Early Predictions for Indiana Pacers' Starting Lineup Next Season
There will be no Paul George.
George "suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg" during an Aug. 1 Team USA scrimmage game in Las Vegas, per the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner. Buckner adds "it'd take at least six months for George to get back on his feet and longer to return to the court."
In spite of the downgrade, the Pacers' starting lineup for next season will prove to be competitive to the very end. Take it from team president Larry Bird, per Pacers.com's Mark Montieth:
We think we're going to put a competitive team out there. We think we're going to play hard and develop our young guys. Everyone's going to get an opportunity to show us what they can do. I think we'll be an exciting team. We have a lot of things to look forward to. My goal is to win as many games as we possibly can and get in the playoffs.
No Paul George. No franchise player around.
Doesn't matter. This group of Indiana Pacers must rally around their fallen comrade and give their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Point Guard: George Hill
With two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals series losses, the Indiana Pacers were expected to change their point guard situation. In fact, the Slovenian news site Ekipa (via BrightSideOfTheSun.com) reported on Aug. 10 that Indy was willing to trade Roy Hibbert and Chris Copeland to the Phoenix Suns for 2013-14 Most Improved Player Goran Dragic, only to have Phoenix reject it.
Instead, the Pacers will make do with local hero George Hill.
This will be Hill's third full season manning the point guard spot for Indiana. Although he had a decent 2013-14 campaign, his scoring (14.2 PPG to 10.3 PPG) and assists (4.7 APG to 3.5 APG) numbers dipped from the previous season.
The good news is Pacers coach Frank Vogel says Hill is "having the best summer I've seen him in terms of work ethic," per Montieth:
He's over the top right now with the hours he's putting in, the commitment. He's working as hard as I've seen him work and that started the day after the season ended.
I think he wants to be a strong point of this team. It does bother him that people challenged him. I don't think he cares what people think, but he wants to bring everything he can to the table.
Paul George and Lance Stephenson took on the brunt of Indy's offense last season. With both of them gone, Hill must not only improve his playmaking skills, he also must take on some of the scoring load for the Pacers to contend.
Shooting Guard: C.J. Miles
The five triple-doubles—gone.
The on-court theatrics and ear blowing—gone.
Gone, gone and gone.
Lance Stephenson, the controversial whirling dervish who replaced Danny Granger in the starting lineup and helped Indiana to two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, is no longer a Pacer. Projected to replace him at the 2-guard spot is C.J. Miles.
Miles certainly has his work cut out for him. He is known to be more of a shooter than a scorer, per 8points9seconds.com's Jon Washburn:
CJ Miles has only averaged double-digit shots once in his career, and finished last season averaging a very 'Lance from 2013' like eight per game. Miles excelled at shooting the important corner 3 and also was a better catch-and-shoot player than Lance, finishing said shot at a 38 percent clip—a number which was comparable to Kevin Durant.
As improved of a jump shooter as Lance was, most of his jumpers came off of the bounce, and he struggled mightily as a floor spacer.
Miles, just like George Hill, needs to polish his offense, as this was one of the Pacers' weakest areas in 2013-14 (96.7 PPG, 24th overall). He should get the nod over Rodney Stuckey, a better shot creator but erratic shooter, to start alongside Hill in the backcourt.
Small Forward: Chris Copeland
Here's a crazy idea: How about starting Chris Copeland—the forgotten Chris Copeland—at small forward?
To begin with, the Pacers don't have too many options here. Sophomore Solomon Hill is still raw, while Croatian hotshot Damjan Rudez is just a rookie. It's only if Shawn Marion decides to sign with the Pacers under the league's disabled player exception (where a free agent such as Marion can sign for $5.3 million for one season, per Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss) when all bets are off—the starting small forward spot is his for the taking.
Copeland languished on the bench for the most part in his first full season in Indiana. He deserves better than that. When given the chance, Copeland made the most of the opportunity. Take his last-second driving layup against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 9 for instance.
The knock on Copeland is his defense. True, he's no Paul George in that regard, but he can hold his own in that department. A prime example is his defense on Paul Millsap in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks—the game which saw the Pacers fall short after rallying from an embarrassing 30-point deficit at home.
Indy can also go with Rodney Stuckey at shooting guard and C.J. Miles at small forward. However, the thought of Chris Copeland making a huge difference in Paul George's absence is very, very intriguing—similar to Lance Stephenson's rise in Danny Granger's absence.
Power Forward: David West
At this stage of his career, West is someone who deserves a championship ring. He's been steady. He's been tough. He has been the steadying influence of this Indiana team. Simply put, the Pacers would not have gone as far as they have in recent years without David West.
Following a zero-point, zero-rebound performance in a 102-96 Game 1 loss to the Washington Wizards, All-Star center Roy Hibbert was pulled aside by teammates David West and Rasual Butler, according to a report on the team's website.
Though the site described West as 'fuming' and 'as heated as he's ever been,' all parties declined to comment on the conversation that took place.
West is a lock to start at power forward for Indy. He is expected to mentor youngsters such as Shayne Whittington and Damjan Rudez.
More than anything, West is the kind of veteran who will light a fire in these upstart Pacers.
Center: Roy Hibbert
It looks like Roy Hibbert has worn out his welcome in Indiana.
As mentioned earlier, the Pacers tried to ship Hibbert and Chris Copeland to the Phoenix Suns for Goran Dragic.
On Aug. 11, Detroit Sports 105.1's Matt Dery (via NBC Sports' Kurt Helin) reported Indy tried to reach out to the Detroit Pistons for a deal involving Hibbert. Although Dery's tweet did not specifically say the Pacers wanted Greg Monroe, it seems the Pistons big man was the most logical candidate.
These developments send a clear message: It won't come as a complete shock if Hibbert will no longer be in an Indiana Pacers uniform in 2014-15.
Hibbert shouldn't be dissuaded. He should take it as a challenge.
He worked hard during the 2013 offseason, even working out with Tim Duncan and putting on more muscle mass. And yet, he disappointed in a huge way last season.
None of the trade rumors have materialized. Hibbert is still the man in the middle for the Pacers. Perhaps Paul George's injury will ignite something in Hibbert in 2014-15. Now is his chance to prove once and for all that he is "The Great Wall of Hibbert" the Indiana Pacers can consistently rely on.