Let’s be clear, this is wholly, entirely based on Paul George returning to the NBA after missing all but six games last year. And, if the Pacers had tried any harder to put a real functional team around him, they would be a surefire lock for a top-10 spot in these League Pass watchability rankings.
I know that time flies quickly in the NBA. In the two years since Paul George could have reasonably been considered the third best player in the league behind Bron Bron and Kevin Durant, we’ve all witnessed the meteoric rise of Mr. Cheat Code Steph Curry, the Houston Breakfast Defector, the two and a half months of Russell Westbrook putting the team on his back and triple doubling on anyone stupid enough to be in his way. And oh yeah, Anthony Davis in New Orleans who was recently given the insane praise (by someone I truly respect) of having the potential in 20 years to be remembered as the greatest basketball player there has ever been. So, PG’s got a little competition out there.
Which is not to say that George needs to be a top 5 player to be absolutely transcendent to watch. Before John Wall took his game to the next level, Paul George was one of my two or three favorite non-Knicks to watch and root for because of the way he held it down on both ends of the court and got right up in the face of the opposing team’s best wing threat. He was an explosive scorer when his shot was falling, someone who could absolutely jump out of the gym, someone who made a stagnant, defense-first team like Indiana actually really fun to watch because of the superstar can’t miss plays (count it right there, what did Reggie say???) that a team like the grit and grind Grizzlies never had. If you can’t tell, I really like Paul George. And I’m going to be pulling for him big time this season.
There’s been a lot of talk about how George will fare as the team has subscribed to an ethos of playing faster and starting him at power forward. PG himself first seemed a little “not too thrilled” about the move but has dialed it back to be a little team more team friendly. Honestly I don’t think it’s going to be a huge difference maker. Simply put, George is going to end up defending the other team’s best wing threat about 80% of the time. There are very few teams outside of Memphis and L.A. (both in the West by the way) that have a true big-man traditional post-up power forward and it’s just a waste of George’s defensive talents to ignore that wing scorer and shadow some kind of stretch 4 Nikola Mirotic out by the three point arc. I mean c’mon when the Pacers play Cleveland who do you think Paul George is going to be defending, Lebron or Kevin Love?
On offense you could definitely say that the move will open up some serious space for an Indiana team that was about as cramped as it got for the last three or four years. George has looked great in the preseason taking slower bigs off the dribble and this should force other teams to make some tough decisions, though really I think this will really end up being more beneficial for CJ Miles, or whoever is playing small forward, as they stick the slower, bigger man on him. Again, Bron is guarding PG, not CJ Miles. Yaayyyyy positionless basketball!
If I’m making this transition sound kind of superficial it’s because I don’t think we’re talking about the real issue here. It’s not that George is going to be sliding down a spot, it’s that the Pacers lost two of their long time starters and key locker room presences (well, one of them at least. not that one.) for essentially nothing. For whatever reason, Roy Hibbert fell out so poorly with this team that they were prepared to eat his $15 million of salary and give him DNPs all season long until the Lakers swooped in (lucky for Big Boy Roy). And David West, one of the real hearts and souls of this team, felt so bad about the ugliness that he left about $12 million on the table to go play for San Antonio at the veteran’s minimum. It’s a real testament to how badly this organization wants to commit to playing smaller that they knew George was going to start at power forward before either of these things happened AND THEN doubled down by not signing any real big men over the offseason. They are one Jordan Hill injury away from some serious trouble (which is the first time those words have ever been written).
Looking at this team’s roster you kind of even wonder where all the money is going to. Again, the Pacers brought in Jordan Hill as insurance to Ian Mahimi? But their real signing of the summer was Monta Ellis, which is very intriguing to me. I thought Ellis never got close to the degree of credit he deserved in Dallas as the primary ball-handler in a fast paced pick and roll top 5 offense. Ellis isn’t much of a shooter but he’s great at getting to the basket and operating with his team’s big men; he’ll be a nice fit next to George Hill who is a solid off-ball guard who can knock down open three pointers. (George Hill also had a sneaky under the radar excellent season with this ball club last year and was one of the 5 or 6 best point guards in the league after the All-Star break). When you think that PG was also frequently asked to handle the ball towards the end of big playoff games, the Pacers should have a ton of great passers on the floor in their starting 5 and could be able to carve out a really exciting offense if head coach and “classic prankster” Frank Vogel can get these pieces to fit together nicely.
What they don’t really have is a true knock-down shooter or any kind of functional depth. I would guess they use Stuckey as a kind of 6th man to give this no-name bench unit a little offensive punch leaving big-time journey man and 34% 3 point shooter CJ Miles as the team’s starting small forward (yikes). By the way after googling CJ Miles I inadvertently learned that there was some kind of Penthouse model/porn star (?) with the same name and had an awkward NSFW viewing experience on a public bus (not gonna put in any hyperlinks for this one). And after finally working my way down to the ball player’s ESPN page and checking out his stats let’s just say the Pacers might prefer the lady CJ out there with them on the court.
The thing is that Paul George has the potential to pull this whole thing together and make the Pacers truly exciting for the first time since Lance Stephenson wet-willied Lebron James in the conference finals. Plus, if he really does exceed everyone’s expectations and becomes some kind of 3rd MVP candidate, comeback of the year story, these guys are going to have some seriously good vibes heading into the postseason with Larry Bird looking like a freaking genius. It could happen.
On to the top 10!!