It's the all-star break, and besides watching PG dunk or Roy and PG play in the all-star game, things are a little slow in Pacer land.
So, if you're bored, let's talk about what has been the biggest surprise for the team during what, up to this point, has been a great season. I included a poll at the bottom of this post, and if you think I've left out any surprising turns to this season, put it in the comments. Without further ado, here are what I think have been the 5 biggest surprises of the season so far:
Pacers have the best record in the East
We all know the Pacers would be good this year, and expected them to improve with the changes Bird made to the bench, but did anyone think they'd be this good? I remember Vogel talking in the offseason about the importance of getting home court advantage against the Heat. At the time, I thought that, sure, home court would be nice, but the Pacers are a team built for the playoffs, not the regular season, no way they come out with the #1 seed. Then the team won their first nine games, and a few months later, they're still on top of the East. I guess I should never doubt Frank Vogel. Not when he claims that the 2011 Pacers would make the playoffs, not when he says the 2013-14 Pacers are gunning for home court advantage against the Heat.
Paul George's leap
Last season Paul George was named to the All-Star team, won the Most Improved Player award, and dunked on Birdman. Then he signed a supermax extension in the summer. So it's not that expectations weren't high. However, going into the season the debate centered around whether PG would increase his contract value by making an All-NBA team. Recent slump aside, it now seems certain that Mr. George is getting the money. This season has seen PG ascend from solid all-star to household name. He's now one of those guys that, while a still not quite at the level of LeBron or Durant, is mentioned with those other "ability to force a megatrade" names like Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony.
Lance Stephenson's leap
I thought Lance Stephenson should have won Most Improved Player last season after going from 12th man who pissed off LeBron to a solid starter on a contender. This year he's gone from solid starter to fringe all-star candidate and the league leader in triple-doubles. And for a guy who's making less money than Solomon Hill this year. Lance still has his good and bad moments, but it's obvious that the team feeds off his energy and swagger. I remember a couple years ago people on Indy Cornrows were wondering if the Pacers should decline Stephenson's >$1 million option to free up salary space, now we're hoping that the team can resign him for less than $10 million a year.
Butler contributing more than Copeland
I can't remember if Chris Copeland was signed before CJ Watson, but either way, the team went all out recruiting Cope, and when he was signed the news was greeted with lots of optimism. Meanwhile, most people were surprised to see Butler on the training camp roster, and even more surprised when Butler made the team over the perceived need for a big man like Hilton Armstrong. Fast forward to February, and Butler has displaced young prospects like Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill in the rotation, and some fans have even clamored for him to get Granger's minutes. Meanwhile, Copeland only gets off the bench for garbage time, and Pacers fans worry that his two year contract might hinder the team when it comes to resigning Lance.
Bynum signs with the Pacers
I could write about how Bynum, a guy who was drafted out of high school and won two championships with the storied Lakers franchise alongside Kobe, who was able to garner $6 million in guaranteed money as a free agent after not playing for over a year, is almost the exact opposite of the blue collar Pacers where every player has a chip on their shoulder and is out to exact revenge on all the teams that doubted them. But instead I'll concentrate on the fact that the Pacers never sign this type of player. Every offseason you hear about free agent ring chasers like Shane Battier and Ray Allen, who sign with contenders for the veteran's minimum. The Pacers never get guys like that (unless you count Rasual Butler). Or you hear about veterans on bad teams getting bought out, then signing with a title contender. I think the last time the Pacers acquired someone like that, it was Dale Davis (in 2006, when the Brawl ensured that they weren't really contenders, but whatever). Heck, the Pacers haven't even really gone after any of the amnestied players. That's what makes the Bynum signing such a surprise. The fact that a guy who's quit on every team that wasn't on a beach decided to sign with the Pacers for half a million, over Miami, Atlanta and the Clippers.
Those are my five. What other major surprises can you think of?