The 2011-12 Indiana Pacers were pretty good.
Eastern Conference semifinalists and runner-ups in the Central Division, the Pacers finished 42-24 while being in the top half of the league in both offense and defense, and they drafted in the 20s for the first time since the 2004 season.
The excruciatingly long rebuilding saga conducted by Larry Bird reached its completion with the Pacers being contenders once again.
But this offseason has not been a time of rejoicing for some Pacers fans.
"They payed Roy how much!?" bellows one fan.
"George Hill is making eight-mil a year!? He's not even a real point guard!" questions a third.
"They traded Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones for what's-his-face? What's what's-his-face even done in his life? Does he even play basketball? How the hell do you pronounce his name, anyway?" inquires a fan.
"Wait, what's-his-face was a free agent, why didn't we just sign him!?" "What the hell is going on!?"
You get the idea. Both you and I have heard variations of these said in the past week, if we haven't said these things ourselves.
But now the initial reactions have begun to wear off, and signatures are on the contracts (I'm literally listening to George Hill and Roy Hibbert's re-introductory press conferences as I type this). We can begin to compare if these deals are actually worth it.
Will the 2012-13 Pacers be better than the 2011-12 Pacers?
That's really the only question that matters now.
As Donnie Walsh and Frank Vogel said (again, I'm listening to the press conference), the biggest goal for the Pacers going into this offseason was retaining the starting lineup. Mission accomplished.
By most statistical accounts, the Pacers had an elite or near-elite starting lineup during last season. (Indy ranked fourth both after the All-Star break and in the playoffs.) And it isn't that hard to see why.
George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert offer a very stable and balanced attack both offensively and defensively. The starting five can score from the inside out and play good defense from the frontcourt to the backcourt.
The starters have the golden combination of experience, are not unreasonably old (average age next year will be 26.8) and have the ability to improve on their own phenomenal playoff play last year, since they will actually have an offseason to work together.
So, the starting lineup is a push from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
The bench was where the money will be made.
The biggest weakness Indiana had in 2011-12 was their bench, which was somewhere between dreadful and poor during the playoff run. While Leandro Barbosa was the spark-plug that propelled the team into the playoffs, and Darren Collison kept the group from being a utter disaster, the second unit was Indiana's massive Achilles heel.
Fittingly, the Pacers have focused on improving that area.
They drafted Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson. They traded Collison and Jones for Ian Mahinmi. They signed D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green. They let Lou Amundson and A.J. Price walk. Just like that, the bench is almost completely different.
But is it better?
Backup Point Guard: Darren Collison vs. D.J. Augustin
This is the toughest to discern. They both started the majority of their games last season. But Collison lost his job, and Augustin was the quarterback for the worst team in NBA history.
Statistically speaking, they are very similar. They are within one point of each other in PPG (A, +0.8), rebounds (C, +0.8) and efficiency (C, +0.4). They are similar defensive players. And Collison is a more accurate shooter from the field and beyond the arch.
But the biggest difference, especially concerning point guards, is in the assists department. Augustin averaged nearly two more assists per game than Collison did.
But just because Augustin sets a few more teammates up during a game than Collison, does that make him a better second point guard for Indy? Hard to tell. Augustin is more poised than Collison is, but he hasn't been as tested in the playoffs as Collison. Decision: Draw.
Scorer: Leandro Barbosa vs. Gerald Green
Green played the same role for the Artist formerly known as the New Jersey Nets and averaged 12.9, which is really good for a scorer off the bench. Barbosa averaged 5.7.
Green is younger, more explosive, cheaper and shoots more accurately from the free-throw line, three-point line and from the field. Going into 2012-13, Green is a better player. Hopefully the humility he learned while playing in the D-League and overseas is long-lasting. Decision: Green.
Backup Center: Lou Amundson vs. Ian Mahinmi
Amundson brought a lot energy and pony-tails to the game when he entered.
Quick aside: the combination of Amundson and Hansbrough was awful. Indy missed Foster big-time.
Moving on to Mahinmi. Just compared to Amundson, Mahinmi offers two more inches and five pounds, plus the benefit of actually being a center to Amundson's power forward. In playing the role of backup big for Dallas, the younger Mahinmi averaged nearly five more points and three more rebounds, plus the ability to shoot a mid-range jumper as well as more athleticism. Not even close.
Decision: Mahinmi, in a landslide.
Miles Plumlee will be the fifth big and the 10th man on the active roster. In summer league action (so don't take this for the gospel truth) he has looked really good. He's rebounded everything in sight and can make some baskets. He looks to be on track with becoming the Rich Man's Jeff Foster.
Lance Stephenson also is looking pretty competent in summer league. He's spreading the ball around and scoring well—that is, when Orlando Johnson isn't too busy shooting like he's being paid by the shot. Stephenson seems ready to step into the third point guard spot, which is good, because that's actual progress from a player who hadn't shown much of it.
Jeff Pendergraph is still on the roster and will be a consummate good-teammate, get-everyone-pumped-up and play-every-so-often guy. Which was what he did last year.
Are the Pacers better now than they were last year? On paper, yes. While the moves weren't flashy, Indiana added an attacking wing player and a competent big man (times two).
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