5 Things We Learned About Indiana Pacers During the First Week of Training Camp
The Indiana Pacers' training camp revealed several important things about this season's title-hungry bunch.
As great as last year's version of the club was, management knew the team would be hard-pressed to surpass, let alone duplicate their success of reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals if it had the same horrid set of bench players.
Veteran power forward Luis Scola, one of Indy's new shock troopers, happens to be one of those who made a statement during training camp.
We also can't forget about the hot-button issue of Danny Granger's comeback in 2013-14. His training-camp play also made headlines. Pacers fans can only hope it did for the right reasons.
On the other hand, Roy Hibbert, who's bigger and meaner than ever, seems to be even better.
All these and several more training-camp takeaways will serve as a springboard in what should be another exciting title run for the Indiana Pacers.
Danny Granger Is Back with a Vengeance
One key takeaway from training camp is the impressive progress of forward Danny Granger.
No less than head coach Frank Vogel and new franchise player Paul George chimed in on Granger's play.
On the very first day of training camp on Sept. 28, Granger caught Vogel's eye. One would expect the 2009 Most Improved Player of the Year to simply go through the motions and feel his way through after a jumper's knee injury sidelined him for most of the 2012-13 season.
However, when Vogel declared on Sept. 27 that Granger was the team's "hardest worker this offseason," his impact on the hardwood shouldn't come as a shock anymore.
Vogel also told Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star a day later that Granger, who participated in all of the team drills, looked like the player who led the team in scoring for several consecutive seasons.
I didn't see any limitations at all. He just looked like Danny Granger. Not like last year's Danny Granger, where he was struggling to push off on certain plays. Like three years ago Danny Granger.
George, whose battles with Granger during scrimmage date back to his days prior to being drafted 10th overall in 2010, said, "At one point, it was the same Danny Granger that has been an All-Star."
This sounds too good to be true.
However, the Pacers should be wary of Granger reaggravating the injury. Not at this crucial stage of his career when he's about to become a free agent in 2014-15.
Lance Stephenson, whose value cannot be overstated enough, can spell Granger, which will allow George to slide back to the 3-spot, where he is more dominant.
Roy Hibbert Is Set to Dominate in 2013-14
Roy Hibbert grabbed headlines this offseason with an Instagram photo of him dwarfing Tim Duncan in training.
Apparently, it wasn't an illusion.
What's even more shocking is that Hibbert, who now weighs 290 pounds, claims "I'm moving a little better than I was at 275."
Also from that story, Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star reported on Oct. 6 that the offseason workouts of Hibbert and his main backup, Ian Mahinmi, carried over into training camp.
She also spoke with Mahinmi, who raved about Hibbert.
It's definitely hard for me to guard (Hibbert). He has been putting a lot of work in the weight room this summer and you could see the way he plays. He plays stronger, he's lower. Right now, he's a beast.
The key takeaway here is to expect Hibbert to use his additional bulk to box out more effectively, set better screens and overpower his opponent in the paint, where he can finish effectively with both hands.
Expect him to be an even more dominant force on both ends of the court for the Indiana Pacers.
Solomon Hill Will Make an Immediate Impact
A month after Indy drafted Hill, he made quite an impression during the Orlando pro summer league, where he chipped in with 12 points on 49 percent shooting from the field and 56 percent from the three-point area.
Back then, Pacers.com's Mark Montieth raved about Hill, saying "he has an awfully refined and mature game for a rookie, and looked to me like someone who can contribute as a rookie."
A little over two months after his initial assessment, Montieth wrote an entire training-camp special dedicated to the Indiana rookie. In his feature, both David West and Paul George singled out the 6'7" forward as the most impressive newcomer of the Pacers.
George was in awe of Hill's versatility and said, "He plays the game beyond his years."
On the other hand, West said Hill is "going to be able to help us this year."
The icing on the cake came from head coach Frank Vogel.
He's a rookie so he's at the very bottom of the depth chart for now. But I don't anticipate he's going to stay there for long. (I've just been very, very impressed with him. If he were called on and he had to be a big factor opening night, he would do very well. He's shown me a lot already.
Based on their feedback, it seems the Pacers did a great job scouting and drafting Hill this year, notwithstanding the usual criticisms from the naysayers.
Since 1990, not too many players drafted 20th overall and lower have made a significant impact on the Pacers—among those who stand out are Antonio Davis, Travis Best, Al Harrington and Lance Stephenson.
Expect Solomon Hill to join their ranks.
George Hill Will Be a More Active Leader
David West is the savvy veteran leader of the Indiana Pacers.
Paul George is also a leader in his own right as he is their new franchise player.
However, point guard George Hill wants to be heard, too.
Just after Indiana's eighth practice in training camp on Oct. 2, Pacers.com's Scott Agness took note of Hill's work ethic when he wrote he has been "one of the last players to leave the floor."
Agness also wrote on that day that "Hill has raised his voice and clearly one of the leaders on the floor."
Two days later, on Oct. 4, Agness jotted down his strongest observation about Hill during this year's training camp.
I wrote about it earlier this week, but George Hill continues to impress. He's more assertive, looking for his shot and taking what the defense allows. Vogel agreed and noted that Hill has been the 'loudest and most prevalent voice' in camp. In the two scrimmages media has allowed to watch, Hill's team not only won, but he led the way.
What's worth noting here is that Hill leads by both voice and example. As the point guard, he's the extension of Vogel on the floor, so being a more assertive leader will definitely rub off on his teammates.
With Hill as the starting court general last season, the Pacers finished 49-32 and were just one game away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2000.
A more assertive George Hill should help the Pacers establish a better regular-season record and win their first NBA title. Players such as West, George and Hill assuming leadership roles will not result in unnecessary friction among the ranks, as last season's playoff run proved.
Rather, this is a special bunch of Pacers who are committed to excellence.
This Year's Version of the Indiana Pacers Are Legitimate Title Contenders
When the Indiana Pacers added C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, they were a title contender on paper.
This year's training camp is an indication that they are a title contender for real. Indiana will win with physicality, reminiscent of the days of the Davis Boys (Dale and Antonio).
Pacers.com's Scott Agness quoted head coach Frank Vogel on Day 2 of training camp practice on Sept. 28: "We want to be the nastiest, most physical team in the league."
On the defensive end, Indiana ranked second in points allowed and first in rebounding in 2012-13. These trends should carry over into this season.
However, the Pacers had to do something about their 23rd-ranked offense. Agness observed during training camp that "this group appears to have no problem scoring the ball."
Granted, it's only training camp. The real test comes during real competition. Nonetheless, with the additions of Watson, Scola, Copeland and Solomon Hill, the issue about offense should be a thing of the past by now.
Health-wise, Indiana is in good shape. Copeland, who had left knee surgery in August, said "it's going to be awhile" before he performs at full strength. However, he also says he's "much improved" and didn't need to skip training camp.
As for Granger, "He'll be 100 percent before the regular season," per Agness.
The major takeaway here is that the rest of the NBA better watch out, as the Indiana Pacers are ready to take on all comers in the 2013-14 season.