The NBA regular season tips off in 30 days. We are only 30 days away from Cleveland beginning its first title defense in franchise history, 30 more days until we get to see possibly the most lethal shooting starting lineup in the history of the league in Golden State, 30 more days until we get watch Russell Westbrook turn into an angry ball of fire determined to wreak havoc on the league, and then when he’s done, the world. More importantly though, we are only 30 days away from seeing this new look Pacers team open their season against the Dallas Mavericks. Since we are only 30 days out I thought I’d list the 30 things I’m excited for with this Pacer team.
1. Jeff Teague. When trade rumors started popping up last season about a possible Teague for George Hill swap many Pacers fans squirmed with excitement. Yet, some in the national media questioned why the Pacers would get rid of Hill. After all he was a knockdown 3 point shooter and a high quality defender, but Marc Stein described it best when talking with Zach Lowe. He said people here had "George Hill fatigue" which is absolutely accurate. Fair or not we expected more from him. We wanted more aggression, assists, points, rebounds, and steals. Name a stat and we wanted more of it. Well now we get Jeff Teague, a lightning bolt on the court, someone who will look to score, who will create for his teammates, who will be more exciting to watch. I can’t wait to see Teague lead fast breaks, can’t wait to see him run pick and roll with Myles Turner, and I can’t wait to see him put everyone in a position to succeed. It’s going to be different, and hopefully better.
2. Nate McMillan carrying the weight of a small planet on his shoulders. I was not a fan when Larry Bird firedFrank Vogel. I was even less a fan when he hired McMillan to replace him. I swore for a solid five minutes when I heard the news. I may have thrown some things. However, now I’ve accepted the loss and it’s time to see what McMillan can do. If we are to believe Bird, the defense will be fine because of assistant coach Dan Burke, it’s the offense where McMillan will have to make his bones. He’s got a bona fide offensive star in Paul George, a second year center primed for a breakout in Turner, a true point guard in Teague, and some complementary players in Monta Ellis and Thad Young. Can he craft a fluid offense that features everyone? How is he going to use Ellis now that Teague is the primary ball-handler? Will George play 4 at some point? Who runs the majority of the pick and roll, Teague, Ellis, or George? He’s going to have to answer these questions and answer them early. I wasn’t a fan when he got hired, but since we are stuck with him I’m hoping he succeeds.
3. Myles Turner swatting shots into the 23rd century. In a couple hundred years from now, some child will be playing in his back yard maybe digging in the ground, and he’s going to dig up a basketball. The lettering will have worn off, the grip gone, but the one thing that will remain is a hand print covering one side of the ball. The child will look to his parents for answers. That’s when his parents will sit him down, and begin to tell him stories that were passed down from generation to generation about a kid with a big smile, a goofy haircut, and a heart of gold who helped lead the Pacers to a title... The best thing is the only truly unbelievable part of that story is that in a couple hundred years kids will still be playing in their backyards. All aboard the hype train for Turner’s second season.
4. Myles Turner being a general badass. Two weeks ago I talked about the areas of Turner’s game that need to improve for him to take the next step. Getting better as the roll man, being more efficient when posting up, and becoming a stauncher threat at the rim. Now it’s time to see how much better he has gotten, and damned if I’m not giddy to see him on the court running around, knocking down jumpers, dunking over people, and kicking the ball back out for open threes. If the Pacers really do take the next step and challenge theCavaliers this year I would bet it’s more due to the growth of Turner than any of the moves Bird made this offseason.
5. Paul George starting off the season like an MVP candidate. True he doesn’t finish the season like one, but still it’s always fun to watch PG play like a top 5 player in the league. Last year he opened the season by averaging 29.5 points per game, shooting 50% from deep, and had a plus/minus of 12. In 2013-14 he averaged 23 points, shot 48% from the field, swiped over 2 steals a game, and had a plus/minus of 13.1. Now usually he comes crashing back down to Earth in December, but let’s enjoy November Paul George this year and imagine if he played all season like that.
6. Monta Ellis taking shots he has no earthly business taking. I emailed the NBA the other day about possibly tracking shots that make fans scream things that would make Samuel L. Jackson wince. I’m 90% sure Ellis would lead this category. Look he is a threat off the bounce with a nice mid-range game. His pull up jumper is his best shot (45%) and he is the Pacer’s best finisher at the rim (58.4%), but he needs to stop shooting threes. 3.5 threes per game is to many for someone who shot 30% from deep last year. He can and should get a better shot than that. Especially in the final two minutes of the game he settled for to many pull-ups from deep instead of attacking the rim.
7. More Joe Young and Paul George Gatorade commercials. Yes, you could wonder why Young a benchwarmer (one I love though) is paired with George in these commercials. Yes, they’re teammates, but does anyone outside of Indy know who he is? Does Gatorade care? Well guess what, I don’t. I love it and I want more.
8. Paul George complaining he doesn’t get enough calls. Anyone want to take a guess with me as to when George first gets fined by the NBA for complaining about the officials to the media. My guess is November 27th after a home game against the Clippers. I can see it now, "I mean I feel like the refs really left some calls out there on the court. Look how many free throws Deandre shot tonight. Your seriously gonna give him 18 foul shots and me 4. It’s not even fun to watch him shoot free throws. How many did he make? 2? I made 3 on 14 less attempts. Come on man."
9. The two or three times when the camera pans over to Larry Bird watching the game with all the enthusiasm of a DMV employee doing taxes after his dog ran away. Seriously Larry, can we get at least one smile this season?
10. November 16th. This is the Pacers first game against the Cavaliers and a great litmus test to see how well they can matchup against the defending champs and presumptive Eastern Conference favorites. We know Paul George can handle Lebron, but how well can Teague guard Irving? Is Thad Young quick enough to guardKevin Love? Do the Cavs play small? If so what lineup does McMillan trot out to matchup with it? Can the Pacers score enough points to keep pace? This game may not mean much in the long term, but it’ll help show whether the Pacers are true contenders or out of their league.
11. Al Jefferson schooling 2nd units in the post. Big Al is past his prime but that doesn’t mean he’s done punking opponents. His footwork in the post is still masterful. Combine that with all those lovely shoulder fakes he gives, and it is a joy to watch him work. Take notes Myles Turner.
12. News that Al Jefferson is injured and out 3-4 weeks. It’s bound to happen. Let’s just hope he is healthy for the playoffs.
13. The CJ Miles heat check game. Remember when he went 10-15 and dropped 27 against the Nets last year. Remember when he shot 21% from deep in January. Remember when he shot 11% from deep, and 27% from the field during the playoffs. How about when he averaged 14 points a game during December. CJ Miles is nothing if not the model for inconsistency.
14. Rodney Stuckey’s first game back in Toronto. Poor Stuckey. He didn’t deserve the fate that was bequeathed to him as the main reason the Pacers lost Game 5, and could be argued cost us the series. He didn’t deserve Drake standing over him clapping sarcastically like a parent at his sons Little League game after a bad call. He’s better than that. He was one of the main reasons the Pacers had a shot at the playoffs after George broke his leg. Last year he lost so much time due to injury and he never really found a rhythm. I expect a bounce back year from him, and the Pacers need him to be a force off the bench. He’s the only one off the bench who can get his own shot and is a menace when attacking the rim. I hope he drops 50 in T-dot just to shut all those Canadians up.
15. Georges Niang eventually stealing minutes from Kevin Seraphin. I understand the Seraphin signing. Jefferson is injury prone, and if he goes down Lavoy Allen is your only other experienced big man. Seraphin on a year guaranteed deal for a team that has high playoff aspirations makes sense. It will be more fun however once McMillan realizes Niang is too good to be stewing in the D-League or on the end of the bench. Did anybody see him at Iowa State? He can make a shot from anywhere on the court. Mid-range? Yes. 3 point line? Yes. Back to the basket? Yes. This kid on offense is what Bradley Cooper is to movies. Yes, he will always need to be paired with better individuals, but whatever role you give him he will shine. If you want to be excited about Georges Niang go watch his highlights against Oklahoma. Did you see him hit a step-back 3? Did you see him running the break? Did you see him take Buddy Hield off the dribble? If he’s not getting minutes by the end of the year it’s a crime.
16. Hickory Nights. I love those jerseys. The dark red mixed with the gold is spot on. Those days combined with Flo-Jo nights, and the Pacers will be sporting some high fashion this season.
17. When Orlando and Utah come to visit. When Frank Vogel and George Hill are both announced as members of the other team there should be absolutely no boos from the audience. They both helped the Pacers reach heights not seen since Reggie Miller was playing. Applaud them.
18. Boomer doing Boomer things. I’m an adult and I still can’t help but laugh whenever I see Boomer do something stupid. If you can’t laugh at a mascot go back to eating your dried beets and zucchini.
19. The two times the Pacers play the team that, on paper, looks like some 13 year old kid turned off the salary cap in 2k and gave the starting five over 2 billion dollars in guaranteed money and threw in a private island for good measure. Yeah the 76ers are going to be a tough matchup (gets slapped multiple times by everybody in the room for even trying to make that joke). On a more technical level it’s going to be fascinating to see how not only the Pacers, but teams around the league try and stop what should be a legendary offense by the Warriors. This is the kind of team that is going to make the Pacers miss Solomon Hill. His defensive versatility would have been vital in helping neuter the Curry-Green pick and roll. If the Warriors go small against the Pacers it’s going to raise some valuable questions. Can you play Teague and Ellis together given their limitations on the defensive end? Is Turner quick enough to hang with Green? It’ll be a fun game.
20. Paul George dunks. Every year he gets a breakaway dunk, and he never fails to disappoint. I vote he throws it off the backboard this year.
21. Seeing David West in a Warriors uniform. Keep chasing that ring big fella.
22. Thad Young doing his work quietly yet efficiently. He’s a stretchy 4. Not stretch because he can’t shoot threes, but Young is always going to be in the right place at the right time. He’s never going to explode for 30 one night, but he will get a consistent 12-14 points a game and rebound well for his position. Expect good, but not sexy or splashy things for Young.
23. The National Media never talking about us. Alright this is me being petty.
24. Whenever the Bulls come to town. This Bulls team has some unlikable people on it. Dwayne Wade is a common target for hate from Pacers fans stemming back to the Big 3 in Miami. Rajon Rondo generally seems like an unpleasant dude. Jimmy Butler seems to always play well against the Pacers. Most Indiana people aren’t huge fans of the Bulls anyway. This is our new(ish) rival for the next couple seasons.
25. Quinn Buckner doing color commentary. He’s homerish without being too overbearing. Drops some great catchphrases throughout the year. Always pleasant. Buckner is underrated when it comes to TV commentary.
26. Fretting over whether Paul George is leaving or staying. I’m not going to enjoy this, but until he signs an extension I will not relax. George irritates both fans and media at times, but we all love him and wouldn’t trade him for the world.
27. Glen Robinson III becoming a consistent contributor off the bench. Not sure this is going to happen, but Robinson flashed potential in the limited opportunities Vogel gave him. Still needs to find the range from deep, but if he improves his defense, he could become a slightly richer version of Solomon Hill.
28. Aaron Brooks. I keep forgetting he is on the team.
29. Joe Young. Besides the amazing commercials Young also showcased some of his basketball skills on the court. He’s a small score first guard, but he showed good chemistry with Myles Turner when George Hill was out with an injury. The Aaron Brooks signing is going to make it hard for Young to get minutes.
30. Going to a game. There is nothing more enjoyable in my opinion than going to an Indiana Pacers with friends or family. It is an absolute pleasure to watch this team and I encourage everybody out there to go to at least one game.