Indiana Pacers: 5 Reasons to Believe the Pacers Will Compete in the East
They have a respectable amount of cap space, signed a bunch of free agents, and they played tough in their playoff matchup against a far superior Chicago Bulls team last summer.
The Pacers are a "young up-and-comer" by most analysts' accounts and a win-win sleeper pick in a shortened season.
While the free-agent pickup of David West started turning heads in Indiana, the attention the Pacers are now getting is the culmination of something that started back in January 2011.
Let's take a look at all that has transpired, and why the Pacers should be taken seriously as a contender in the East.
Frank Vogel Changed the Attitude of the Entire Franchise
On January 30th, 2011, the Pacers fired coach Jim O'Brien and named Frank Vogel their interim head coach. He immediately changed the culture of the team.
They went from a "someday we might" frame of mind to a "yes we can, and we're starting now" mentality.
Right off the bat, Vogel stated, "We are going to make the playoffs, and you don't want to face this team in the playoffs." The Pacers fans loved it, and more importantly, the Pacers' players believed it.
He immediately injected youth into the lineup and got Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough into the game plan. Since Vogel has taken over, have two players developed as well as those two?
While fans spent the last several years waiting for that moment when the team could sign a big-name free agent or make that blockbuster deal, the signing of Frank Vogel made the final stretch more than bearable.
Most importantly, he made Indiana a place other players would now want to come to.
The future is bright in Indiana, and if you're taking notes, you do not want to play this team in the playoffs in 2012.
The Pacers Can Now Win Without Danny Granger
Danny Granger has been the rock for the entire franchise over the last several years. The team has struggled to put a good, competitive team on the court, and Granger has stepped up and led whoever he was told to play with.
It has become apparent that while he was able to lead a team during some down years, in order to actually win, the Pacers would need to add more playmakers and star-caliber talent.
In the past few years, the Pacers have attempted to do just that. They had several good drafts, getting players such as Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George, and each of these players' expectations are rising going into 2012.
Granger has had a rough start to 2012, one of his worst in recent memory, yet the Pacers are continuing to win. At this moment, they are posting a 5-2 record despite Granger contributing only 15 points a game, and he is hardly the performer this season that Pacers faithful have come to know and respect.
This isn't a bad thing.
Granger will pull it together over the course of the season. What this indicates is that the team is no longer on Danny Granger life support. In the past, as Danny goes, so go the Pacers. This season, it's as the Pacers go as a team, so go the Pacers.
When Granger gets things together and gets back to his typical shooting percentage, the Pacers are going be a tough game for anyone.
The Future Is Now
As the Pacers entered the 2012 season, the talk of the town was the signing of free agent David West along with the trade to obtain Indiana native George Hill from the San Antonio Spurs.
The reality is, one of their biggest moves was moving Paul George to their starting rotation.
It's better than signing a free agent or making a trade. You don't have to pay him any more money, just get him off the bench, and you don't have to give up any other talent to acquire his skills.
George started making a name for himself in the playoffs last season, and he had a stellar offseason.
As of seven games into the regular season, George is the team's premiere perimeter shooter. He went from 29 percent last season to 62 percent so far this season from behind the three-point line.
Certainly his numbers will dip a little, but is there a brighter star on this team right now in terms of talent?
George will enter this postseason with previous playoff experience, and if he keeps his shooting up throughout the year, do you want him shooting a buzzer-beater from behind the arc against your team?
Don't answer that now; just know that he is only going to get better, and the better he gets, the less the Pacers need to turn into a championship team.
Dominating the Boards
The Pacers are currently the seventh ranked rebounding team in the NBA. They average 44 rebounds per game, and they have gone the entire season so far without one of their big rebound guys, Jeff Foster.
Expect those numbers to go up once he starts getting some playing time.
The team is aware of its rebounding ability, and it is a priority for them to dominate the glass, night in and night out.
Frank Vogel is preaching it, and it is just a natural part of the game for players like Hansbrough, Hibbert and Foster. Add in veteran David West, and you have a team solid in rebounding from top to bottom.
As the team becomes more confident over the season and its rebounding numbers increase, the Pacers will be a force in a playoff series.
The playoffs are all about emotion. Dominating the boards can frustrate a team, and in a playoff series, it can get into the heads of some players.
I'm not claiming "rebounds win championships," but its part of the game, and the Pacers are good at it.
The Pacers Find a Way to Win Even on Bad Nights
Let's face it. No team shows up every night and dominates. Great teams play great most of the time, and even when they don't play great, they oftentimes find ways to win.
The Pacers have shown signs of this resilience early in the 2012 season and pretty much since Frank Vogel took the reigns as the interim coach a year ago.
So far this season, the team has struggled to score. The Pacers' shooting has been atrocious, and key guys they typically depend on in Danny Granger and Darren Collison haven't scored as much as everyone had hoped.
David West has not been locked in yet, and nobody is guaranteed on an open look at this point. The Pacers have left a lot of shots on the court in this early season, yet they are sitting at 5-2 and feel pretty good about themselves.
Perception equals reality.
Regardless of how the Pacers win, they win, which means they are winners. Good teams find ways to win.
Looking back at the 2011 playoffs, the Bulls were down by double digits multiple times throughout the series, yet they won the first three games. They didn't have the best series, and the Pacers played better than anyone thought they could.
The Bulls still found ways to win, though. They were resilient.
This Pacers group has shown no signs of giving up, and that is a great mindset to be in when talking about competing in a playoff series.
When you add in the veterans David West and George Hill, it is only going to accelerate the team's ability. The Pacers are a more complete team this season both on paper and mentally. As they continue to pull out victories, I only expect them to continue the trend of finding ways to win.
As 2012 progresses, I expect the Pacers to become an even more complete team. As their shooting percentage rises and players start performing up to capability, look for them to be dangerous come playoff time.