NBA Basketball: 5 Reasons Indiana Pacers Are Scariest Dark Horse in the East
But I'm here to offer you a piece of advice: Do not sleep on the Indiana Pacers.
Yes, I know they haven't had a winning season since 2004. And yes, I know they've averaged just 36 wins over the past six years.
Well, things have changed in 2011 and basketball is officially back in the state of Indiana. From the Tom Crean-led Indiana Hoosiers to the beginning of a new era of Pacer basketball, it's time to start paying attention again to the Hoosier state.
Let's examine why the Indiana Pacers will be a dark horse in the East in 2012.
1. New Additions
The Indiana Pacers made one of the biggest splashes in the free-agency market this year when they inked All-Star power forward David West to a two-year, $20 million deal.
Many felt that West was a bit of a risk due to a left knee injury he suffered late last season, but after six months of rehabilitation, he was fully cleared by doctors to resume basketball activities in October.
West has struggled with his shot a bit in the first two games of the year, but he's made up for it by crashing the boards and contributing in other ways—the true sign of a professional.
West is averaging 11 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks through two games this season.
The Pacers also added a backup guard in Indianapolis native George Hill, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs.
Hill can play both guard positions and will back up Darren Collison at the point and Paul George shooting guard.
Through two games, Hill has six assists to just one turnover and should see an increase in minutes once he starts knocking down the three (career 37.4 percent shooter).
2. Dominant Starting Front Court
With David West at power forward, another all-star in Danny Granger at small forward, and a blossoming center in Roy Hibbert, the Indiana Pacers boast an elite starting frontcourt.
Granger is off to a hot start, leading the Pacers in scoring at 18.5 points per game to go along with six rebounds.
Hibbert is third on the team in scoring, averaging 14 points and 12 per contest—good for fourth in the NBA.
Looking at the starting lineups of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, the Pacers likely have the second best front court in the East, only trailing the New York Knicks trio of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
3. Superior Depth
Led by potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate Tyler Hansbrough, the Indiana Pacers finally have a second unit they can trust.
Look no further than last year's champion Dallas Mavericks to understand the importance of a good bench in the playoffs.
Through two games, Hansbrough is averaging 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in over 29 minutes of play.
He's joined by fourth-year guard George Hill, who averaged 12 points per game coming off the bench during his last two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
Veteran swingman and lock-down defender Dahntay Jones is the third man off the Pacers bench, while Jeff Foster and A.J. Price will contribute should any injuries arise in the starting unit.
4. Darren Collison's Increased Comfort Level at the Point
Third-year point guard Darren Collison had a respectable first season as a Pacer in 2011, but he never seemed to get comfortable, playing only 29 minutes per game as a result.
I fully expected Collison to take his game up another notch this year, and he seems to be on track to do so in the season's early going.
Collison is averaging over 37 minutes per contest while contributing nine points, over eight assists and two steals.
After two games, he has 17 assists compared to just five turnovers—the type of ratio the Pacers will be counting on from Collison in order to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
5. Paul George
Many people's pick for breakout player of the year in 2012, Paul George has done nothing to disappoint thus far.
George is averaging 15 points, over five rebounds and two assists while knocking down 6 of 10 three pointers through the first two games.
After growing two inches and putting on 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, George (6'10", 224 lbs) is essentially a more athletic version of Danny Granger and gives the Indiana Pacers another legitimate go-to guy during crunch time.
After their 90-85 win at Toronto last night, Granger had this to say about the Pacers 2-0 start, “We have so many weapons down the stretch, we have so many options. I think it’s going to be the mark of us being a good team."
While the next 64 games will determine if Granger's forecast is accurate or not, you can count me among the early believers in the 2012 Pacers.
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