Last 2 years’ Conference finalist in the NBA, Indiana Pacers are currently positioned 11th in the east with a 9-19 record and 3 games back from the 8th spot.
It was argued that the Pacers would miss the playoffs this year having lost Stephenson to Charlotte Hornets and Paul George to injury for the season before the season began. Starters George Hill and West started the season injured and Pacers played some games even without Hibbert due to injury. An unproductive bench was unlikely to step up and win some games for the Pacers so many argued that it would be best for them to tank to get a higher draft pick in 2015 draft. However, Larry Bird and coach Vogel had other ideas.
Pacers were competitive in most of their games and having a -3.0 point differential in the season is a proof of it. Sloan, Solomon Hill, Copeland, Lavoy Allen, Mahinmi exceeded the expectations and played exceptionally well when the regulars were out with injury. Vogel had his team execute the same system that made them successful over the years. Indiana Pacers competed every single game, fell short on some of them for obvious reasons – lack of quality, not enough offensive production – but they played better basketball than their record, better basketball that was expected of them certainly.
With the team lacking production on the offensive end – having the 4th lowest FG % in the league with 42.3 % and 3rd lowest PPG with 93.6 points – it’s easy to see why they sruggle to keep pace against their 50 + % record teams and eventually lose against them. Not having the all-star Paul George is a big blow but losing Stephenson was equally important. Stephenson was a creator off the dribble in half-court offense and he had the ability to go from rim to rim and get easy baskets for his team. His court vision, creativity, fearless attitude, playmaking and scooring ability is missing this year. Stuckey made a good job in place of Stephenson but he is a different kind of player. He was an excellent 6th man for the Pistons and he excels creating shots for himself not for his team mates. If Stephenson remained in Indiana, having Stuckey off the bench would’ve helped them tremendously. Also with CJ Miles struggling to find his shots – he found it lately – it was up to West, Hibbert, Copeland, Stuckey and others to step up and get the much needed points.
Not having Paul George hurts
Having multiple guys involved in the scoresheet is a plus but when you don’t have a go to guy who would consistently carry the team offensively hurts Indiana a lot. In the crunch time Indiana struggles to score this is where they miss Paul George. I argue that if they hover around the eighth spot come March and April, we might see George in Pacers uniform helping the team make the playoffs. If not, he would most likely to sit and skip this season to avoid any further injury.
Indiana still doesn’t have a natural point guard and it also hurts the team in having an unproductive half-court offense. George Hill is a good guard but he is ideally a SG or a back-up PG. Watson is a guy who can get his shot and get double digits in scoring but he is not a guy that you would give the keys to run your offense. Sloan performed quite well but his quality is not enough to be a starting guard for Indiana Pacers. Shooting guard position is okay for now as Stuckey averages 12.7 points and 3 assists, Miles averaging 10.4 points. Bringing Stephenson back via trade with Charlotte Hornets and keeping Stuckey in the line-up would help Indiana Pacers and solve a lot of teams’ offensive problems ( Although they still need Paul George ) It is being rumoured that Stephenson could be back in Indiana but the pieces they would trade for him is equally important Solomon Hill is a good perimeter defender in SF position but his shooting and his offensive qualities are not good at all. He tries to do much with the effort but good defensive teams make you take shots that you avoid taking. Scola , Mahinmi and Allen played solid basketball and I believe the Pacers have the adequate depth at PF and Center positions to make the playoffs.
When you talk about a team making the playoff, you have to tell which team(s) would be out first:
When we look at the east; Chicago , Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Atlanta, Miami are locks for the playoffs. For the remaining two spots , in a bad conference like the East anything is possible and with trade rumours surrounding the 8th seeded Brooklyn Nets it’s quite possible for another team to get that 8th seed from the Nets soon. The surprise package Milwaukee Bucks are still playing well and still getting wins without Jabari Parker – who they lost to injury last week – and sitting at the 6th spot in the east. They don’t look like a team that would fall out of the playoff spots this year. Orlando and Boston are over Indiana but they are unlikely to make a push for the playoffs. The team to watch would be the Hornets for the Pacers as they start to gain confidence in last 2 wins and have the potential (and quality) to make it to the 8th seed.
Can Indiana Pacers make the playoffs ? Yes, they can but they to have George Hill back as soon as possible and not lose any other key player to injury.
If they can get Stephenson via trade, they would be the favorites to make the playoffs in a group of teams containing Nets, Hornets, Celtics and Magic.
If they can get Stephenson and hover around 8th spot, they might have George back in March or April which would help them making the playoffs , it will be a dream scenario for The Pacers. If not, getting a good pick and having George back next year, building around the same guys would be the mission.
It’s a transition year for the Pacers and they are making the most of it by playing good basketball and getting contributions from fringe players.