Indiana Pacers' Playoff Hopes Hinge on Unleashing Paul George

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Indiana Pacers' Playoff Hopes Hinge on Unleashing Paul George
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As the Indiana Pacers continue to motor about the top of the Eastern Conference's Central division, it's clear that Roy Hibbert isn't going to be the man they hoped he would, while Paul George may still have it in him.

After a 29-point, 11-rebound performance against the Miami Heat in a 87-77 win, the Pacers may need to reevaluate the way they're using Paul George and start to let him roam free.

Currently, the Pacers are completely reliant on their defense, which is a huge reason why they have been able to rebound from a rough start.

They're giving up just 89.5 points per game, second in the NBA behind the Memphis Grizzlies. The only difference is that the Pacers are scoring at a snails pace, while the Grizzlies are putting up nearly six more points per game than they allow. The Pacers are on a clip of just two more points per game scored than allowed.

An injury to Danny Granger, combined with the departure of Darren Collison and the completely atrocious offensive production from new backup point guard D.J. Augustin, has led to slow going early on for the Pacers offense.

It's the defense, headlined by Roy Hibbert down low, that's keeping them alive.

Aside from the fact that Hibbert has shown himself to be a rather stout post presence, George is a tremendous wing defender, David West hasn't been all that bad this year and the bench gives the team solid contributions.

What makes their defense possible, however, is how in tune the team is with each other. Everybody on this team knows exactly what they're supposed to do on defense and has a way to contribute to the overall cause.

However, defense will only get your team so far, unless they suddenly turn into the 2004 Detroit Pistons and decide to start holding teams to 84 points per game, which probably isn't happening.

They need a go-to offensive player, and the only one emerging is George.

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While West was capable of taking over the reigns early on in the season, he's started to flit his way back into his old role as a mixture of a power and finesse post player, and he's doing terrific in that sense.

If the Pacers want their playoffs to resemble last season, with a chance to challenge the Miami Heat and even possibly make their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, they need a wing player like Paul George to take over, if only for offensive spacing.

Defenses know that West can be a consistent post player, while George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Paul George are all reliable, consistent three-point shooters. That's a fine offense, but it's two-dimensional at best.

They need a non-guard who can take games over, post up, be a constant threat to cut to the rim, shoot a three-pointer...all with the ball in his hands.

George is just the guy to do that, especially after his past month of ball.

Since going 0-7 in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on the first day of December, George is shooting 45 percent from the floor, 39 percent from the three-point line and averaging four assists per game. 

Up to that point he was shooting just 38 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range. 

At first it wasn't clear whether he was ready to take over as the team's offensive leader, but it's even more transparent now that he's turned his season around.

A problem persists, however. And that's Indiana's insistence on forcing Roy Hibbert to be a main part of their offense.

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Hibbert's 9.7 points per game is nothing to talk about, and the fact that he's shooting a measly 40 percent from the field is downright embarrassing. Yet Indiana keeps giving him the rock down low.

For a guy that scores that little, and as a big man who is a relatively mediocre passer, there's no way he should have a usage rate north of 20 percent. Hell, he's more involved with Indiana's offense than Al Horford is with Atlanta's, and Horford is scoring 16 points per game on 54 percent shooting. 

It's not time to cut the cord with Horford on offense, but rather to make him earn his touches, which he hasn't done this season.

Thankfully for Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi is even more woeful on offense; otherwise, Hibbert's playing time might shrink just a bit.

It's time for the Pacers to put the team in Paul George's hands. It's better to find out if he's ready now, as opposed to waiting until the playoffs come around.

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