NBA Playoffs: Takeaways for the eliminated teams (Eastern Conference Edition)
The first round of the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs is officially over. It is now time that we assess the seasons of the eight eliminated teams, and try to chalk out the potential moves that could be made by each of them in order to take the next step towards an NBA Championship. Today, we’ll go through the four teams of the Eastern Conference
Detroit Pistons (Swept by the Cavaliers)
When you are in the Eastern Conference and matched up against LeBron in the first round, you never really have a shot, do you? In his 13 year NBA career, LeBron is yet to lose in the first round and this year was no different, with LeBron and Co. making short change of a young and inexperienced Pistons team. Still, there are lots of positives that could be taken from this Pistons season.
Detroit had been in perennial lottery contention for the better of this decade and its future, much like the citiy’s, seemed bleak not so long ago. However, the infusion of a veteran coach in the form of Stan Van Gundy and the emergence of an up-and-coming duo of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson has brought life and excitement back to the Motorcity. It is a testament to Van Gundy’s skills as a man-manager that a former headcase in Oklahoma City, Reggie Jackson, has blossomed into an inspiring leader in Detroit.
That being said, the Pistons will only go as far as Drummond takes them. In order for the team to go past the first round, Drummond has to improve on his free throw shooting. Shooting an all-time low 35% from the free-throw strike, Drummond needs to add this dimension to his game unless he wants to be exposed the way Deandre Jordan was this season.
The team cannot go far into the playoffs if your star player is not on the court for crunch time the 4th quarter because he cannot shoot free throws, which is precisely what’s happening with teams employing the ‘Hack-a-Drummond’. The signs from the camp, however, seem rather encouraging as Gundy has confirmed reports of Drummond being open to shooting free throws underhanded, a technique which will surely improve his shooting percentage.
Notoriously bad free throw shooters like Shaq and Ben Wallace have previously dismissed this idea, owing to their huge egos. A move like this shows a lot about Drummond’s selflessness in putting the team before his ego.
With the East becoming stronger than ever before, Detroit cannot stand on its laurels as a crucial off-season now lies ahead for the Pistons. However, with bona fide studs in the form of Drummond and Jackson, and an inspiring coach in Van Gundy, the future for the Detroit Pistons seems rather bright. Unless that man up in Cleveland has something to say about it.
Indiana Pacers (Lost 4-3 to the Raptors )
If there is one takeaway from the Pacers up-and-down postseason run, it is that Paul George is back as an elite level NBA talent. After suffering a horrifyingly gruesome compound leg fracture during one of Team USA’s practice sessions two years ago, the NBA seemed to have lost one of its breakout stars to an injury not many players have come back from.
George returned from the injury late last season, and if that six-game sample size indicated anything, it was that his offensive arsenal seemed considerably restricted and he was seeing ghosts when driving the lane. Pundits had started comparing him to Shaun Livingston, who had suffered a similar injury during his Clipper days, restricting his potential to a large extent.
However, George’s resurgence this season has reinvigorated the Pacers franchise. He finished top ten in scoring again and regained his status as an elite perimeter defender, a deadly combination for any player. This has brought comfort to team President and GM Larry Bird, who was initially skeptical of George sustaining his status as a franchise-level player for the Pacers, and was therefore, looking for potential signings in the coming free agency.
With the clouds over George settled, Bird can now focus on filling the holes in this team, rather than looking for a new focal point to their offense.
Talking about Bird, the primary focus for the management right now should be resigning Head Coach Frank Vogel, who was in the last year of his contract. Immediately following the Pacers’ game 7 loss to the Raptors, Bird declined to comment on the Vogel situation. The reluctance of the team management in clarifying the situation indicates that as of right now, Vogel is going to be looking for a new job pretty soon.
It seems hard to believe, but it was only a couple of years ago that the Pacers were giving the Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Finals. Larry Bird’s impatience with the team back then (He shipped out a perfectly serviceable and defensive anchor, Roy Hibbert- thereby, breaking up a winning formula) seems to have now extended to Vogel.
With their star small forward now back and looking better than ever, what the Pacers need the most is a sense of continuity. In spite of the fact that Indiana failed to get over the hump in the recent past, it cannot be denied that Vogel’s youthfully exuberant coaching was one of the key reasons for the Pacers success. They have the right superstar, the right veteran talent, and the right coach; as long as they decide to rehire him.