The Pacers sucked at offense last year. Seriously, they were awful. They were 28th in the NBA in field goal percentage, 17th in three-point percentage and they were 26th in Offensive Efficiency, below even Charlotte and Detroit. If any team needed a boost in playmaking, it was the Indiana Pacers. That is why they were so adamant about spending the whole offseason trying to pry Darren Collision from New Orleans, and that is why they were so elated as an organization when they finally succeeded in doing so.
Collison was a stud last season, going for 18.8-points and 9.1-assists per game in 37 starts when Chris Paul was injured. He orchestrated the team with the kind of poise you'd expect from a four-year college vet that started at point guard over Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday while playing at UCLA (both were pushed to shooting guard in their one-and-done stints). In a draft class containing Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Holiday, Collison is the best pure point guard of the group (although Ricky Rubio may or may not affect that standing if and when he comes to the NBA). The Hornets weren't good last season and thus many didn't take in the chance to watch Collision operate, but those that did know exactly why Indiana was so hot after him this summer.
Now all Indiana has to do is solve their litany of other issues and they're all set.
First on the agenda is figuring out what to do with Danny Granger. In his five years in the NBA, Granger has become a deadly offensive force, ranking fifth in small forwards in PER (19.85) while scoring 24-points-per-game last year. The downside is that as his usage has gone up in the NBA, his efficiency and defense have slipped. Yes he scored 24 ppg, but his shooting dropped to 43% last year. His defense has fallen off so dramatically that he couldn't even get onto the floor for Team USA this summer, despite how badly they could have used his outside shooting at times. As much as Indiana has invested in him as a franchise cornerstone, he, like Andre Iguodala or Rudy Gay, just isn't ideally suited to the task. His game doesn't offer the whole package that one wants from a franchise player, and so the club now has to decide how to proceed with him on the roster. They have to find a way to make his scoring more efficient, which Collison can no doubt help with, and they have to find a way to get him to buy back into defense (he used to a noted defender in his early years). They've still got $50-million tied up in him for the next four years, so it would behoove the club to figure out how to maximize that investment going forward.
Outside of the Granger issue, they also have a gaping hole at the power forward slot. Granger played some effective minutes there last year, and the team even saw some success when he did, but he bristled at the idea of playing extended minutes in the frontcourt and so the plan was quickly scuttled and is unlikely to see a revival this season. After trading Troy Murphy to get Collison, though, there are precious few options available to the team at the position. There is last year's lottery selection Tyler Hansbrough or energy booster Josh McRoberts, but neither one seems prepared to be a full-time starter in the NBA this season. There is also the issue of figuring out what to do with Lance Stephenson and Brandon Rush, two players that ran afoul of the law this summer, which for the Pacers, a team desperately trying to right its image, is something they just cannot be seen as tolerant of going into the season.
Basically, as nice as the Collison trade was, this team still has issues to iron out before they make any noise in the East. It was a great start, though, and now they just have to continue to take positive steps towards regaining a foothold in a weak middle of the Eastern Conference.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
PG – DARREN COLLISON
Last year, Collison wound up in an ideal situation to embarrass teams that passed on him in the NBA draft (*cough* New York *cough* Detroit), filling in admirably for one of the top point guards – and most ideal mentors – in the NBA. Now, though, there is no safety net. There is no ideal pick-and-roll partner like Collison had with David West
. There is no defensive eraser under the basket like Emeka Okafor
. The Pacers are a mish-mash of a roster and Collison now has to be the one to tie it together. As probable as it is that he can be a legit starter in the NBA, he still has to prove that last year's output is repeatable enough to justify the expectations now set at his feet. He earned his spotlight last season, now let's see what he does with it.
SG – PAUL GEORGE
The Pacers may be motivated to start Dahntay Jones here again since he brings some NBA-level defense to the team's perimeter, but it isn't very likely. The team invested big time in George in the lottery this June, eschewing useful bigs like Cole Aldrich, Ed Davis and Patrick Patterson (all of whom they could use more now), and they are going to be eager to prove the selection was justified. The Pacers have not been a good drafting team in recent years, grabbing Hansbrough instead of Collision, Rush over Anthony Randolph and Shawne Williams over Rajon Rondo, and George has some serious high risk/high reward issues to work through before his pick nets a positive outlook. The Pacers are going to give him ample minutes to help justify their selection, but one just hopes they can develop him better than the guys who were drafted in the years before him.
PF – JOSH McROBERTS
If you want a reason why this team still isn't ready to be taken seriously, this is it. McRoberts is basically of the same ilk as Lou Amundson but without the notoriety or in-game experience. He's heading into his fourth year as a pro and he's never played in more than the 42-games he suited up for last season. When Tyler Hansbrough is cleared to return to play from injury, he may prove to be too polished compared to McRoberts to keep him out of the starting five, but if that's the battle the club is facing going into training camp, they know they have a depth issue in their front court.
C – ROY HIBBERT
Hibbert had a good evolutionary year last year, but it was far from the breakout the team was hoping for. His 25-minute per-game average surprised a lot of people who expected Hibbert to be given a freer leash last season, but his 3.5 fouls in those minutes didn't help his cause much. Nor did his paltry 5.7 rebounds. Nor did his slow-footed defense that prevented him from being effective covering pick-and-rolls or keeping up with more nimble bigs. The club wants to buy into him all the way, but he just hasn't maintained a consistent or reliable enough output to do so. Year three is usually a big determining year as to the trajectory of young NBA players, so let's see if Hibbert can take a giant step forward in his development or if he's going to be little more than a Jamaal Magloire knockoff in his years as a pro.