Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
A little over a year after breaking his leg during a team USA scrimmage in all-time horrific manner (Don’t google it. Seriously), George came back to have arguably his best season as a pro. He averaged a nasty 23-7-4 while shooting 37% from three and acting as the team’s primary ball-handler. He made a strong case for being the 2nd best player in the Eastern Conference, willed the Pacers back into the playoffs, and scored the cover of NBA 2K17. Hell, when he said he would be the league’s MVP a couple of days ago, I almost believed him.
The Pacers made a lot of noise at the start of last season about wanting to play smaller and faster with George at the 4, regardless of whether or not he wanted to. And, while they did start that way, the team ultimately just didn’t have enough quality wing players to make that strategy sustainable. When last year’s rookie Myles Turner emerged as a shot-blocking, floor stretching big capable of sliding between power forward and center, the team said fuck it to small-ball in a big way and went back to how the defensive identity of years past with two traditional big men. They did lose their starting center Ian Mahinmi after a career year, but moved to reload quickly, trading their first round pick for Thaddeus Young and embracing Turner as their center of the future.
Other key moves of the offseason included a three team trade that sent George Hill to the Utah Jazz and netted them Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and a three year, $30 million deal for Al Jefferson. I honestly can’t say I like any of this. Thad might have been worth the 20th pick in a weak draft, but he’s a pretty limited power forward who doesn’t shoot threes, protect the rim, or do pretty much anything with his right hand outside of the bathroom. Al Jefferson is a low-post dinosaur who is now grossly overpaid and I genuinely think the Pacers will miss Hill more than most people realize. Teague might have had that one All-Star season when the Hawks won 60 games, but Hill brings a three and D skill set that perfectly complements a ball-handling wing player like George. With Teague and Monta Ellis starting, the Pacers might have one of the worst defensive backcourts in the league.
They might be a little more fun to watch than last year though, especially if Turner takes a step forward. He took less than a three per game last year, but he projects as a quality shooter and should be able to extend his range this season. He also played much better in the playoffs when he was given a larger role and his rebounds and blocks skyrocketed. He should have a better pick-and-roll partner in Teague and in general the team should have a lot more speed and scoring punch on the court this year.
What this team doesn’t have is any kind of a bench. Maybe the Jefferson contract makes sense just because he can provide reliable second-team scoring, but outside of him this is a crazy weak roster. Joe Young was a sub-replacement level backup point guard and the team will also likely lean heavily on Rodney Stuckey, CJ Miles, and Kevin Seraphin to play much larger roles than any playoff hopeful would want them to. New head coach Nate McMillan should seriously think about staggering George’s minutes with either Teague or Ellis or else this team is going to get slaughtered whenever the reserves are out on the floor.
In the end, though, it all comes back to George. If he has another year like last year he’s one of the most exciting players in the league to watch; a true two-way force more athletic than pretty much anyone not named Aaron Gordon. I’m going to be rooting for another strong year for him and I think this could be the first season in the last ten years where the Pacers could be a truly fun offense to watch.
Last year’s ranking: 16 (-2)