Two phrases are used nearly every time someone talks about the Indiana Pacers for this coming season: "Improve within" and "Continuity."
As in, by keeping continuity together we can build on what we did last year and instead of improving by bringing in a big piece, we will improve from within. A cynic might say those phrases are a way of saying, "We didn't want to spend the money to get someone else in so we better be able to improve from within."
But the continuity concept may be credible.
As ESPN's John Hollinger pointed out recently, statistically the Pacers starting lineup was as good as any team's in the league last season, including Miami. That being said, the NBA is a league where if you stay the same you are getting worse, because everyone is looking to get better. That's why we hear about improving within, because the Pacers know they need to be better. So the question is, how much improvement is possible from within? What are the factors that have most room for progression in this team?
Even though last season was a bit of a breakthrough for the big fella, there were still stretches of the season where he didn't bring a lot to the table. Each year Hibbert has come into the new season with something added to his game. He has shown a great desire to grow and develop his skills.
Now, Hibbert has signed a huge contract, and will be entering his fifth NBA season and will turn 26 in a few months. The Pacers gave him that contract with the hopes that he is about to reach his peak - somewhere around a 15 points, 10 rebound average. Most importantly, the Pacers will lean on Hibbert to alter shots and control the paint defensively. If Hibbert takes that next step this season, the Pacers will be a better team.
West is not one you think about with improving from within, because he has been the same player in the league for several years. But remember that West was playing himself into game shape early last season, and working himself into a rhythm after recovering from an ACL tear.
West is the Pacers' most reliable scoring option, and there were times in last season's playoffs where West commanded a double team because he couldn't be stopped one-on-one. Having a full training camp and now having his legs under him, West should be a better version of what he was to the Pacers last season.
And here, Pacer fans, is the true measuring stick for improvement from within. While Hibbert and West can improve upon last season the improvements will likely be minimal because they have achieved a significant standard of their potential. George, on the other hand, has come nowhere near his potential. He's still young and pretty raw, and that's what makes this season intriguing.
When this season ends, George will either be a frustrating player for Pacer fans or the face of the franchise. It's the truth. Think about this. Even though Roy Hibbert got a max contract, he is best suited to control the paint defensively and provide a scoring presence around the rim. David West is best as a pick and pop player who you can throw the ball to and expect good things to happen. And Danny Granger is a catch and shoot player.
He is best suited to come off screens, not have the ball in his hands. What does all that mean? That the Pacers' current three best perimeter players have skill sets best suited for complementary roles. All three of them would work best if there was another guy on the team that defenses had to gear up to stop.
Most importantly, on the subject of improving from within, George could make a huge leap this season from last year. Despite growing in his reputation around the league, George was frustratingly inconsistent last year, and at times would completely disappear from games. If he can develop into a guy that scores 18 points per game, and fills up the stat sheet like a poor man's Scottie Pippen, the Pacers could be scary good.
Which brings us back to the word of the season. The Pacers made the choice to believe in what they started last season. Especially because once George Hill became the point guard, their starters just weren't fun to play against.
The front office decided to bring back a team that should hit the ground running this season without any issues of chemistry or defining roles.
The only hope is that each player is a little, or a lot, better than they were last season.