The Indiana Pacers are 17-2 as of Dec. 6—the best record in the NBA.
Just how does each Indiana Pacer stack up in the latest player power rankings?
We all know franchise player Paul George is head and shoulders above everybody else at this point, but it would still be interesting to see how guys such as Lance Stephenson (who's had two triple-doubles) and Luis Scola (playing in a new role off the bench) have been faring in Indy's overall scheme of things.
How about backup point guard C.J. Watson? Has he done a good job in shaking off his early-season shooting struggles?
Pacers fans can also make a case for Defensive Player of the Year candidate Roy Hibbert, whose stonewall defense has made life miserable for the opposition.
For the purposes of this article, each Pacer will be ranked according to his overall stats and on-court contributions which have helped Indy become the championship-caliber squad it is.
Unless the other Pacers do something drastic, George may run away with top honors for the entire season with the way things are going.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, stats are current as of Dec. 6 and are courtesy of ESPN.
Danny Granger has yet to play in the 2013-14 regular season.
2013-14 stats: N/A
Small forward and former franchise player Danny Granger hasn't taken the court this regular season due to a strained calf muscle.
And yet the Indiana Pacers, as of Dec. 6, are 17-2.
The trend has been the same for more than a year. Granger was sidelined for 77 games in 2012-13 because of a "jumper's knee" injury, but the Pacers somehow managed to knock loudly on that elusive NBA Finals door.
It's abundantly clear at this point that Indy is more than OK without his services.
Since Lance Stephenson is a big reason why the Pacers are an NBA juggernaut, expect Granger to come off the bench upon his return.
According to Pacers.com's Mark Montieth, Granger is "'still a long ways away' from returning, but remains optimistic he'll return and contribute at some point" when he spoke with head coach Frank Vogel on Nov. 30.
If Granger eventually thrives in a bench role a la Luis Scola, he should make some strides in these rankings.
Veteran shooting guard Rasual Butler
2013-14 stats: 1.0 PPG, 0.3 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.0 BPG, 0.0 SPG
Could veteran shooting guard Rasual Butler possibly be the Indiana Pacers' lucky charm?
Prior to 2013-14, Butler last saw action in the NBA during the 2011-12 season with the Toronto Raptors but eventually found himself making the regular-season roster of a championship contender after a slight detour via the D-League and 2013 Orlando Summer League.
His veteran savvy has eventually rubbed off on young and up-and-coming Pacers like Solomon Hill, Lance Stephenson and Orlando Johnson—a role which has valuable, long-term repercussions.
Alas, Butler's sacrifice has resulted in the worst statistical year of his NBA career to date, placing him at the bottom of the rankings.
This consummate professional surely won't mind as long as the ultimate goal of bringing the Larry O'Brien trophy to the city of Indianapolis is realized.
Indiana Pacers rookie Solomon Hill has been averaging 1.5 points through the first 18 games of the 2013-14 regular season.
2013-14 stats: 1.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.1 SPG
Flashback to this year's training camp, when Mark Montieth of Pacers.com asked franchise player Paul George about his thoughts on rookie Solomon Hill:
He (Hill) should be a Pacer (player) for awhile. He plays the game beyond his years. He can do everything. He can defend, he can shoot the ball, he can create for himself, he can rebound. I think he'll surprise some people.
So far, Solomon Hill hasn't surprised just yet.
The projected rookie jack of all trades has taken on a steep learning curve playing behind George at small forward, averaging just a shade below 10 minutes per contest and shooting just a paltry 33 percent from the field as of Dec. 3.
While George is the scoring machine, Hill, who can also play shooting guard, can be projected to be more of a defensive stopper off the bench over the long haul. This is similar to what the Pacers had years ago in Jalen Rose and Derrick McKey.
Until then, it will be a long way up for this rookie.
Indiana Pacers backup point guard Donald Sloan hosted the Knockout Hunger Event in Indianapolis on Nov. 18.
2013-14 stats: 3.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.0 BPG, 0.5 SPG
The Donald Sloan who showed a world of promise on that day as the Indiana Pacers' third point guard has gone missing. For that game, he logged 21 minutes.
Twenty-one quality minutes.
Since then, he has seen action in a combined 20 minutes—a span of 13 games as of Dec. 4. During that stretch, he registered eight DNP-CDs.
The reason? The playmaking of George Hill, C.J. Watson and Lance Stephenson. Stephenson, in particular, has been Mark Jackson-esque, dishing out at least 10 assists on three occasions in November.
For his part, Sloan has shown he can direct the flow of the offense when called upon. Even though his stats aren't exactly eye-popping, he remains important to Indy's depth chart at the 1-spot.
All he can do right now is be patient.
Pacers forward Chris Copeland is off to a slow start in 2013-14.
2013-14 stats: 3.1 PPG, 0.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.1 SPG
A month ago, Pacers forward Chris Copeland spoke with The Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner about the minimal playing time he's had. He said he talked to head coach Frank Vogel about it:
It's just a small piece. We have a great team, so it's just one of those things.
Yeah, we spoke but that's for us. That's between me and him but I would say we just got a great team. At the end of the day, it's just deep. On such a deep team, it's hard.
At this point in the season, it is still hard for Copeland.
His 3.1 points and 0.3 rebounds-per-game averages as of Dec. 4 represent a drop of more than five points and almost two rebounds from his production in 2012-13 as a New York Knick.
Mark Montieth of Pacers.com explains why Copeland hasn't played that much in his Dec. 4 edition of Mark's Mailbag:
Copeland is the 11th man and Vogel is going with the 10-man rotation unless the games are a blowout—and the Pacers haven't had many of those. It comes down to the fact that he isn't going to get minutes at the 'four' spot because West and Scola play there, and he has a difficult time guarding 'threes' on the perimeter.
Nonetheless, he will eventually become the Chris Copeland Pacers fans envisioned him to be.
Indiana's Orlando Johnson tries to make a move on the Boston Celtics' Brandon Bass.
2013-14 stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.2 SPG
Just imagine Orlando Johnson playing like Byron Scott did as a shooting guard off the Indiana Pacers' bench in the mid-1990s.
The Pacers would be deadlier than ever before.
Granted, it will take some time for Johnson to get to Scott's level. If he ever plans to reach it, then he has to work even harder.
Johnson's numbers are roughly the same from last season, although his production has tailed off in the last five games from Nov. 25-Dec. 2. During that stretch, he has averaged just 1.6 points on 33 percent shooting.
He's also projected to provide quality minutes should Lance Stephenson play erratically—something which still happens but not as much as before.
At this stage, Johnson is still a work in progress.
Indiana Pacers backup center Ian Mahinmi
2013-14 stats: 2.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG
Roy Hibbert was off to an atrocious start last season. Now, it's Ian Mahinmi's turn.
Mahinmi has been averaging over 15 minutes per contest. However, as of Dec. 4, he's been producing career lows in several statistical categories, namely points (2.8) and field-goal percentage (.382).
There's no denying Hibbert is getting the job done, and with veteran Luis Scola also getting some minutes at the 5-spot, Mahinmi hasn't produced solid numbers on offense.
However, the consummate pro that he is, he makes up for this by trying to crash the boards and playing solid defense. This is exactly what Indiana needs from him as Hibbert's main backup.
Pacers.com's Mark Montieth affirmed this on Dec. 4:
He has, however, played well defensively. Assistant coach Dan Burke, who supervises the defense, says Mahinmi is a really good lane defender. Roy Hibbert is a rim protector, but Mahinmi, who has quicker feet, helps defend everything around the foul lane near the basket. That's often overlooked.
Mahinmi is the type of player who does things that don't show up on the stat sheet. With the Pacers winning on a regular basis, they'll take that any way they can.
Indiana Pacers backup point guard C.J. Watson is trying to shake off an early-season shooting slump.
2013-14 stats: 6.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.7 SPG
C.J. Watson isn't off to a great start this season, shooting-wise.
This writer reported last week that Watson was sniping 35.5 percent from the field and just 20 percent from three-point distance as of Nov. 26.
Watson needs to keep improving on this aspect of his game, as starting point guard George Hill has a tendency to be inconsistent.
Nonetheless, he's done a commendable job of fitting into and running the Pacers' offensive schemes.
Thirty-three-year-old veteran Luis Scola has settled nicely into his role off the bench for the Indiana Pacers.
2013-14 stats: 8.3. PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.4 SPG
As a power forward coming off the bench, Luis Scola certainly won't remind Pacers fans of Antonio Davis.
While Davis was an intimidator and a bruiser, Scola is more of a finesse low-post operator and spot-up shooter. However, that doesn't mean Scola—who isn't really known for his defense—can't hold his own on the other end of the floor.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel spoke with Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star on Nov. 26 and said Scola's defense "has been better than I thought it would be just from the standpoint of his savvy and tricks."
On the other hand, even though his current average of 8.3 points represents a career low, he is shooting a respectable 51 percent from the field.
More importantly, he's adjusted very well to his role as a bench player who can be counted on to contribute on a regular basis.
In Pointer's featured article, Vogel also lauded Scola's team-first mentality.
Some guys will accept it, but when they come in, the game has a different feel. Some players struggle with that. He seems to have made the transition seamlessly.
But there was no concern about it if he was going to accept it. He's as selfless of a player, a team-first player, as I've ever been around.
Indiana Pacers starting point guard George Hill
2013-14 stats: 12.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG
George Hill, to a certain extent, brings back memories of former Pacers point guard Vern Fleming.
Both are shooting guards in a point guard's body.
They're also both solid and unspectacular.
The only difference is Hill can stroke the three-pointer, while Fleming rarely shot one.
Nostalgic feelings aside, Hill, just like his backup C.J. Watson, hasn't had the best season in terms of shooting.
- vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 25: .692
- vs. the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 27: .200
- vs. the Washington Wizards on Nov. 29: .313
- vs. the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 1: .400
- vs. the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 2: .125
- vs. the Utah Jazz on Dec. 4: .556
Nonetheless, Hill is trying his best to focus on the other aspects of his game. Cases in point: registering 11 assists against the Blazers and averaging career highs in blocks (0.6) and steals (1.1) through Dec. 5.
Veteran Pacers power forward David West
2013-14 stats: 12.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.0 SPG
But then again, scoring is just one facet in basketball.
West knows he needs to focus on other areas when he can't get it going offensively. For example, he shot just 4-of-13 against the New York Knicks on Nov. 20 but grabbed 10 rebounds.
In Indiana's 95-86 win over the Utah Jazz on Dec. 4, West struggled after shooting just 35.7 percent. However, he had a season-high eight assists.
Guys like West, Mahinmi and Hill are going out of their way to contribute in other areas and let their teammates produce if they're struggling. It's just a total team effort, which is what makes the Indiana Pacers such a dangerous team.
West said so himself when he spoke with The Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin on Nov. 28:
We talked about at the beginning of the year that everyone was going to have to make sacrifices, so it's no big deal. That's just the way this team is built.
We've got multiple guys that can produce at a high level, five guys averaging double figures. We're being productive. That's how our offense is geared this year.
So, I focus on other things.
Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson has excelled in the passing game in 2013-14.
2013-14 stats: 12.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.0 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG
Who would have ever thought Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson would bring back memories of Mark "Action" Jackson?
Last season, Stephenson showed he could score in a variety of ways, defend and rebound with the best of them.
In 2013-14, he has taken his passing game to a whole different level. What's more is he has two triple-doubles and two more double-doubles to prove how more versatile he's become.
Consider his stat line from 2012-13: 8.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG
Notice how he has raised his level of play in the points, rebounds and assists categories.
That being said, if the Indiana Pacers have Paul George as a legit MVP candidate, Stephenson should be in the conversation for 2014 NBA Most Improved Player honors.
Indy has had some measure of success when it comes to that award, with Jalen Rose (2000), Jermaine O'Neal (2002), Danny Granger (2009) and George (2013) as past winners.
Adding "Lance Stephenson" to that honor roll by season's end won't be such a far-fetched idea.
Roy Hibbert is making a case for 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors.
2013-14 stats: 12.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 3.4 BPG, 0.3 SPG
Roy Hibbert is on track for 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Aside from averaging 3.4 blocks per game, opponents are shooting just 38.2 percent at the rim as of Dec. 6 whenever the Great Wall of Hibbert is patrolling the lane, per NBA.com.
Hibbert's offense has also come alive in Indy's West Coast road trip—posting numbers of 16 points, 10.3 rebounds, two assists and 1.3 blocks per contest.
Plus, the fact that he has upped his overall field-goal percentage from .448 last year to .468 this season definitely bodes well for Indiana.
He's also shooting a career-best .759 percent from the free-throw line.
Notice that Hibbert has also developed an even more beautiful chemistry with his buddy Paul George as evidenced by this alley-oop pass from the Pacers center in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Nov. 27.
All in all, the Indiana Pacers wouldn't be where they are now had it not been for Hibbert's play down low. Hibbert, who's celebrating his 27th birthday on Dec. 11, is certainly making a case as the NBA's best center.
Happy birthday, Roy Hibbert.
The Indiana Pacers' Paul George was named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November 2013.
2013-14 stats: 24.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.4 BPG, 2.2 SPG
Paul George torched the Portland Trail Blazers for a career-high 43 points on Dec. 2.
A day later, he was proclaimed the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November—just the third Pacer to ever earn the honor after Detlef Schrempf in February 1992 and Jermaine O'Neal in January, April and December 2003, per Pacers.com's Mark Montieth.
The Indiana Pacers are also a league-leading 17-2 as of Dec. 6.
Truly, this has been a season to remember for Indy's franchise player.
In the eyes of Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, George is both the Most Improved Player and MVP when he spoke with Montieth's colleague, Scott Agness, on Dec. 3.
Can you win Most Improved and Most Valuable Player? Has that ever been done? It could be done. He won't win Most Improved because he's done it before, but to me, the jump that he's made from last year to this year...
He's the Most Improved Player in the league, and the Most Valuable Player right now.
The old-school thought on Indiana was that they were a really good basketball team but they didn't have an outlier. They didn't have that one guy that just kind of took games over. Now they do, and now they're great.
Paul George's numbers this season are definitely a testament of how far he's come. He's in the running for MVP honors, but Pacers fans can be sure this franchise player is more dead-set on winning the NBA title.