While the Chicago Bulls will fight to even make an appearance in the NBA playoffs, it opens up a huge opportunity for a team to step up and contend against the Miami Heat in the East. With the Orlando Magic in turmoil and the Boston Celtics constantly an age concern, the Indiana Pacers could rise and steal the spotlight.
After coming close to ousting the Heat in last season's playoffs, Indiana brings the same young core along with a few shake-ups with role players. Bringing in probable backup point guard D.J. Augustin should prove to be a valuable move. With the absence of Darren Collision, Indiana picked up a point guard who can distribute along with spreading the floor with his above-average range.
That's a nice move, but bringing back center Roy Hibbert was even better. He could be slightly over-payed for his ability, but based on the lack of big men in the NBA it could be worth it. Hibbert is a solid player with his back to the basket and can also knock down some shorter jumpers. He blocks shots and rebounds well, making him a cornerstone for Indiana's success.
Hibbert could end up being the star of the team, but Indiana will go nowhere as long as Danny Granger continues to decline. In the past four years, the former all-star has watched his points per game and field goal percentage slowly go downhill.Whether it's a better shot selection or touching up on his skills, Granger has to remember what makes him such a valuable player.
Indiana brings a few nice role players that could end up having big effects down the stretch. David West played well his first season in a Pacers uniform, While his numbers do not match what he put up with the New Orleans Hornets, the veteran still contributes and is a great leader on the floor.
George Hill, also heading into his second year with the Pacers, played well in the playoffs and proved his worth as a starter. Look for the Indianapolis native to continue to grow and feel comfortable in a bigger role.
With other players bound to contribute, Indiana has valuable depth that gives them many different looks. This is a team that can beat you up in the post, but also spread the floor with jumpers when hot. With the underrated Augustin now on the roster, Indiana should focus on simple pick-and-roll basketball to extend their offensive attack. This will open up more opportunity for jump shooters as well as utilizing the true talents of Roy Hibbert.
Look for head coach Frank Vogel to continue to improve as a coach as well. He was highly impressive in his second season with the Pacers and should have received more votes for Coach of the Year. If he can get the best efforts out of his team, Vogel could help lead Indiana right back into contention.
The Pacers finished last season with a 64 percent win percentage which was a huge increase, but don't expect much more than that next season. Instead, look for this team to possibly advance into the Eastern Conference Finals with the heavy East favorite Miami Heat.
As stated earlier, the conference is wide open based off crucial injuries and roster overloads. There isn't a reason while the improving Indiana Pacers can't further their progress and make some noise come playoff time.