Fast approaching the halfway mark on the NBA's 2013-14 regular season, many teams are finding their stride. The Indiana Pacers, sitting atop the NBA's standings for yet another week, are one of those teams.
In a league where a flashy offensive play and highlight-reel alley-oop are preferred, Indiana has established itself as a defensive powerhouse, ranking atop the NBA in points allowed (88.3), opponent field-goal percentage (.410), opponent three-point field-goal percentage (.321) and point differential (9.0).
That said, enough about the team. Although Indiana loves to preach its "team first" mentality, there is always criticisms of individual players. And while Indiana has crafted a perfect chemistry among its starters, many still have flaws.
Moving forward, we'll grade the Pacers on their individual performances thus far in the season.
*All stats are accurate through games played on January 8, 2014.
(All stats featured are courtesy of ESPN.com.)
While Copeland's signing over the 2013 offseason was a move incredibly popular among fans, Copeland's lack of playing time has become largely accepted. On defense, he has proven to be nothing short of a liability, and with the return of Danny Granger, fans can expect to only see Copeland in garbage minutes.
Johnson's lack of production, coupled with Granger's return, has seen the second-year guard out of UC Santa Barbara lose minutes, averaging only 0.3 points in 1.8 minutes per game over the last 10 games. With Granger's improving play, it's to be assumed Johnson's minutes will continue to dwindle.
While Sloan is a very capable third-string point guard, nobody is expecting him to be challenging guards George Hill and C.J. Watson for minutes. Like Copeland, Sloan's minutes will likely only be the product of a blowout.
The rookie out of Arizona was demoted to the D-League's Fort Wayne Mad Ants for a disappointing two-game stint before returning to the team. Don't expect to see Hill getting many minutes in the near future.
While many are indifferent when it comes to Rasual Butler, the 10th-year forward has shown positive signs when he has gotten playing time. Now with the return and promising play of Danny Granger, however, look for the Pacers to be rotating mainly nine players.
The only real playing time Butler will be getting is in the case of foul trouble or a blowout. That said, Butler is definitely the most trustworthy of the "garbage minute" players.
Final First-Half Grade: C
Ian Mahinmi, though not overly productive, has provided the Pacers with just enough of a punch thus far to maintain leads while center Roy Hibbert is on the bench, whether it be for rest or foul trouble. The seventh-year center out of France has provided 4.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes over the last 10 games.
Nobody is asking Mahinmi to be Roy Hibbert, which is a good thing, because he is far from it. However, the center has been able to provide solid, productive minutes in Hibbert's absence and anchors a second unit that is much improved over last year's.
For Mahinmi, it's a neutral grade.
Final First-Half Grade: C+
C.J. Watson has easily been an upgrade over last year's backup point guard, D.J. Augustin; that is clear for anyone to see. Providing 6.1 points per game in around 18 minutes and effectively running the half-court offense are only a few of Watson's strengths.
Watson has proven to be a strong three-point shooter over the season as well. Watson's 34 percent from behind the arc is fourth on the team (players with 500-plus minutes) behind George Hill, Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
Is Watson an All-Star? Absolutely not. But nobody is asking him to be. Watson is an effective guard who can take over for Hill in situations, and it's a seamless transition, something Indiana had been seeking since the departure of Darren Collison.
Final First-Half Grade: B-
When it comes to second-unit assistance, the Indiana Pacers aren't looking for anything special—just a group who can help maintain, and sometimes push, a lead. This year, they seem to have found the perfect mix.
Arguably Indiana's most important offseason addition, forward Luis Scola is quite possibly the player who can help put Indiana over that Miami Heat-shaped hump this year.
Scola's 8.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 44.8 percent shooting all in around 17 minutes per game are the epitome of efficiency. Not only that, Scola's stats generally come in high-energy fashion.
Bottom line, Scola is hands-down the biggest contributor coming off of the bench and one of the few X-factors in this team's potential championship run. If he's playing well, the second unit is in good hands.
Final First-Half Grade: B+
The oft-injured forward, whom many believed to be permanently damaged goods, has finally gotten healthy enough to put together a good string of games and provide hope for Indiana Pacers fans.
Granger, whose minutes have gradually risen with each game, is now averaging 11.8 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action per game.
If Granger can continue this upward trend, which all signs currently point toward, it will be an enormous lift for the Indiana bench. Having a guy capable of double-digit scoring to complement forward Luis Scola and point guard C.J. Watson could prove to be lethal given a deep playoff run.
Final First-Half Grade: B-
Hill's shaky offensive play continues to be an issue for the Pacers—not an issue in the way that it's going to cost them games, but more that the lack of consistency will eventually catch up with them.
Hill's defensive play, however, has been much improved over the last 10 games. Over the last 10, Hill has faced the likes of players such as Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Patrick Beverly and Derron Williams (twice). The results? A combined 49 points on 44.1 percent shooting.
Bottom line, Hill is not, nor will he ever be, equipped to run an offense and play like a true point guard. He is a shooting guard playing in a different place in the rotation. However, given the circumstances, Hill has played tremendously at times, making his place worth it.
Final First-Half Grade: B-
Center Roy Hibbert's offensive game continues to be an anomaly for Pacers fans. One game, such as Indiana's January 7 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Hibbert provides 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
The next game, on January 8 against the Atlanta Hawks, Hibbert fumbled through the game and ended up with two points, four rebounds and just one single block.
While many fans will comment that Hibbert's defensive presence makes up for his lack of production on the offensive end, it's time to observe Hibbert objectively. He is as inconsistent as they come on the offensive end, and it could end up being a severe problem for Indiana later on in the season.
For now, at the halfway mark? Yes, his defensive presence is more than enough, especially with the consistency of Paul George. But down the line, it's time to start seeing some improvement out of the fifth-year center.
Final First-Half Grade: B-
The consistent, and sometimes quiet, leader of this Indiana Pacers team—David West.
Not much has changed with West. Night in and night out, the forward is either verbally leading this team to a victory or taking charge and making it happen himself.
As many are unaware, the majority of the Pacers organization consider West to be this team's MVP, not George—something former NBA TV analyst Peter Vecsey pointed out via his Twitter account:
While Paul George is an authentic league MVP candidate, everybody within the Pacers' organization will tell you, David West is Indy's MVP— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) December 29, 2013
No surprise here, West gets an A for not only his leadership and veteran presence on the floor, but also his continual contribution on both ends of the court for this Pacers team. West is truly invaluable.
Final First-Half Grade: A
Oh, Lance Stephenson. The player who can be just as frustrating to watch at times as he is to play against, I'm sure.
Stephenson's inconsistencies have cleared up some from last year, but they still remain intact. However, that hasn't stopped Stephenson from leading the NBA in triple-doubles with three. The reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James? Zero.
Pacers fans can't be happier than they are right now with what Stephenson is contributing to this team. He provides an energetic spark, that "in your face" attitude similar to that of what Reggie Miller provided throughout his career.
Stephenson is a game-changer, someone who is truly an X-factor in the success of these Pacers. If Stephenson can continue his high level of play, he is almost certainly a front-runner for Most Improved Player of the Year.
Final First-Half Grade: A-
George's play has cooled off as of late, but don't let that fool you. The guard is still averaging some of the best numbers in the NBA at 22.9 points and six rebounds per game.
George's cooling off could be attributed to many things. Fatigue? George averages around 42 minutes per game, generally playing all but a few minutes in both the second and fourth quarters. The real reason for George's lower numbers is, in my opinion, the emergence of Lance Stephenson and the contributions of the bench.
With Granger coming into his own, Stephenson improving and many others making key contributions, the load on George's shoulders has been lightened.
So, don't look at his downgrade from A+ to A, or his lesser production, and think for a minute that George is anything other than a superstar. He's still a star—just one much different from what we're all used to seeing.
First-Half Grade: A