Coming off their first playoff appearance in five seasons, the Pacers were expected to again challenge for a playoff spot in 2011-12.
Frank Vogel's squad did that and much more, moving from 19th to fifth in the overall league standings.
They then won two of the first three playoff games in their second round series with the Miami Heat, before falling to the eventual champs in six games.
Young Roster - Besides the Heat, the Pacers feature one of the most talented starting fives in the East and with the exception of David West, all are under 30. Danny Granger is the proven scorer, Roy Hibbert is the anchor in the middle and Paul George is the budding star in waiting. They rank in the top ten in the league defensively and have a versatile offence with big men that can score in the paint and wingmen that can hit outside shots and also slash to the basket.
Can Paul George emerge as the star of a young Pacers team?
Room To Grow - Despite bringing aboard two new starters and not having much time to get acclimated to each other following the lockout, the Pacers were able to establish an immediate chemistry and continued to improve as the season went on. For 2012-13 Vogel will have a full training camp to establish more familiarity on both ends of the court. While the increased practice time should help with the chemistry, so will the continued growth of youngsters Hibbert, Hill, and in particular, George, none of whom is older than 26.
Limited Bench - Despite outplaying Miami's starters in last year's playoffs, the Pacers still came up short in large part because their bench was dominated by the Miami reserves. Realizing the glaring weakness, new front office boss Donnie Walsh and his no. 2 man, Kevin Pritchard set out to revamp Indiana's second unit in the off-season. Guards Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones were dealt away and Leandro Barbosa and Lou Amundsen were not retained. They were replaced by centre Ian Mahinmi, who should provide solid minutes behind Hibbert, athletic swingman Gerald Green, and point guard D.J. Augustin. While the additions along with draftees, Plumlee and Johnson do not represent significant improvements, Walsh and co. are hoping they will be better fits than their predecessors for the type of basketball Vogel is looking to implement.
Get ready for the season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Continuity on the depth chart has the Pacers at No. 11.
At 20th overall, Danny Granger will score, hit threes and give you around five boards.
No Superstar…Yet - Unlike the other top teams in the NBA, the Pacers have built their success getting similar contributions from multiple players on their roster. Not having the All-NBA players that top-tier teams like Miami, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City feature, Indiana is looking to go against the grain in a superstar-driven league. They have shown the ability to win playoff series, but will be hard-pressed to get to the next level – among the league's elite teams – unless they get top-level production from one of their youngsters.
X Factor: Paul George
Paul George is the likeliest candidate to break out, having improved his scoring output by nearly five points in his second year. Still, he struggled in the playoffs, scoring less than 10 points per game and shooting under 39 percent from the field as the competition got better. The 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the 6-foot-8 swingman has size and athleticism to be a difference maker at both ends of the court and his development may determine whether the Pacers can make the next step and become legitimate title contenders.
What to Expect
With another year to grow and improve team chemistry, the Pacers should again challenge for a top three spot in the Eastern Conference. Their talented starting five will likely keep them a tier above the likes of Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia and a Derrick Rose-less Chicago. Still, they will need their young talent to take the next step in order to provide a serious threat to unseat the reigning Eastern Conference finalists in Boston and Miami.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
The darlings of the blogosphere broke through last season on the back of strong top-to-bottom play and top-ten offensive and defensive efficiency rankings.
However, to keep the club together they had to spend mightily on George Hill and Roy Hibbert, and swapping Darren Collison for Ian Mahinmi still puzzles, so some of the gleam was rubbed off of this team this summer.
Nonetheless, they are still young with room to improve and promoting Kevin Pritchard to GM ensures ceaseless activity in the front office.