The Indiana Pacers came into this offseason with hopes of bringing Lance Stephenson back, and adding another piece or two to the bench in order to make yet another run at the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, those plans didn’t come to pass as the Charlotte Hornets were able to steal Stephenson away with a three-year, $27 million contract. Larry Bird tried to counter that loss by signing former Detroit Pistons shooting guard Rodney Stuckey, but that brings up quite a few questions surrounding the Pacers.
Can the Pacers compete after the disappointing offseason that they have had if they don’t make any other moves?
Indiana still has up-and-coming superstar Paul George to lead the way, but he lost the only other player that defenses had to worry about on the perimeter. George Hill is simply too inconsistent to have much of an impact, and there weren’t many players off of the bench that could help him out. Stuckey may not be the all-around threat that Stephenson was, but he is going to be a very solid offensive option to help take the pressure off of George.
Hill is going to have to step up in a big way as well, especially as a scorer in the starting lineup. He has been criticized for not being a point guard over the past couple of seasons, but if he’s not going to be able to run an offense, he’ll need to figure out a way to score the basketball and be effective. There is no denying his ability to get to the rim and step outside to knock down a three-pointer, but he has to have an aggressive mindset each and every night.
It is very likely that the Pacers will become a much more post-oriented offense with David West and Roy Hibbert. Hibbert was one of the most disappointing players in the NBA last season, and was completely useless for the majority of the playoffs. West, on the other hand, was highly effective at times, but he also had stretches where he was inconsistent and simply wasn’t able to help on the offensive end of the court.
Frank Vogel’s offense has had so many issues over the past couple of seasons, but Stephenson was able to make it look better due to his playmaking skills. It could be a very long season for Pacers fans as far as offense goes, and the team will likely have to focus on their defensive ability now more than ever. Bird was able to add C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez as well this offseason, but neither of those players is going to be the type of offensive threat that Indiana will need.
Defensively, the Pacers have consistently been one of the best teams in the NBA over the past few seasons. The main issue is that the defense is only as good as Hibbert is playing. If Indiana is going to be able to compete in a much more difficult Eastern Conference, they are going to need Hibbert to return and play to the best of his ability.
While there are many negatives to discuss when talking about losing Stephenson, there are also some additions by subtraction. Indiana collapsed down the stretch last season because of selfish basketball, and that was one of Stephenson’s weaknesses. Hibbert even made a quote to the media late in the season that he was sick of the “selfish players” that were on the team. Perhaps allowing Stephenson to walk will end up helping the Pacers play team basketball and run a smoother offense.
This season is going to depend on how the team comes together and what brand of basketball they decide to play. If they decide to return to the completely team-oriented basketball that focuses on defense first, then they will have a chance. On the other hand, if the Pacers decide to continue playing one-on-one basketball, they are going to have no chance against teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls.
All of that being said, this is going to be a very intriguing season to watch and Pacers fans are going to learn a lot about the players that they have been rooting on for the past couple seasons. If the team decides to take a step back and focus on what made them great as a young up-and-coming team a few years back, they will surprise quite a few people and be able to make some noise once again this year. They are still an extremely talented team that lost a player who many viewed as a troublemaker.
Overall, there is no doubt that the Pacers are able to compete despite how much better the Eastern Conference has gotten. They did take a drop off from Stephenson to Stuckey, but it is not enough of a drop off to write the Pacers off. Indiana still has a very talented roster that can compete with the rest of the NBA, but they are going to have to play much more as a team than they did last season.
Evan Massey is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com.