Last week we investigated the Pacers fresh crop of newcomers and examined their potential impact. This week? On to the starters.
The Pacers will sport the same starting five they rolled out the last month of the season and through the 2012 playoffs. Continuity reigns supreme, and for the first time in a long time, that's positive commentary as this group proved to be a competitive and mettle-driven bunch.
We're already familiar with the names and faces, now on to the question: Which Pacers' starter needs to step up most to make 2012-2013 a successful one?
George Hill - You want dynamite scoring from your PG? Then take your viewing talents to the Windy City and jump on the D-Rose injury watch. You want to see a master distributor with a sure no-play defense clause in his contract? Then check out the Steve Nash farewell tour in L.A. You want an all-around, durable, consistent pace setter running the team, then welcome back GH3 with wide-open, gold swagger-y arms. If Hill can replicate his numbers as a 2011-2012 starter, while still providing the same position flexibility and heady defense, then consider his efforts sufficient. Step-up Rating: Neutral.
Paul George - I imagine most of Pacerdom is eagerly anticipating the sure-to-be explosive PG lift-off coming in 2012-2013. It's year three on the PG train, and it's time to see if the superstar projections are superstar merited. PG's rise would certainly be a boon, however, the realist/cynic/pessimist in me wonders aloud just how high the rise can go. PG's offensive weaknesses don't appear to be one-offseason fixes (ball handling, open-court decision making); rather, they appear to be more of the you-either-got-it-or-you-don't variety. With dominant wings to contend with among the East's elite, PG's rise on the defensive side might just be the more important/palpable option. If PG can offer 15-17 PPG and become a legitimate shutdown threat to the LeBrons, D-Wades, and Carmelo Anthonys of the world, then consider it just what the Blue-and-Gold Doctor ordered. Step-up Rating:
Danny Granger - It's not about stats anymore. Granger's clearly the team's best player, there's not much left to prove from a generic numbers perspective. It's more about the little things, like, no more experimentation with his offensive game (meaning no more wannabe playmaking, no more useless open-court drives, and and no more going left!). The Pacers need Granger to step up, but in a more basketball IQ kind of way. Spot-up shooting, playing in the post, making love to pressure, and hard-nosed D are Granger's most effective traits. And it feels as though he's spent way too much time the past two seasons trying (and failing?) to be more than that. Granger's step-up rating is the highest in my book simply because it requires the most difficult sacrifice: ego. Be comfortable with your strengths and recognize your weaknesses. Translation? It's time to become a more efficient player, even if that means giving up some of the regular best-player swagger/production. Step-up Rating:
David West - West needs simply to do exactly as he did a season ago, and his step-up production will be sufficient. Hit the mid-range jumper consistently and play the role of locker room warrior during the season... then accelerate everything come playoff time. West's age and injury history just aren't conducive to max step-up for an 82+ game season. Keep it in the playoffs. Step-up Rating: Neutral.
Roy Hibbert - I imagine it will be a close draw between Big Roy and PG as to who's more apt for a step-up season. In Roy's case, that's the sacrifice of taking on the big money. In my mind, though, Big Roy's already stepped up. He's transformed himself from a gawky, uncoordinated behemoth into a verifiable top-5 NBA center. He'll never be of the Olajuwon-Ewing-Robinson-O'Neal ilk, but Roy's the rare breed whose relentless work ethic will squeeze out every last drop of available talent. The numbers likely won't improve significantly from last season (2011-2012: 12.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2 BPG). But if Roy can stay in the same numbers ball park, while keeping the usual disappearing act at a minimum, then consider that proper step-up material. Step-up Rating: