Indiana Pacers Offseason: A Revised Look at What Indy Should Do

Jonathan MatthesContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

Indiana Pacers Offseason: A Revised Look at What Indy Should Do

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    A month ago, I laid out 10 (it was really seven, but one was extremely important) suggestions that the Indiana Pacers should do this offseason.

    Well, two were accomplished (the re-signing of George Hill, and draft someone that isn't going to screw everything up) and two were blissfully ignored (keep Larry Bird and sign Eric Gordon).

    But a lot has changed since the first article was written. Houston went from being a glutton for point guards and now has none. Steve Nash is now in Los Angeles, Jason Kidd is in New York, Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach. Brooklyn is basically bankrupt with only four players on their roster. 

    The landscape of the East is altering and the biggest glacier to break-off (Dwight Howard) hasn't even consummated his forced trade yet.

    What does this all mean for the Indiana Pacers?

    Yes they drafted a big (Miles Plumlee) and a wing (Orlando Johnson) and re-signed Hill. But will you fulfill all the promise you created last year when your roster looks like this:

    PG George Hill Darren Collison  
    SG Paul George Lance Stephenson Orlando Johnson
    C Miles Plumlee    
    SF Danny Granger Dahntay Jones  
    PF David West Tyler Hansbrough Jeff Pendergraph

    I don't think so. There is still work to be done. And here is what the Pacers should do.

1. For the Love of Rik Smits, Re-Sign Roy Hibbert!

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    As has been heavily reported, Roy Hibbert was offered a max contract (4 years/ $58 million) by the Portland Trail Blazers. The Pacers have a tough decision before them. Although it shouldn't be that tough.

    Indiana only has three options when it comes to Hibbert. One is re-sign Hibbert. The second is re-sign Hibbert. The third is use Doc Brown's Delorean, go back to 1972, kidnap the young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, bring him back to today, and give him a contract.

    Since only one of those options (or two of them, depending on how you count) is practical, we are left with what should be an easy choose of re-signing Hibbert. It shouldn't be that difficult.

    I do see what Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard's reservations could be—$58 million is a big number. But the going rate for big men has ballooned. We need not look further than the 3-year, $25.1 million deal Houston overspent on Omer Asik and his three points per game.

    Hibbert is way better than Asik. I've placed him as the third best center in the game right now (more on that in a bit). Shouldn't the third best center in the game, in a league with a severe lack for true centers, be paid like the third best center in the game?

    Shouldn't Hibbert's progressively increasing averages in points ('09 7.1, '10 11.7, '11 12.7, '12 12.8), field-goal percentage (.471, .495, .461, .497), rebounds (3.5, 5.7, 7.5, 8.8), and blocks (1.1, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0), be a sign of good things to come?

    Shouldn't the fact that his numbers improved greatly from the regular season to the postseason (11.7 ppg, .500 fgp, 11.2 rpg, 3.1 blk) show that this 25-year-old All-Star has brighter days ahead?

    Shouldn't his intangibles, how he dominated the first halves of the Eastern Semis, and him being the best center during the '12 postseason, warrant a big pay raise?

    The answer to all those questions is: yes, yes, yes and yes.

    Centers who are 7'2", 25-year-olds, and on the verge of multiple All-Star appearances do not come around very often. Especially not in today's much shorter and faster NBA game. If Indiana decides to let Hibbert go, they will regret it. It won't just set them back next year in an Eastern Conference that is quickly becoming more difficult, but for the next decade. 

    They just have to re-sign him. They've got to re-sign him.

Tangent Part 1: How to Determine Who's the Best Centers

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    Does ranking Roy Hibbert at third in the NBA seem a little high?

    Allow me to explain.

    During the Eastern Semifinal loss to Miami, we all got to see the value of Hibbert. It went way beyond stats.

    Remember how the Pacers starting lineup (Hill, George, Hibbert, Granger and West) just flowed together, arguably giving the Heat their toughest matchup challenge during their championship run. When the Pacers ran their offense through Hibbert, it caused Miami fits. Even if Hibbert didn't shoot, his passing skills helped set up his teammates.

    Down low on both offense and defense he could not be ignored, his shot alterations alone were much more numerous that his 3.1 blocks per game would properly represent.

    Then when you compliment Hibbert's game with the high-post game of West, the mid-range game of Granger, George's outside shooting and Hill's driving it was tough to handle. But it wouldn't have been so tough to handle without Hibbert. Granger, George, West and Hill wouldn't have been able to get so many decent attempts or be able to play more aggressively on defense if Hibbert wasn't in the box covering for them. He was the hub that the Pacers' wheel rotated around. It's no coincident that Indiana's rise coincided with the growth of Hibbert.

    But how does he compare with that of his peers?

    While not the entirety of the equation, stats are a big part of it. Like rings in basketball, players must be able to put up some good numbers before their intangibles can set them apart.

    So let's look at the stats, or at least the most important ones (for our purposes: points, field-goal and free-throw percentages, rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks, assists and turnovers.)

    And let's make some parameters on who we'll judge. I figured that the only players that should qualify are centers that start on their teams. Here's why, if you're going to be in contention for being one of the top 10 centers in the league, you got to be a starter, or at least start in most of your team's games down the stretch. There just aren't enough quality centers in the NBA for a Top 10 center to be coming off the bench.

    This ruled out JaVale McGee, who started a cool seven games for Denver and Omer Asik. But that's okay, he'll make $8 million for his three points and five rebounds next year. I still can't get over that. It's about as bad as, I don't know, a team spending like $50 million on five players (read: Brooklyn).

    I also didn't count Kevin Garnett because he's a power forward.

    So the players that qualified are: Joel Anthony (MIA), Andris Biedrins (GS), Bismack Biyombo (CHA), Andre Bynum (LAL), Marcus Camby (POR), Tyson Chandler (NY), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Samuel Dalembert (HOU), Tim Duncan (SA), Marc Gasol (MEM), Drew Gooden (MIL), Marcin Gortat (PHX), Aaron Gray (TOR), Spencer Hawes (PHI), Brendan Haywood (DAL), Hibbert (IND), Al Horford (ATL), Dwight Howard (ORL), Al Jefferson (UTH), DeAndre Jordan (LAC), Chris Kaman (NO), Brook Lopez (BKN), Greg Monroe (DET), Timofey Mozgov (DEN), Nene (WAS), Joakim Noah (CHI), Nikola Pekovic (MIN), Kendrick Perkins (OKC) and Anderson Varejao (CLE).

    Now for the process.

    1. I compared all 29 center's stats from last season, if they made the playoffs I added the playoff and regular season stats together and averaged them. Since the playoffs are important, this both hurt and helped various guys.

    2. Rank the top ten in each category, and awarding a ten points for whoever finished first, and one point who finished tenth. For example, in ppg, Howard had the most ppg (20.6) so he got 10 points, Lopez was second (19.2) so he got 9 points, Jefferson finished third (18.8) so he got 8 points, and so on and so forth.

    3. Add up all the points a player received and see what happened.

    The results were intriguing. Hypothetically the best centers should score the highest, which is basically what happened. Check out the players that finished with 20 or more points:

    1. Howard  42

    2. Bynum  30

    3. Gasol  26

    4. Noah  24

    5. Cousins 23

        Hibbert  23

    7. Duncan  20

       Monroe   20

    That's a pretty good snapshot don't you think? Is that the best seven centers in the game in order? No, but it's close. Howard should obviously be the king of the hill and Bynum is clearly second-fiddle. The rest needs to be hashed out, but it's surely something we can build on.

    A bigger surprise was a very low score from Chandler (8) and average totals from Gortat (13), Jefferson (13) and Jordan (13).

    Of course, before we get to the top ten, we must pay tribute to the four players that laid a goose egg in my stat leader test. Aaron Gray, Brendan Haywood, Timofey Mozgov and Kendrick Perkins. Come on guys, Bimack Biyombo even got six points. Oh well, their names won't be mentioned on the next slide.

Tangent Part 2: The Top 10

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    Trying to determine any top 10 in sports is like debating who played the best center field for the Yankees. It's either Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Jeffrey Maier. There really isn't a bad answer.

    That said, here's the top ten at least for the rest of this article.

    1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (at least until he gets traded): Normally you wouldn't want someone that can detonate team chemistry like an atom bomb, be the best player on your team, or the league for that matter. But Howard's raw talent is just so immense. He averaged a 21-15 last year with 2 blocks. He was the only center to average anything north of a 20-12, and in 2009 he showed that, when he actually wants to play for you, he can lead a team to the finals. If only he were more mature.

    2. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers: He's the second player in a row that's talent can cause people to easily overlook any maturity flaws. He is a complete center, averaging a 17-12 with four offensive rebounds, three blocks and two assists. While his future doesn't glimmer with as much promise as Hibbert's, he does have a much brighter present and will continue to get better, as he evolves into his probable role as the face of the Lakers for years to come.

    3. Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: I've said a lot about Hibbert. But a couple more things. Stats only tell a part of the story. When the Pacers' offense runs through Hibbert they are a contender, when they don't they are average. The '12 playoffs showed us that. Hypothetical for you: If a center scores 18 a game and his team wins 20 games, are his points really more impressive than a center that score 12 on a team that wins 50? Isn't the whole point of points to help your team win?

    4. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks: So what he didn't do well in the stat-leader-test. He brings so much to the table that isn't necessarily reflective in the stat book. He was the best defensive player in the league, a great influence in the locker room, an unselfish offensive player and one of the few players in the NBA that can completely change the culture of a team for the better. If you want a center that doesn't care about his point output, but can anchor a championship team, Chandler is your man. And to think he probably won't make an All-Star game.

    5. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: Noah annoys the hell out of me. But, he means so much to the Bulls. Look how much the Bulls suffered when he went down. When they were missing Rose, John Lucas III and C.J. Watson were able to weather the storm, but when they were missing Noah they couldn't be more lost. Noah put up a 13-10 with three assists while being essential to the team that finished with the best record in the League. He is an excellent defender and puts forth complete effort every game. What more could you want in a center?

    6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: He's the best power forward of all time is a top six best center in the 2012 NBA game. He made the switch from the 4 to the 5 a couple years ago, reminiscent of Cal Ripken Jr. moving from short to third. While his numbers have dropped in recent years, during the playoffs it was just vintage Duncan (17-9 with two offensive boards, blocks and assists). While the young whippersnappers will continue to climb and pass this all time great, for the moment Duncan is still up there with the best of them.

    7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks: Last year wasn't a good barometer of how good he is since he was hurt like the entire season. Horford has a tremendous inside-mid-range game, so he's not chained into the post. He's a smart player that doesn't foul unnecessarily and is a adequate rebounder (7.7 a game). Some negatives is he not tremendous at protecting the rim (1.3) or grabbing offensive boards (2.1). But he's another solid, solid center. Speaking of which...

    8. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzles: A solid player that his team uses just about perfectly. He uses his power game, accurate shot (.502) and expert passes (3.1 apg) to be an extremely effective offensive player. Definitely worthy of his recent All-star bid. What holds him back, or at least what held him back last year, was his the dip in some of his playoff numbers, especially rebounding. While his offensive rebounds (2.3) improved over his putrid (1.8) during the regular season, his overall rebounding saw a -2.2 from the regular season to the post season. Of the six players in front of him (Howard was injured for the playoffs) all their rebounding numbers either rose (Hibbert +2.4, Horford +1.3, Duncan + 0.4) or slightly decreased (Noah -0.5, Bynum -0.7, Chandler -0.9). None decreased in such a sharp fashion like Gasol. To be a great center, you need to be a big game rebounder.

    9. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: He averaged and 18-11, which for lack for better words could be described as great. He grabbed four offensive rebounds which can be described as exemplary. In the stat-leader-test he would receive all 23 of his points from those places. He is one of the best offensive centers in the game, but there are a lot of flaws. He fouls like it's his job (four a game, the highest of all qualifying centers), he's the worst on this list in the blocking department (1.2 a game) and he's not very accurate from the field (.448). But his biggest problem is him being a knuckle-head. He has the talent to be a dominant center, but his head is holding him back. If he matures both his game and his mentality he'll be way higher up this list next year.

    10. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns: He is a jack-of-all-trades like center. He doesn't lead the league in any stats, he's not the best defender but he is really good at everything. He put up a 15-10, while shooting .555 from the field, grabbing three offensive boards, two blocks and only turning it over once a game. He is reliable night-in-and-night out. And for his steady goodness, a step below Chandler's, he gets 10th place.

    Toughest cut: Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons.

    Easiest cut: Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats

2. Full Steam Ahead on Plan B

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    Let's recap.

    Going into this offseason Indiana needed to re-sign Hibbert (should be a check mark), and Hill (check), get a backup big man that's better than Lou Amundson (check) and find an attacking two-guard that can lead a strong second unit and push Paul George for his job.

    That still needs to be worked out.

    In the first article I said Eric Gordon would be perfect for the Pacers, and he still would be perfect for the Pacers. But, he will be unhappily returning to the Hornets so plan A is least for a year.

    Plan B however is still in full swing.

    It is no secret that OJ Mayo is the Pacers' top target, not named Roy Hibbert or George Hill. Mayo has experience being effective offensively both as a starter and off the bench. In his first two years he started 99 percent of his games and averaged 18 ppg; while his last two seasons he started 12 percent of his games and averaged 12, which is really good for a reserve. He's also durable, he's played in 301 of a possible 312 games.

    He would be at first Pacer since Jalen Rose who could create his own shot (that was a decade ago) and also has a three-point game (he's a career .375 from three).

    While not as perfect for Indy as Gordon would be, Mayo is the next best thing. He's an unselfish player that has not even entered the prime of his career and would be financially reasonable to sign, with cap to spare. Speaking of which, Mayo is an unrestricted free agent which means Indy wouldn't have to worry about Memphis matching any offer.

    Option C appears to be Courtney Lee, lately of Houston. Lee, and Indianapolis native, is a basketball nomad having played for three teams in four years. He would be more inexpensive than Mayo (or Omer Asik) and is a marvelous three-point shooter (.386, while shooting northward of 40 percent for three of four seasons) and is an excellent defender.

    He did start for the '09 Eastern Conference champion Magic, but he doesn't need to start to be completely effective. But he's not a rebounder and his catch-and-shoot game isn't all that different from Granger, George or Dahntay Jones.

    If the Pacers go with option C, they won't be disappointed, but it won't improve the team all that much. Option B would help the Pacers take another step forward.

3. Pick Up a Fifth Big Man

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    While I'm a fan of the draft pick of Miles Plumlee, Indiana could still use another more experienced big man.

    Indiana, after re-signing Hibbert, would have five big men on the roster. The starters are already established (Hibbert and West), the backup power forward is also settled (Tyler Hansbrough), Plumlee gives an up-tempo center (a rich man's Jeff Foster) and Jeff Pendergraph is your emergency big/high energy guy.

    Indiana could still use an experienced back-up, but they can't spend much money. After signing Hibbert and Mayo, Indiana could have about $2 million left in cap space, so unless Elton Brand wants to play for a steep discount or Chris Kaman, for that matter, neither will be in Indiana.

    My previous suggestion of Greg Oden still remains.

    What I like about the idea of Oden playing for Indiana:

    1. He wants to prove he's not a bust, so he'd sign for relatively cheap and take the reduced backup center role.

    2. When he played for Portland he was pretty effective, his career average was a 9-7. This relates because you're not looking for Bill Russell in your backup center, just someone who is pretty effective. If Oden averaged a 6-5, that wouldn't be a disappointment.

    3. Having Plumlee would give Indiana the luxury to not force Oden to play a lot of minutes. This would keep him fresh and decrease his injury risk.

    4. Who doesn't like a redemption story.

    There are really two outcomes that can come from signing Oden. Either, he gets hurt, Indiana plugs his missing spot with Plumlee and Pendergraph, and they don't re-sign him at the end of the year. No harm no foul. Or, he plays well which allows Indiana to take another step down the road to contention, and he gets offered a three-year, $20 million deal from Houston.

    Are either of those options that bad? This would be almost an ideal Low Risk/High Reward contract. Oden wouldn't cost much and the payoff could be grand.

    But if that doesn't happen (and I have heard no reports to substantiate the idea) there are a few other deals that could happen.

    A. The "Meh" Signing: These are the deals that are stuck and the average fan goes, "Uh, who?" Those would be signing: Ian Mahimi (Dallas, C, 6 ppg, 5 rpg, .546 fgp) or Kyrylo Fesenko (Indiana, C, 3, 3, .400). Both of these players would probably fit in well with the Pacers, but wouldn't be a sexy signing at all.

    B. The "Whatever" Signing: These are the deals that are struck and the average fan goes, "hmm, sure." Those would be signing: Lavoy Allen (Philadelphia, PF, 4, 4, .473), Lou Amundson (Indiana, F/C, 4, 4, .430), Darrell Arthur (Memphis, PF, 9, 4, .497) or Robin Lopez (Phoenix, C, 5, 3, .461).

    C. The "Well Look at That" Signing: These are the deals that are struck and the average fan goes, "Wow! That Donnie Walsh's still got it!" Those would be singing: Chris Kaman (New Orleans, C, 13, 8, .446) or Carl Landry (New Orleans, PF, 13, 5, .503). These would have to be accomplished through a mid-level exception and probably won't happen.

    D. The "That Guy is Still Playing?" Signing: These are the signing that are struck and young fans go, "That guy isn't retired?" and their parents, frown and say, "I remember when he was a rookie." Then it's awkward. Those would be signing: Marcus Camby (Houston, C, 5, 9, .446), Erick Dampier (Atlanta, C, 0, 2, .125), Jamaal Magloire (Toronto, C, 1, 3, .378) or Joel Przybilla (Portland, C, 2, 5, .458).

    My favorite from each group: A. Mahimi, B. Allen, C. Kaman, D. Camby...I guess.

4. In Conclusion

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    Here's what the hypothetical roster looks like (with their age going into next season):

    PG George Hill  (26) Darren Collison  (25) Lance Stephenson (22)
    SG Paul George  (22) O.J. Mayo  (24)  
    C Roy Hibbert  (25) Greg Oden  (24) Miles Plumlee  (24)
    SF Danny Granger (29)  Dahntay Jones  (31)  
    PF David West  (32) Tyler Hansbrough (26)  

    Bench: SG Orlando Johnson (23), Jeff Pendergraph (25)

    That's not bad. You've got size, quickness, flexibility, good defenders and players that can make all the necessary shots. The nine man rotation isn't too shabby (Hill, George, Hibbert, Granger, West, Collison, Mayo, Oden/Plumlee, Hansbrough). You've got youth, but also experience.

    This would be a very well constructed team, with it's sights set on immediate and future contention. Remember they were up 2-1 on the eventual champion Heat, and Indiana's biggest weaknesses was sloppiness (which can be attributed to the jitters of the moment) and a lack of scoring punch off the bench.

    Both problems would be solved, with the experience from last year and the additions of Mayo and Oden.

    But, it all starts with the re-signing of Hibbert. After all he is the hub that the wheel turns upon.