Grading Every Indiana Pacer's Eastern Conference Finals Performance (So Far)
When the season began, who really thought that this is where the Indiana Pacers would be standing?
They are one game away from potentially knocking off the defending champion Miami Heat and punching their ticket to the NBA Finals.
This Indiana Pacers team has been a joy to cover. As someone who appreciates defense and classic big man basketball, I have been absolutely delighted to watch each and every game that this scrappy bunch from Indiana has played.
But if we are going to nitpick, let's take a look at each player so far during the Eastern Conference Finals and assess just how well they have been playing.
Here are the grades for each of the Pacers' players so far.
Paul George has cemented himself during this series as the only true superstar on this Indiana Pacers team.
He has elite athleticism, the quickness to get to the hoop at will and he is even showing the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter.
But George has truly made his mark on defense.
George has the ability to actually make things moderately difficult on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
This alone separates him from nearly everyone else in the league.
His combination of length and quickness should allow him to continue to be a thorn in James' side for years to come.
Sure, he has had a couple of inconsistent performances, but overall he has played extremely well.
Roy Hibbert has been somewhat of a disappointment over the last year or two.
After signing a huge contract with the Pacers (who had to beat out the Portland Trail Blazers auction-style), Hibbert has yet to see his numbers rise to elite levels.
He still has been one of the league's best defensive centers and he provides excellent rebounding, but his offensive game really had appeared to be stagnate.
But this series has been a fantastic reminder of just how good Hibbert is capable of being.
Hibbert truly has been a game-changer in this series. He has basically doubled his points per game average from the regular season (22.8 vs 11.9) and his rebounding has increased as well (10.8 versus 8.3).
Hibbert has shown nice touch and a desire to take the game over down low. For those who questioned him and whether or not he was earning his contract, those questions have been answered.
It's hard not to like David West's game for an old school guy like myself.
He is your classic power forward, with emphasis on the word power.
West is one of the best remaining back-to-the-hoop players that this league features and he has shown why he is still considered one of the league's top power forwards in this series.
Sure, he has never been an elite defender. He isn't going to block many shots or play above the rim.
What he will do is batter and bruise anyone that tries to check him and get to the free throw line on a regular clip.
West has struggled some shooting the ball, but the Pacers should be commended for continuing to call his number. He brings a dimension to the offense that can't be measured by a field goal percentage.
In a league that has become swollen with great point guards, the Eastern Conference finals actually features two teams that don't count their floor generals as one of their top two players.
That being said, George Hill has shown why he made Darren Collison expendable.
Raised in the San Antonio Spurs' system, Hill has flourished in his role as the lead guard in Indiana.
His mixture of perimeter shooting and solid, if not unspectacular ball distribution has helped to solidify the point guard position as a strength for the Pacers.
Hill is never going to blow you away with athleticism, quickness or passing. He simply plays smart basketball and tries to limit his mistakes.
He also plays tough defense and is fundamentally sound.
During this series, his scoring numbers are slightly down from the regular season (13 vs 14.2) but he's getting nearly a steal more per game and knocking down tough shots.
Okay, so Lance Stephenson has had a difficult time in this series. But what's great about Stephenson is that you wouldn't know it from his demeanor.
He still carries himself like he is one of the most important players in this series.
And in a lot of ways, he is.
Stephenson provides size, strength and athleticism in a series that really needs it.
Granted, his shooting has been terrible (34.5 percent from the field) and he will never be considered a great passer, but he is providing plenty of value to the Pacers in this series.
First off, he is grabbing a ton of rebounds (6.8 per game), especially long boards that come off of perimeter shots.
By grabbing those rebounds, he eliminates the possibility of an extended rally by the Heat, but he starts the offense and keeps the champs on their heels.
The Pacers are not a deep team and the Eastern Conference finals have really highlighted this fact.
That being said, the bench players that they do have are typically consistent and trustworthy.
D.J. Augustin has been an essential player in this mix. He can initiate the offense and take care of the ball.
He isn't blessed with exceptional size but he is quick and can create his own shot. He also can create shots for his teammates.
Overall, Augustin has been protecting the ball well during this series. He is averaging just over half of a turnover per game during the playoffs.
Sure, he isn't a good defender and he will never be an efficient scorer. But he has provided plenty of value to this Pacers team this series.
Tyler Hansbrough is the epitome of a high motor player.
He is like that guy that plays each pickup game at your local gym like it's the NBA Finals. Sure, you don't like playing against that guy, but you love when he's on your team.
That being said, Hansbrough, like the rest of the bench players, has seen his minutes drop sharply against Miami.
The Pacers are simply going with a smaller rotation and leaning heavily on their starters.
Hansbrough still has been providing intensity in his 10 minutes per game against the Heat, grabbing three boards and picking up just over a foul per game.
But numbers never tell the full story with Hansbrough. The real story is that he ticks off the players he's going up against and that is an important job.
Sam Young is the only bench player to actually see his minutes and role with the team improve during this series with the Heat.
It isn't for his playmaking, his scoring or even his shooting.
The biggest reason that Young has seen his minutes go up is that he has a big, muscular build that can help slow down James and Wade.
Young isn't a defensive stopper by any stretch, but he does have a big body.
However, Young has also chipped in with improved shooting, scoring and rebounding from the regular season.
Ian Mahinmi is a very awkward player to watch.
You can tell this is a man that didn't pick up the game of basketball until late in his life.
He has great size and athleticism but he is not a natural ball player.
That being said, he provides the Pacers with length and gives them the ability to rest Hibbert for five to 10 minutes per game.
If Mahinmi gives them anything, it's a bonus. But so far, he actually has played somewhat well in this series.
He has provided a few blocks, some rebounds and plenty of fouls.
Overall, it's just good to have another big body coming off the bench.
It's hard to really point out something exceptional about Orlando Johnson.
He isn't a bad player, but he isn't particularly noteworthy either.
He can score, has decent range and has a big body for a shooting guard.
But he isn't overly athletic nor is he a very good defender or rebounder.
This is part of the reason why he is only averaging about a minute per game in four games in this series.
Basically, he comes into the game for a couple of minutes if Stephenson or George are in foul trouble.
Gerald Green, Jeff Pendergraph, Ben Hansbrough
Ben Hansbrough, Gerald Green and Jeff Pendergraph have each been the odd man out of this lineup for the Pacers.
Between the three of them, they have seen action in this series just once, for three minutes in the game three blowout.
Green is probably the best of this bunch. He is an athletic wing that had a very good year last season with the Nets.
Pendergraph is an active, big forward that likes throwing his body around down low.
And Hansbrough is Tyler's brother, a smart and technically-sound point guard from Notre Dame.
But while these players could contribute in small doses, none of them have distinguished themselves as effective players in this series.
As such, their grades are incomplete.