Centered around a "built not bought" mindset, a saying that became Indiana's battle-cry in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals versus the Miami Heat, team President Larry Bird has constructed a team that is deep and no longer as heavily reliant on the starting five.
With success, however, comes much scrutiny. Here, as we approach the end of the 2013 calendar year, we take a look at the Indiana Pacers roster and grade the individual players based on their production, consistency and impact on this team's early success.
*Stats are accurate through games played on Dec. 23, 2013.
When it comes to the Pacers, one thing that head coach Frank Vogel seems to have a good feel on is the rotations. However, as is the case in any sport, there are always "benchwarmers" to be found.
For Indiana, these players have often only seen playing time in garbage, blowout minutes. And though players such as forward Rasual Butler and guard Donald Sloan have occasionally seen substantial playing time, it's not often.
Offseason acquisition Chris Copeland has yet to see the floor in any meaningful minutes yet, despite continuing to be a fan favorite. Copeland's lack of playing time has seemed to be somewhat of a mystery, seeing as how the Pacers made a push to sign the second-year forward in the offseason. It appears as though Indiana may have signed Copeland solely to keep him away from the Knicks.
Rookie Solomon Hill, after seeing minutes early in the season, has found himself a healthy scratch for the Pacers as of late, especially with the return of forward Danny Granger.
All in all, the Pacers don't appear to be lacking depth on the roster. Though lacking in minutes, any of the four aforementioned Pacers would be an adequate short-term replacement should the Pacers encounter any absences in the rotations.
The second-year guard out of the University of California, Santa Barbara has mightily struggled so far this season, averaging only 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 12 minutes of action. Johnson, who showed glimmers of being a three-point specialist in his rookie year, seems to have digressed this year in terms of accuracy and shot selection.
Johnson is shooting 33.7 percent from the floor this season, including an awfully low 21.1 percent from behind the arc. Combine Johnson's poor level of play with the return of forward Danny Granger from injury, and you can almost see Johnson's minutes completely disappear.
The return of the oft-injured Danny Granger was something Indiana Pacer fans had been awaiting since the forward's five-game stint back in the 2012-13 regular season. Granger, who missed all but those five games following various knee operations, had also sat out the first 26 games of the 2013-14 regular season, recovering from a calf strain sustained in the preseason.
Granger entered the game on Dec. 20 versus the Houston Rockets to a standing ovation from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd. The forward's first play back was a block of Houston center Dwight Howard, drawing a loud cheer. Granger finished that game with only five points, yet looked to shake off the rust.
Though Granger went 4-for-5 from behind the arc just two nights later against the Boston Celtics, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds, he struggled on Dec. 23 on the second night of a back-to-back versus the Brooklyn Nets. Granger went 0-for-7 from the field against Brooklyn, finishing scoreless.
From just the small sample size Granger has given, it appears once he is back up to the speed of the game, he will be quite the asset for the Pacers.
Not only will Granger be able to provide some much needed scoring off the bench, he also provides length, which, as Tim Donahue of the popular Pacers blog Eight Points Nine Seconds pointed out, is something many fans forget:
Underrated aspect of Danny Granger's return - he's so much bigger than Orlando Johnson or Solomon Hill. Fits defense better.— Tim Donahue (@TimDonahue8p9s) December 24, 2013
When it comes to the Indiana Pacers' Ian Mahinmi, mixed reviews are often found on the center. Inconsistent play and lack of production on the offensive end are often masked by Mahinmi's defensive play.
Mahinmi's 6'11", 250-pound frame are also a nice compliment to center Roy Hibbert, allowing the Pacers to not lose too much size while going through the rotations.
As of late, however, Mahinmi has been able to put together a nice four-game stretch, providing solid production in his minutes on the floor for Indiana. Over the last four-game span, Mahinmi has averaged 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in around 20 minutes of time per game, four points and two rebounds more than his season average.
Overall, Mahinmi allows Indiana to not sacrifice much in size while providing solid minutes in relief of Hibbert. Not the best, but definitely not the worst the Pacers have had in recent years.
Point guard George Hill gets the lowest grade of the starters thus far this season. While production from Hill is often solid, the "hit-or-miss" nights with Hill are becoming hard for Pacers fans to watch. Hill is averaging 10.8 points and 3.6 assists on the year while shooting only 40.8 percent from the field.
The knock on Hill for years has been his lack of ability in playing the point guard position. Many view Hill to be more fit as a 2-guard rather than running the point. However, with the exception of the lineup that sees C.J. Watson running the 1 and Hill running at 2, Hill sees the majority of his minutes running the point regardless.
Because of this, Hill's name is almost always brought up in trade rumors involving true point guards, most recently rumors involving Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. However, according to Jeff Rabjohns of Yahoo! Sports, Hill has yet to hear of any trade talks:
Pacers G George Hill tells http://t.co/KCs3UisrgZ he hasn't heard anything yet regarding a possible trade. Rumors floating about today ...— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) December 23, 2013
Regardless of trade talks or doubts, the bottom line is George Hill is the point guard for the Indiana Pacers right now, and it's time for the consistency to fall into place. Until then, doubt will always linger.
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert was easily the toughest to grade on the entire roster. On one hand, Hibbert's defensive play is second to none in the league. However, offensive struggles hold the center back.
Obviously, Roy Hibbert is dominant on the defensive end just based on sheer size and strength. But Hibbert's verticality is something that has become nationally recognized as his signature skill on the defensive end. His ability to go straight up and contest shots without receiving foul calls is second to none in this league.
Hibbert also leads the league with 77 blocks through 28 games, 13 more than the next closest player in Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka
However, Hibbert's wildly inconsistent play on the offensive end continues to be a problem for the Pacers. Against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 20, despite a 33-point victory for the Pacers, Hibbert only recorded nine points and six rebounds, coming off of a six-point and two-rebound game against Miami. It is games like these, where Indiana has the clear size advantage, where Hibbert should be thriving.
If the Pacers want to truly be contenders in the Eastern Conference moving forward, they are going to need more consistent offensive production from Roy Hibbert.
Offseason acquisition point guard C.J. Watson has been a huge improvement thus far over last year's second-unit point guard, D.J. Augustin.
Watson's 6.5 points and 1.9 assists per game in around 20 minutes per game has proved to be exactly what Indiana needs to complement starting point guard George Hill. Some would even suggest Watson get the starting spot ahead of George Hill, considering Watson's level of play as a "true" point guard.
While that might be getting a little ahead of ourselves, it's not that far-fetched of an idea. Watson's level of production, though right around the same as Hill's, are coming with a quicker speed and better shot selection than Hill.
Overall, it appears the Pacers finally got it right at the second-unit point guard position. Watson could be the difference in a big game, should the starters need rest or Hill get into foul trouble.
Forward Luis Scola, received in a trade with the Phoenix Suns in the 2013 offseason, is easily Indiana's best acquisition thus far in the building of this bench.
Scola has averaged 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in about 18 minutes of play per game. However, the stats don't tell the whole story. Scola's minutes provide a spark for Indiana, almost being a David West-like leader of the second unit.
All in all, it appears as though Scola was the missing piece Indiana was looking for in the 2013 offseason after letting Tyler Hansbrough walk. And after essentially getting Scola for nothing, it's hard to argue that he's the best pickup so far.
Three things are for certain in life—death, taxes and David West mid-range jump shots.
The outspoken and proven leader of this team, West is exactly the man Indiana signed him to be back in 2011. West, in his 10th year, is averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season on 48.3 percent shooting.
West's contribution to this team, however, cannot only be measured with statistics. West's leadership, both in the locker room and on the floor, is exactly what Indiana lacked nearly three years ago when they brought him in from New Orleans.
So far this season, West has come up big when needed—nailing the big shots in clutch situations and "taking over" if that is what was needed. Nothing but "Mr. Consistent" from West.
Lance Stephenson, or "Born Ready" as he's become known around Indianapolis, is absolutely playing his tail off this season, easily making his case for an early favorite for the Most Improved Payer award:
DID YOU KNOW: Pacers G Lance Stephenson is the only NBA player with multiple triple-doubles (3) this season. LeBron James has zero.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 23, 2013
As ESPN's SportsCenter account tweeted out, Stephenson is the only player in the NBA so far this season with multiple triple-doubles. Stephenson also scored a career-high 26 points in a Dec. 23 win over the Brooklyn Nets, just one night after recording his third triple-double.
Stephenson, though still streaky at times, has immensely improved his game and matured greatly this season. Averaging 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, Stephenson has cemented himself in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future at the least.
Not only is he putting up the numbers, but as every Indiana Pacers fan has come to know and love about Stephenson, he's also putting up the confidence to accompany the stats. On Dec. 22, Stephenson put Boston Celtics forward Courtney Lee on skates, finishing the play and doing a hip-shaking celebration to follow.
What else can I say. You've got to love "Born Ready."
Paul George is a superstar. There is no other way around it.
Scoring 23.9 points per game, and accompanying that with 5.9 rebounds and around four assists, George has cemented himself as one of the elite players in this league.
George has reached that level of play where whenever he throws up a shot, you just feel as though it's going to go in. The fourth-year forward out of Fresno State exhibited this trait during Indiana's narrow loss to the Portland Trailblazers on Dec. 2, the night where George scored a career-high 43 points.
In the final three minutes of the game, seen in the video, Paul George scored 15 points, drilling multiple threes to continually keep the Pacers in the game up until the final buzzer.
Even with the emergence of Lance Stephenson and the return of Danny Granger, it is now incredibly evident that this is Paul George's team. And George has more than answered the call.
Honestly, other than LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who would you take over Paul George if you were building a team right now?