Initial Report Cards for Every Key Indiana Pacers Player
The 2013-14 Indiana Pacers are off to their best start ever, so they have passed the test as a team at this point of the season.
However, did they score high marks individually?
One can make a case for franchise player Paul George, who has taken Indy on his shoulders. His performance speaks for itself. Finding someone who has done better than he has is a task that's easier said than done.
And then there are guys such as Danny Granger and Chris Copeland, two forwards who were looking forward to having fresh starts this season but have experienced otherwise.
For the purposes of this article, each Pacer will be graded based on the overall impact he has made to bring the team to where it is now.
With more than a handful of Indiana Pacers players who are up to the task, it may very well be crowded at the top.
Solomon Hill and Danny Granger
Solomon Hill is going through the typical rookie growing pains.
A small forward who can also play shooting guard, he's learning how to fit into Indy's scheme of things, and is in the process of earning every minute of playing time he's given.
As far as the former is concerned, Pacers.com's Scott Agness clarified this a bit further on Nov. 22.
Solomon Hill's role will shuffle, depending on the opponent and (head coach Frank) Vogel is still trying to find ways to use Copeland, who is a liability on defense—particularly at the 4-spot.
One thing that's noticeable in the early going of the season is that Hill has taken few attempts whenever he plays, but doesn't make too many of them either. Through Nov. 26, he's shooting just .286 from the field and a paltry .091 from three-point distance.
Impact-wise, Hill has accepted his role and should know it may take a bit more time before his true potential is finally seen on the court.
Has there been any Indiana Pacer who has been more unfortunate in the past two seasons than Danny Granger?
Fans were curious as to how the Granger experiment would play out in 2013-14: If he would start or if he would come off the bench. Instead, Lance Stephenson is doing his usual thing: wreaking havoc on opposing teams as the starter at the 2-spot.
This is because Granger suffered a strained left calf injury against the Dallas Mavericks in a preseason game in October. The injury effectively prolonged his regular-season hiatus coming off a jumper's knee injury in 2012-13.
The latest update on him was on Nov. 13, when he spoke with the Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer regarding the timetable of his return.
He said,"Once I get over this hump, I think I'll be okay. I'm anxious, but I'm not really upset about anything. Just waiting for my calf to heal and feel better.
Since Granger hasn't seen any action in the regular season, it would be best to size him up once he takes the court once again.
Rasual Butler and Donald Sloan
Eleven-year veteran Rasual Butler finds himself on the end of the Indiana Pacers' bench, averaging just 0.6 points through Nov. 26, but he's not complaining.
Butler also told Buckner how he perceives his role on the team.
Just being a good veteran leader, helping some of the young guys, (and sharing) some of my experiences that I've seen throughout the game of basketball and also in life.
He has certainly lived up to what he said. Behind the scenes, Butler has played a key role in the development of youngsters Lance Stephenson, Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill.
He is also a model of persistence as he was cut by the Toronto Raptors on March 23, 2012 but worked his way back into the NBA via the D-League and Summer League routes.
Rasual Butler may not be producing as much as he did in years past, but by virtue of his professionalism and his selflessness, he has certainly made an impact on the Indiana Pacers.
Sloan, the new Indiana Pacer, was an unknown commodity prior to the 2013-14 season. In fact, he was a no-namer.
As of Nov. 26, he has played in a combined 16 minutes since then. This can be attributed to C.J. Watson doing a commendable job as George Hill's chief reliever.
Sloan, given ample playing time, should be able to provide solid minutes off the bench. He's not turnover-prone (at least when he plays), is a decent ball handler and can dish out three or four assists per outing.
While it's not entirely his fault he's been on the bench lately, he still has a lot to prove. Give him time, and he can make a bigger impact.
Will the real Chris Copeland please stand up?
Oh, he's still sitting on the end of the Pacers' bench.
In spite of him having three DNP-CDs in Indiana's first five games, Copeland has seen more action in Indy's last five games through Nov. 25 in which he has averaged eight minutes or so.
For Pacers fans, it is excruciating to see someone who accepted a two-year, $6.1 million deal languishing on the bench. But Copeland is still new to the system, and he's still feeling his way through.
Copeland can certainly provide instant offense, as in the case against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 16, when he scored a season-high 13 points. Since then, his production has tailed off.
He can stroke a three-pointer or two given the chance, but his assists (0.3) and rebounds (0.3) remain atrocious.
The good news is Copeland, just like Butler, is a consummate professional who accepts whatever role comes his way, as Pacers.com's Scott Agness found out on Nov. 20.
I want to get out there on the floor but it's definitely team first as well. I'm here to help, whatever they need. If it's just waving the towel and cheering my guys on, trying to give encouragement when they come off or if they need me to get out there and play, whatever (Coach Vogel) asks of me, I've tried to do so.
Copeland may not have made a big impact just yet, but don't be surprised if he eventually will as the season wears on.
Ian Mahinmi ended the 2012-13 season on a sour note.
Take for example, the month of April 2013 (when Roy Hibbert became the Great Wall of Hibbert again). In the seven games the Pacers had during the month, Mahinmi failed to score in four of those and was even unable to snag a single rebound in two games.
Has he turned things around in 2013-14?
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel certainly thinks so when he spoke with the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner on Nov. 24.
Ian Mahinmi's been playing great basketball for us. I talked to him before the (Saturday night) game, told him what I wanted to do and wanted to look at this combination. He was great with it.
Mahinmi's been playing some good defense, and while he's not expected to dominate offensively, it would also be nice if he can put some points on the board when Hibbert can't get it going.
Herein lies the value of an Orlando Johnson: If Lance Stephenson's infamous alter-ego shows up, Johnson must rise to the occasion.
But has he?
As of Nov. 26, Johnson's been averaging 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 14 minutes of action per contest. He's still an average defender at best, although he doesn't turn the ball over.
Just like Watson, he's also been struggling from the floor, shooting just 41 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three-point area through Indy's first 14 games.
Yes, Johnson, as a sophomore in the NBA, is still a work in progress. But you have to love the way he's been showing some toughness on the court.
With that, he told Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star on Nov. 11 he's not backing down from anybody.
When I come in, I'm going to bring passion and energy, the toughness that (Vogel's) looking for. If somebody's going to step up to me or one of my teammates, I'm going to be right there for them.
If C.J. Watson wants Pacers fans to completely forget about D.J. Augustin, he will do well to improve on his atrocious shooting so far.
As of Nov. 26, Watson's been shooting 35.5 percent from the floor and get this—a measly 20 percent from the three-point area.
He's also been doing a credible job spelling starter George Hill. Watson has shown he has learned the Pacers' system pretty fast, even relegating third point guard Donald Sloan to the bench in recent games.
Watson's value cannot be overlooked—with him on the floor, it also gives Hill a chance to see some action at the 2-spot, which is his natural position. This smaller unit is also a luxury Coach Vogel can put to good use in certain situations.
As a further testament to the impact Watson has made on Indy, he was elected the team's representative to the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on Nov. 19.
Now, if he can only be more consistent, the Indiana Pacers would be even deadlier than ever.
Grade: C +
So far, so good for George Hill?
This author wrote a piece in September about Hill being the long-term answer at point guard for the Indiana Pacers, and the conclusion was to give him one more season to assess if he's really up to the task of leading Indy to the promised land.
One issue that was brought up in that article was Hill's consistency. So far, he has been anything but: In a seven-game stretch from Nov. 15-27, he shot below 40 percent five times.
The good news is he's shooting slightly better from the three-point area than he is from the field (.417 as opposed to .415 as of Nov. 28).
Hill, just like West, has had his fair share of struggles offensively. And just like the veteran power forward, Hill has also improved his defensive play—he's been averaging almost one block and one steal per game.
Aside from his defense, Hill is making an impact by being a more vocal leader for the Pacers.
At this point, Hill has done his fair share in helping Indy off to a rip-roaring start. The challenge for him is to shoot the ball better.
If C.J. Watson will help Pacers fans forget all about D.J. Augustin, then veteran power forward Luis Scola is there to help them get over the departed Tyler Hansbrough.
Scola has brought dimensions which Hansbrough never had—veteran savvy and a fine outside shooting touch (he's been shooting 53 percent from the field).
Never known to be an intimidator on defense, Scola is doing the little things that count: setting screens, staying active and providing leadership by example.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel lauded the veteran when he had a conversation with the Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer on Nov. 26.
I love Luis Scola. He just really knows how to play the game. His defense has been better than I thought it would be just from the standpoint of his savvy and tricks. He doesn't have the greatest foot speed or athleticism, but he knows how to win.
Although he's been averaging a career-low 8.4 points per game through Nov. 28, Scola's been Indy's most effective weapon coming off the bench. In spite of his scoring taking a slight dip, the Pacers are 14-1, so he'll take that.
This is hard evidence that his desire to win, per Vogel, has rubbed off on his teammates.
Just how much of an impact has David West made this season?
For starters, he's averaging 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists as of Nov. 28. His point production represents a dip of almost five points from his 17.1-point average in 2012-13.
This can be attributed to his somewhat shaky start from the field. He's been shooting just .442—the lowest it's ever been since his second year in the league.
Nonetheless, West has been more active on the defensive end, as attested by his 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals averages, which are both career highs.
For a power forward, West has extremely fast hands. He's capable of stripping excellent ball-handling guards which results in a transition bucket on the other hand.
Case in point: him knocking the ball away from Kirk Hinrich for the easy Lance Stephenson breakaway slam to help put the Chicago Bulls away, 97-80, on Nov. 6.
West offered his own assessment of how his season has gone so far when he was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin on Thanksgiving Day.
The goal is to win, to try to win games.
Maybe some nights I have to do a little bit more offensively; some nights it's not required. That's fine either way, but the effort has to be there defensively; it always has to be there. Beyond that, it's whatever.
To sum it all up, West hasn't had a great start offensively, but he's made up for it defensively. Count on him to improve on his shooting numbers as the season wears on.
There's Good Lance—the Lance Stephenson that produced two triple-doubles this season. Nobody saw that coming.
Good thing for the Indiana Pacers, it's been mostly Good Lance in 2013-14.
Stephenson's been averaging 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season. Him coming full circle has prompted the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz to say,"Nobody, and I mean nobody, has come further for the Pacers than Stephenson."
Talk about a solid impact.
What the player known as "Born Ready" has shown us this year is his ability to pass the ball, something which Coach Vogel discussed on Nov. 12 with Candace Buckner, Kravitz's colleague.
It's almost been his natural gift, passing the basketball. Forget his body, he's got incredible athleticism and strength. What's made Lance Stephenson unique is his ability, his basketball I.Q., his instincts. His ability to share the basketball.
He's not a guy that goes out and do nine crossovers and hit a step back jumper. He's got a unique ability to see the next play like some of the great passers in this game, so its no surprise to see what he's doing with his assist totals.
If Stephenson manages to do three things—reduce his turnovers (he's been averaging 2.5 per game), improve his free-throw shooting (.645 as of Nov. 28) and keep his notorious and infamous alter ego at bay—he should make a strong case for the NBA Most Improved Player award in 2014.
The Great Wall of Hibbert for Defensive Player of the Year.
With him as the anchor of Indiana's defense, the team currently owns the distinction of being the only one in the NBA which has held its opponents below an average of 90 points. Teams average only 86.5 points against the Pacers. The San Antonio Spurs come in second, allowing 90.3 points.
A huge chunk of the credit must be given to Hibbert's shot-blocking and rim-protecting abilities. Indy definitely wouldn't be 14-1 without him.
Hibbert, who Scott Agness of Pacers.com says "has a goal to be the hardest-working player in the locker room," makes it abundantly clear being named an All-Star is fine, but Defensive Player of the Year is the award he's really shooting for.
If it happens, it happens (on possibly being named an All-Star for the second time). My thing at the beginning of the summer was put on size so I could get in there. I want to be Defensive Player of the Year.
Whatever happens with All-Stars happens. I never thought I'd be an All-Star when I got to the league. I have one under my belt. If it happens, I'm happy. But I don't think about that.
It's pretty much safe to say he's over the horrible start he suffered through last season. At the rate he's going, Hibbert locking up 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors should be a cinch.
Now the whole world knows why Paul George is the Indiana Pacers' franchise player.
Last season, George displayed a virtually complete basketball arsenal—offense, defense, passing and rebounding. In 2013-14, he has taken his offense to an even higher level.
From a 17.4 points-per-game average in 2012-13, he has raised his output to a Reggie Miller-esque 23.7 this year. This currently ranks him sixth in the NBA.
What's more is that his field-goal (.419 to .469), three-point (.362 to .389) and free-throw shooting percentages (.807 to .822) have all improved.
Notice that George has become a more legitimate mid-range threat this year—something he never really was in 2012-13. This makes him all the more deadlier and unpredictable.
Grantland.com's Zach Lowe explains in his Nov. 26 featured article why George is such a special player:
That's part of what makes George so good: He can score in so many ways. He's a killer coming off screens and a very good spot-up shooter off the ball, both in the corners and above the arc. He can post up smaller players and face up bigger guys on the block. He has advanced almost across the board, without sacrificing his defense.
Simply put, George has lived up to the hype and risen to the occasion. He's taken the Indiana Pacers on his shoulders, and he will stop at nothing to help them win the NBA title.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.