Indiana Pacers: Are They Contenders or Pretenders?

Ernest ShepardAnalyst IIIJanuary 23, 2012

The addition of David West helps but is it enough?
The addition of David West helps but is it enough?Elsa/Getty Images

Upon first glance, the Indiana Pacers are a good team. Balanced and battle-tested.

When you look at the Pacers for a second time, one appreciates how good they are while understanding how much better they can become.

In the NBA Central, it is a forgone conclusion that the Chicago Bulls will win the division—the same Bulls team that the Pacers played tough in the playoffs. 

The Bulls have improved, but so have the Pacers.

Signing All-Star power forward David West (11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds) has somewhat closed the gap between the two teams that face each other this Wednesday.

West gives the Pacers a true low-post presence. His mid-range game stretches defenses, and thus far, he's fit in with Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger.

It is a subtle move like this that makes a team a contender. Are the Pacers worthy of such a distinction this early in the season?

Not so fast. Again, the Pacers are a good team and one that will be in the hunt for a fourth-through-sixth seed in the playoffs. They are one move away.

While rebounding (second in the NBA) and defense (fourth in points allowed) have been staples for the Pacers, their Achilles heel is overall playmaking.

On a few occasions, I have said that if one of the stars who is or had been seeking a trade wants to win, he should consider Indiana as a destination. A player such as the Nets' Deron Williams enters a ready-made situation with the Pacers, who have some really good pieces.

Forward Danny Granger is a good player having a subpar season, Paul George is a definite player on the rise, and West is recovering nicely after tearing his ACL last season. You add to that Hibbert, Dahntay Jones and Tyler Hansbrough, and instantly the Pacers ascend to the Top 3 teams in the Eastern Conference.

On a smaller scale, an addition of Boston's Ray Allen would place Indiana in the conversation.

At this point in the season, the arrow is going upward with an 11-4 record. They must improve their record on the road (6-4) and continue to maintain on their home court (5-0).

Out of those 11 wins, only three are against winning teams. Their upcoming schedule includes a home game versus the Magic. After that, five of their next six games are on the road, including a showdown with the Bulls. Then they're off to Boston and Orlando. 

As a matter of fact, three games will be played against Orlando in two weeks. Realistically, the Magic and the Atlanta Hawks are whom the Pacers will compete with for the fourth seed.

It is this stretch that will determine whether or not the Pacers will be a force in the conference.

I believe that they are right on the cusp.