Indiana Pacers: Complete Preview, Predictions & Storylines to Watch in 2012-13

Alex KayCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2012

Indiana Pacers: Complete Preview, Predictions & Storylines to Watch in 2012-13

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    One could compare the Indiana Pacers to the general area that the franchise represents.

    They are a modest, blue-collar, hard-working group with no standout superstars or petulant divas. Like many in the Midwest and Indiana, this collection of young men brings its figurative lunch pail to work and grinds out tough days—or wins in their case.

    The team has been improving drastically in recent years, which stems from its decision to build from a steady foundation of homegrown talent, rather than reaching out to poach stars in free agency.

    During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Pacers were able to put together a 42-24 record, good for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    Despite the impressive season, Indiana flew under the radar until it took a 2-1 lead over the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

    While the Pacers eventually fell 4-2—a mere speed bump in the Heat’s path to the 2012 championship—they earned invaluable experience and got up close and personal with an opponent they will surely see many more times in the postseason.

    Let’s take a look at the moves the Indiana Pacers decided to make in the offseason in order to make it through the regular season and get back to the playoffs as a top seed. We’ll also check out their depth chart, the strengths and weaknesses of their roster, take a peek at some storylines concerning the organization, make a prediction for their final record and much more. 

Key Arrivals

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    Donnie Walsh, President (Signed)

    Kevin Pritchard, GM (Signed)

    Ian Mahinmi, C (Trade with Dallas)

    D.J. Augustin, PG (Free Agency)

    Gerald Green, SF (Free Agency)

     

    With Larry Bird stepping down as the President of Basketball Operations, Donnie Walsh is stepping back into the position he held for 22 years before helping the New York Knicks get back to respectability over the past four seasons.

    Walsh possesses a magnificent basketball mind and has crafted some great teams in the past with this organization, with his most notable achievement being the selection of Reggie Miller with the 11th overall pick in the 1987 draft—going against pressure to select Steve Alford from Indiana University.

    Less than a month into his second tenure as team president, Walsh, along with new general manager Kevin Pritchard, helped organize a brilliant sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks to bring in Ian Mahinmi for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones.

    In Mahinmi, the Pacers finally acquired a solid backup center to Roy Hibbert. He has legit size at 6’11”, 230 pounds, which is far bigger than 6’9” Lou Amundson, who was forced into that role last year.

    Because of Collison’s departure in the deal, the Pacers needed to acquire a new backup point guard. Pritchard and Walsh decided that D.J. Augustin—a restricted free agent—was the answer.

    Augustin didn’t find much success with the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats in 2011-12; however, the No. 9 pick in the 2008 draft should benefit from a change of scenery and reduced pressure coming off of the bench.

    Pritchard and Walsh weren’t finished yet, electing to bolster one of the team’s biggest strengths—depth. They signed swingman Gerald Green, who had an incredible comeback year with the then-New Jersey Nets.

    Mahinmi, Augustin and Green should all provide productive minutes off the pine and are certainly serviceable options in the case that one of the starters goes down with injury for a stretch.  

    While those players aren’t the pieces that the Pacers need to get over the hump and win a championship, they are going to be integral in the team’s quest to get through the regular-season grind with a respectable record. 

Key Losses

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    Larry Bird, President (Retired)

    Darren Collison, PG (Traded to Dallas)

    Lou Amundson, PF/C (Signed with Minnesota)

    Leandro Barbosa, G (Free Agency)

     

    The loss of Bird certainly hurts, as he was the architect behind the Pacers' sudden and continually progressing success. He spent the better part of the past four years meticulously tweaking the roster and drafting quality, high-character players that fit the image and goals of the team.

    It finally paid off in a big way when Indiana earned the No. 3 seed in 2012, and the team only looks to improve upon that seeding in the upcoming postseason.

    However, Bird won’t be sticking around to see it, and it’s a shame, because his acumen is a large reason why the Pacers are a contender.

    Collison is now in Dallas, which was inevitable after he went down with injury and Hill took the starting PG duties at the end of the season and duration of the team’s playoff run.

    Amundson inked a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the majority of his minutes will go to Mahinmi.

    Barbosa, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Toronto Raptors for a second-round pick, played big minutes off the bench for 22 games but failed to produce much in the postseason. The organization renounced the Brazilian guard’s Bird rights, which removed an approximate $11.4 million hold from their cap—a price it never planned to pay for his services.

    While these losses hurt, the Pacers ultimately got better in the summer of 2012. 

Projected Starting Lineup and Depth Chart

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    The Pacers' starting five is one of the best units in the league, complete with a legit 7’2” center in Hibbert, a stretch 4 in West, a prototypical swingman in Granger, an absurdly tall and athletic 2 in George and a scoring PG in Hill.

    When the second unit gets on the floor, Augustin will lead a group of new faces that includes the backup guard along with Mahinmi and Green. Stephenson should be able to log minutes at the 2, while the high-energy Hansbrough crashes the boards and does the little things down low.

    Rookies Plumlee (No. 26 overall) and Johnson (No. 36) won’t be expected to contribute much on such a deep roster but could see sporadic minutes throughout the year if injuries occur.

    The rest of the 15-man roster should shake out during training camp and over the course of the preseason, which begins on Oct. 10 against the Timberwolves.

    Position

    Starter

    Bench

    Reserve

    Point Guard

    George Hill

    D.J. Augustin

     

    Shooting Guard

    Paul George

    Lance Stephenson

    Orlando Johnson

    Small Forward

    Danny Granger

    Gerald Green

     

    Power Forward

    David West

    Tyler Hansbrough

    Jeff Pendergraph

    Center

    Roy Hibbert

    Ian Mahinmi

    Miles Plumlee

Strengths

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    Indiana's two main strengths are depth and size.

    This is legitimately a squad that runs 10 deep, with a solid starter and decent backup at every single position. During the slog through the regular season, this will be a tremendous boon.

    Granger averaged the most minutes on the team last year, logging 33.3 per contest, but may actually have a chance to sit even more often, due to the acquisition of Green.

    Having the luxury of giving an ailing or aching player a night off, especially during back-to-backs, will be instrumental in staying healthy for the Pacers' inevitable postseason run.

    While the young Pacers were blessed with good health in 2011-12, it’s almost inevitable that one of their main starters will eventually suffer an injury that keeps him sidelined for a while. Having a suitable backup will do wonders for Indiana’s chances to earn one of the top seeds in the East.

    Size is the other main attribute that the Pacers possess. The starting lineup is monstrous, with Hibbert measuring in (via ESPN) at 7’2”, West at 6’9”, Granger at 6’8”, George at 6’8” (but reportedly 6’10” now) and Hill at 6’2”.

    Mahinmi is a good 6’11”, Hansbrough is 6’9”, Green is 6’8” and Stephenson stands at 6’5”, making their second unit one of the largest in the league as well.

    The Pacers must use this to their advantage, especially if they meet the undersized Heat in the playoffs once again.

Weaknesses

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    As we mentioned earlier in the introduction, the Pacers are a star-less squad. While this may have some positive contributions to the overall success of the team as a whole, it sorely hurts in the clutch situations.

    Granger has been the “go-to” guy not by choice, but rather by default. He’s not a cold-blooded assassin like Kobe Bryant or even a solid closer like Manu Ginobili. That has been an area of concern for the Pacers, and they haven’t been able to address it this offseason.

    One of the worst instances that occurred last year took place at the end of Game 1 in the opening round of the playoffs. Granger bricked two free throws and then committed a travelling violation with a chance to win it, while George clanked two wide open mid-range jumpers.

    While the Pacers went on to win that series against the Orlando Magic, they aren’t going to be able to make any serious postseason runs until someone starts knocking down big shots with consistency.

    Coaching is another pesky problem for this Pacers squad. First-time head coach Frank Vogel has been at the helm of the team for the past two seasons and compiled a respectable 62-42 record, but his decision-making has been suspect at times.  

    In the deciding Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Vogel never took advantage of the fact that PF Udonis Haslem was out of the lineup, due to a suspension, and made a number of head-scratching personnel decisions at inopportune times.

    Fortunately, Vogel is young and we’ve often seen coaches improve drastically from season to season early in their careers—especially after two consecutive playoff appearances.

Storylines to Watch

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    One of the main storylines to follow for the Pacers in 2012-13 is their journey to win the NBA’s Central Division for the first time since the 2003-04 season, when they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.

    With the Chicago Bulls set to open the season without Derrick Rose for an indefinite amount of time, this is the Pacers’ division to lose.

    Besting the Bulls in the Central would go a long way towards helping secure the No. 2 seed, which has to be the main goal for this team (let’s be real, the No. 1 seed is going to the Heat unless something drastic happens) and significantly improving their shot to make the ECF.

    Another scenario that will likely come up towards the mid-point of the season is which moves Walsh and Pritchard decide to make in-season, especially veteran buyout signings and trade deadline deals.

    West is certainly an intriguing trade chip, as his $10 million deal is set to expire in the offseason. If the Pacers' brass receives an offer that it feels pushes the team over the edge, it’s completely within the realm of possibility that the trigger gets pulled.

Best-Case Scenario

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    The best-case scenario for the Pacers in 2012 begins with either Roy Hibbert or Paul George making the leap from solid starter to legitimate star. Both of these young guns are still getting their feet wet in this league and have a chance to flip the switch that would make them the main man in Indiana.

    While Granger has been a capable regular-season leader, he doesn’t have the chops to handle superstar duties in the playoffs, and it’s unlikely he ever will at the age of 29.

    If either George or Hibbert is able to step up (and there is no guarantee that either will), the Pacers are a shoo-in to earn that No. 2 seed they have set their sights on.

    The emergence of an alpha dog would greatly improve the squad’s chances to make the impending matchup with the Heat a real series. Indiana simply matches up with Miami better than most teams in the league, as its massive size and depth is overwhelming at times.

    Should they somehow manage to get past the Heat with a combination of luck and skill, they would have a fighting chance against whoever is representing the West in the Finals. 

    If only they could find that go-to crunch-time performer.

Worst-Case Scenario

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    Whenever a franchise awards players with massive contracts, there is always the chance that production dips until the season in which the player in question is up for a new deal.

    In the Pacers' case, that would be Roy Hibbert—who inked a maximum four-year, $58 million contract—and George Hill—who signed on for $40 million over five years.

    There’s a real possibility that one, or even both, of their stats and overall effort starts sinking now that they have an overflowing bank account and job security.

    While they both seem to be solid, high-character men, there is always the risk, and we have seen countless NBA players stink the joint up after signing their new guaranteed contracts.

    Another issue for the Pacers in 2012 could be complacency. This team can’t be satisfied with earning a No. 3 or 4 seed in the conference and has to push Miami for the conference crown.

    If the Indiana players decide to rest on their laurels, they aren’t going to perform anywhere near expectations.

    Fortunately, the new blood that the franchise brought in should help this squad stay hungry and motivated.

Season Prediction

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    55-27, First Place Central Division, No. 2 Seed in Eastern Conference

    If the Pacers stay motivated, the Central Division title and No. 2 seed is right there for the taking.

    There is no other true contender for the division outside of Chicago, a club that is expected to fall off and will not be the same team without D-Rose.

    The Knicks and Nets have too much uncertainty surrounding their teams to make a serious run for the No. 2 seed; the Hawks traded their best player to Brooklyn; the Celtics lost Ray Allen and still have a core that isn’t built for the regular season; and the Magic are now rebuilding without Dwight Howard.

    It’s completely reasonable to believe Indiana will capitalize on all of the shakeup in the Eastern Conference and perform well above expectations—considering it, along with Miami, was one of the few teams to keep its roster largely intact.

    Once the Pacers reach the postseason, they’ll ground out a couple of series until the conference finals. They’ll likely meet the Heat there, and engage in one of the most hard-fought series that this burgeoning rivalry has seen.

    Unfortunately, the Pacers lack the star power and experience to beat Miami in a seven-game slugfest, meaning the Heat are back in the NBA Finals for the second-straight year after winning in six.

    On the bright side, there is always 2013-14.