The time is here for the preview of the 2015-16 Indiana Pacers season, as part of the SB Nation NBA preview series. The following is a look at how the Pacers changed this summer and what to pay attention to during the upcoming season.
Team Name: Indiana Pacers
Last Year's Record: 38-44
Key Losses: David West, Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Damjan Rudez
Key Additions: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Myles Turner, Joe Young, Jordan Hill, Glenn Robinson III, Rakeem Christmas
1. What Significant Moves were made in the offseason?
After Larry Bird made it clear the Pacers were going to try to alter their style of play and no longer rely on a big lineup anchored by an inconsistent and mercurial Roy Hibbert, forward David West thrust the transition into overdrive by opting out of his final season to chase a ring with the San Antonio Spurs.
When West left, the Pacers went all in on the transition by trading Hibbert to the Lakers for a draft pick and more importantly salary cap room to add players who could support a spread attack expected to improve the team's offensive production. Luis Scola and C.J. Watson and their combined veteran know how, also left town and suddenly the transition was a complete overhaul.
First round draft pick, Myles Turner replaced one vacancy in the front court with a lot of youth and upside but little hope to make a major impact this season. A supporting role off the bench would be fantastic as the team develops Turner alongside other front-court players Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen and another new face, Jordan Hill. While the Pacers expect to play with small lineups that feature Paul George at power fauxward, they will play plenty with traditional lineups and Jordan Hill is showing signs of bolstering those units.
Monta Ellis was the team's biggest free agent signing and headlines the backcourt changes. Ellis will run along George Hill in the starting lineup and probably handle some point guard duties along with rookie backup Joe Young. The Pacers swapped Damjan Rudez for Chase Budinger who Frank Vogel expects to help the team run and gun while fitting in a variety of different lineups.
One more addition of note is second-year swingman, Glenn Robinson III. Robinson is a pet project of Larry Bird and spent several weeks this summer working with Paul George and the confidence shown in him by the two key figures in the organization is already paying off as Robinson has played well in preseason, putting him in play for a spot in the regular season rotation off the bench.
Wow! Lotta moves, no?
2. What are the Pacers' biggest strengths?
Paul George and a flexible roster for Frank Vogel to game plan with are the Pacers' strengths.
A healthy Paul George is critical to any success the Pacers hope to have this season and so far he has wiped away any doubts he is ready to deliver a big season for the Blue and Gold. While PG hasn't fully embraced all of the side effects associated with his role in a spread attack, he has certainly made it work on the offensive end averaging 19 points per preseason game in 21 minutes.
With the Pacers emphasis on offense, PG will lead the way, but making an elite impact at the defensive end remains where he can differentiate himself among the top players in the league. How he is used defensively in the spread attack will be intriguing since he surely won't be guarding a power forward when the opponent's top threat plays elsewhere.
This is where the flexible roster comes since it gives Frank Vogel options to vary his attack unlike in years past. While playing big with an emphasis on defense, Vogel often spoke about forcing other teams to adjust to their play. Now with the ability to go small or big, long or fast, Vogel can get back to his roots as a video coordinator and game planner to throw multiple matchup options at an opponents to find better scoring opportunities.
This will also show up on the defensive end where the Pacers remain dedicated to being stingy despite the early emphasis on offense. One area where the prior Hibbert-anchored defenses struggled was with handling stretch fours and the spread attack from teams like Atlanta and Miami. By being able to match those lineups, Vogel expects his defense to be able to harass perimeter shooters better while still being able to leave a rim protector in the paint. Now he just has to get those new faces to absorb the defensive DNA that has been part of the Pacers makeup the past few years.
3. What are the Pacers' biggest weaknesses?
The Pacers' biggest weakness is too much "new" too soon. Suddenly, the Pacers are younger, quicker and learning a new system with at least five new faces expected to play a regular role in the rotation. First all of the players, new and old, have to develop trust in one another and then they have to build trust in the style of play Vogel is installing. Rookies aside, there are enough NBA vets on the roster with experience adapting to different roles, but bringing it all together will be a challenge.
Aside from the chemistry and technical issues in need of attention from all of the change, consistent shooting and rebounding will need to improve. The spread attack weakens rebounding at both ends, but minimizing the damage will take a strong effort by the small and power forward whether that be C.J. Miles, Paul George or Lavoy Allen.
Speeding up the pace and spreading the floor should create plenty of open shots for the Pacers but knocking those shots down consistently, especially from behind the arc could be another barrier to success. Monta Ellis isn't a great three-point shooter, Paul George, George Hill and even C.J. Miles are streaky from distance. Vogel hopes Chase Budinger can help improve the perimeter shooting attack. Glenn Robinson III is still developing his perimeter game but will do more damage trying to get to the lane.
No doubt the threes will be flying at a higher rate this year, but expect to see blowout wins after a couple of players catch fire on one night followed by frustrating losses when the good looks stop falling.
4. What are the goal's for the Pacers?
Paul George clearly stated at the start of camp that he expects the Pacers to compete for a top three spot in the Eastern Conference. Later that day, C.J. Miles nodded in agreement, admitting there was a lot of work remaining but that is the plan. The East has a group of about eight or nine teams that likely feel the same way, but for the Pacers it all depends on how the transition in style comes together.
Depending on your preferred Vegas outlet, the Pacers over/under for wins this year is around 41. That seems on point, although with so many variables in play this year, if everything comes together as expected, winning closer to 48 games would be reasonable. On the other hand, if the transition falls flat, 35 wins may be a struggle, but I think the change will be a net positive to eclipse that over number.
5. What could send things spiraling the wrong way?
An injury to Paul George would quickly blow things up for the Pacers. Likewise, if PG's early frustrations with the spread attack fester into a true level of discord with Vogel and Bird, then the team could splinter into a problem area. While there is depth throughout the roster to cover any position, there is no backup for the superstar role PG has to play for the Pacers to succeed as a playoff contender. If PG can't stay healthy or isn't all in to lead the team's transition the the Pacers will be in for another long season.
But let's end this on a positive note and assume Paul George and the rest of the roster are on the same page going into the season. That should go a long ways toward the Pacers winning more games than they lose which will keep them in the playoff mix in the East.
Final prediction: 44-38