shot at this point.
We all know how the Turner saga has unfolded. In addition, Bird had to endure Hibbert's zero-point and zero-rebound showings.
It was a difficult year for Bird. However, the Pacers winning the NBA title should cure everything.
The Jury Is Out on Roy Hibbert
From an All-Star to a dud.
That's how Roy Hibbert's 2013-14 season has gone so far—a complete reversal from the previous year, where he got off to a rough start but asserted himself mightily as the season wore on.
This was a collapse of epic proportions. Who would've ever imagined this behemoth—all 7'2" and 290 pounds of him—would register two zero-point, zero-rebound performances in the playoffs? He had no confidence in his game whatsoever.
But there's hope.
Hibbert's 28-point, nine-rebound performance against a solid Washington Wizards front line of Marcin Gortat and Nene on May 7 could very well be that breakout game which ends Hibbert's miseries once and for all.
This is the Roy Hibbert the Indiana Pacers need.
With this, Pacers.com's Mark Montieth chimes in on the issue of Hibbert being affected by the Andrew Bynum signing on Feb. 1:
Hibbert, according to Hollywood script writers posing as social media analysts, had been bothered by the signing of the backup center on Feb. 1, and therefore was revitalized by Bynum's release earlier in the day.
That, of course, ignores the fact Hibbert scored 20 points against (the) Brooklyn (Nets) the same day Bynum was signed, had other good games after his arrival, or that Bynum was hardly around often enough to be a significant presence as he tried to rehabilitate his knees.
George also refuted the issue of Bynum affecting Hibbert's play in Montieth's piece, so this should now be a non-issue.
There are two other issues we can draw from this.
First, Andrew Bynum's NBA career is all but over.
Second, the jury is still out on Hibbert. Point guard George Hill was also under some scrutiny as the season drew to a close, but has played better as of late.
It's now all on Hibbert to build on his strong Game 2 showing to not only prove his detractors wrong, but to also help Indy win its first NBA title.
Paul George Is Legit
A second consecutive All-Star Game appearance.
A career-best 21.7 points-per-game average.
Finishing ninth in the 2013-14 NBA MVP race.
These are just some of the highlights of the 24-year-old George's 2013-14 season, one which he's helped the Pacers to a 56-26 record and the No. 1 seed in the East.
In spite of Indy's late-season struggles, this is the team's best record in a decade, per LandOfBasketball.com. The last time a Pacers team won at least 50 games was in 2003-04, when Indiana went 61-21.
That season saw the likes of Reggie Miller and Jermaine O'Neal sporting Pacers blue and gold.
Now, a hefty dose of the credit in Indy's rise to prominence goes to George. In spite of his sometimes questionable shot selection, all he's done is improve his scoring average every year since he was drafted in 2010. He's also the Pacers' best two-way player since O'Neal.
Now that his game has risen to new heights, George will stop at nothing in trying to win an NBA title for the Pacers, per a May 2 article from the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:
I want a championship as bad as you can want a championship. We got a chance, we're No. 1 in the East (and) we got a real shot of winning it all with the roster we have.
I feel like this is a great opportunity this year. So it'll be devastating if we can't pull it together this year, because you never know what the future holds.
This much we have learned from the Indiana Pacers' 2013-14 season: Paul George is one legitimate franchise player.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.