Could this year's version of the Indiana Pacers possibly surpass the achievements of its 1999-2000 title-contender team?
The Pacers haven't been to the NBA Finals since that season, but with this year's powerhouse lineup, that could all change.
After several years mired in mediocrity, Indiana has strung together three consecutive postseason appearances from 2011-2013—making significant progress each year.
The team was on the cusp of making the Finals last season, falling to the Miami Heat in seven hard-fought games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If this is any indication, the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers could very well be primed to do bigger things than its predecessor 14 seasons ago.
Remembering the 1999-2000 Indiana Pacers
To recap, the 1999-2000 squad featured the likes of Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Jalen Rose, Dale Davis, Travis Best, Chris Mullin, Al Harrington, Austin Croshere, Derrick McKey and Sam Perkins.
That year, Indiana traded the other half of the Davis Boys, Antonio, to the Toronto Raptors to acquire the rights to the No. 5 pick in the 1999 NBA draft which turned out to be a bust in Jonathan Bender.
Despite this, the Pacers would experience their most successful NBA season in franchise history.
They started off at 7-7 but eventually finished at 56-26, posting a franchise-best 36-5 home record at the then-Conseco Fieldhouse in its inaugural season. Indiana even went on a 25-game home winning streak at one point.
With an overall attendance of 752,145 that year, Indiana finished a respectable 10th in the NBA in attendance—a feat virtually unheard of in Indianapolis in the ensuing years.
Lefty forward Jalen Rose also went on to cop Most Improved Player honors at season's end.
More importantly, the Pacers were able to do something they've never done in their then-24-year existence in the NBA—make it to the Finals. However, they lost in six games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.
It was also the only the closest Hall of Famer Reggie Miller would ever get to earning an NBA championship ring.
How They Stack Up: Offense
The Pacers of 1999-2000 could score in bunches. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, they finished fourth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 101.3 points per game.
Jalen Rose and Reggie Miller were the one-two punch for Indiana, averaging 18.2 and 18.1 points, respectively. The other starters, which included Mark Jackson, Rik Smits and Dale Davis, averaged at least 8.1 points per contest.
The offense wasn't predicated on just one player. This group not only could score, it could pick its spots beautifully. Notice that not a single section of the 1999-2000 Indiana Pacers shot chart above is marked in red.
On the other hand, this team was middle-of-the-pack in terms of assists, finishing 13th. Thirty-four-year-old Mark Jackson led the way with an average of eight per game.
With the additions of Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson, this season's Pacers hope to improve on their 23rd-ranked offense from a year ago.
A revamped bench, steady play from the starters, the return of Danny Granger and the evolution of new franchise player Paul George should be signs of better things to come.
Granted, they won't finish fourth in the league in this department. Winding up anywhere between 10th and 15th should be more realistic.
How They Stack Up: Defense
As good as the 1999-2000 Indiana Pacers were on offense, they were only slightly above average defensively, allowing 96.7 points per game—good enough for 12th in the NBA that year.
This is a little surprising considering the only legitimate enforcer they had was Dale Davis. Derrick McKey, a superb defender, was already in decline, while Jeff Foster was still a complete unknown. Even at 7'4", Rik Smits was never known as an intimidator.
Credit here must be given to the late Dick Harter, who, as one of head coach Larry Bird's assistants, took charge of the defense.
Interestingly enough, that team also placed 20th overall when it came to rebounding.
On the other hand, the Pacers of a season ago were beasts on defense and on the boards. By allowing just 90.7 points per game, they finished second overall in defense. They also were the best rebounding team, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
With the current team's nucleus still intact and notwithstanding the additions of mediocre defensive players such as Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, expect the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers to make their presence felt on defense.
This is because head coach Frank Vogel made this clear as soon as this year's training camp kicked off on Sept. 28, per Pacers.com's Scott Agness. Vogel said,"We want to be the nastiest, most physical team in the league."
With two legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Roy Hibbert and Paul George as well as a bruising backcourt presence in Lance Stephenson on tap, nobody can argue with that.
In addition, big men Hibbert, Scola and West will assert themselves on the boards once again. George and Stephenson, who are both exceptional rebounders, should contribute as well.
The Final Say
This season's Indiana Pacers, because of their potential to win their first NBA title, bring back memories of their 1999-2000 predecessor—a not-so-young team that fought its guts out and made Indiana's only NBA Finals appearance.
They were a good and efficient offensive team without just one player shouldering the bulk of the offense. Their 2013-14 counterparts, on the other hand, look to become better in this area with a better bench, the return of Danny Granger and a still-improving Paul George.
This year's version of the Pacers promises to be better defensively than that of 1999-2000 with players such as George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson on board, as well as a coaching staff which prides itself in this area.
As they say, no two teams are alike. The same goes for these two Pacers teams of different eras. The Indiana team of 14 seasons ago was a savvy, fundamental and veteran-laden squad.
In contrast, the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers are young, versatile and hungrier than ever. With a little bit more experience tucked under their belts, they should be able to do what the 1999-2000 team didn't—bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy to the city of Indianapolis.
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