Power Ranking Every Key Indiana Pacers Player Before Season's End
Just how is every key Indiana Pacers player faring in the latest edition of the team's power ranking?
It should be interesting to find out considering some of the following storylines in Indiana's 50-18 season (through March 20):
- Paul George's breakout year as a franchise player
- Lance Stephenson's emergence as a versatile guard and serious 2014 NBA Most Improved Player candidate
- Roy Hibbert's up-and-down season
- David West as the Pacers' go-to-guy whenever Paul George struggles
- Luis Scola's first year as a weapon off the bench
- Evan Turner's and Andrew Bynum's additions to fortify Indy's bench
And a bit more thrown in between.
For the purposes of this article, we will rank the top 10 key players of the Pacers based on their stats and most recent performances.
George has lived up to his billing as Danny Granger's heir apparent as franchise player.
The bigger question remains: Have the rest of his teammates played to the best of their abilities?
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.
10. C.J. Watson
2013-14 stats: 6.3 PPG, 1.6 PPG, 1.7 PPG, 0.1 BPG, 0.9 SPG
We haven't seen much of C.J. Watson lately due to a right hamstring strain, per Pacers.com's Krissy Myers.
Overall, Watson has done a decent job in backing up George Hill and running the offense at the point guard spot. His outside sniping is still dependable in what has turned out to be a weird season for him.
For one, his field-goal percentage (.427) is his best in four seasons while his three-point shooting (.336) is the worst its ever been during that same span.
His free-throw shooting (.780 to .788) is up from last season while his rebounding (2.1 to 1.6) and assists (4.1 to 1.7) averages have steadily declined in the past three years.
Watson has been erratic in his latest performances, from the 13-point, five-assist performance against the Utah Jazz on March 2 to a measly one-point output against the Golden State Warriors two nights later.
It's been more down than it's been up for Watson this season. Until the time he makes the people of Indianapolis completely forget about D.J. Augustin, he will stay in the cellar of these rankings.
9. Ian Mahinmi
2013-14 stats: 3.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.6 SPG
Ian Mahinmi made his presence felt at a time when Luis Scola and, to a certain extent, Roy Hibbert were struggling.
More than his 4.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals in February, Mahinmi did the things that don't show up on the stat sheet: Set hard screens, play excellent defense in the lane and hustle for second-chance opportunities.
That was, without a doubt, his best stretch since donning Pacers blue and gold.
Mahinmi played a big role off the bench once again in Indy's 50th victory of the season—a nine-point win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
He scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench. He was the Pacers' best center on a night when Roy Hibbert struggled and Andrew Bynum was not around.
For the season, his averages of 1.0 blocks and 0.6 steals in 16 minutes translate to quality minutes defensively off the bench.
C. Cooper of IndyCornrows.com describes Mahinmi's defensive impact in his March 2 article:
Over the past 12 games, Ian's defensive rating has also reached a season-best, allowing only 93 points per 100 possessions.
For reference (although not completely comparable given that Mahinmi does not play starter's minutes) DPOY candidate Roy Hibbert's DRtg in February was 98 and Paul George's DRtg was 97.
It's the Ian Mahinmi Indy needs each and every time.
8. Luis Scola
2013-14 stats: 7.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.2 BPG
In Bob Kravitz's March 11 article in the Indianapolis Star, Pacers president Larry Bird singled out Luis Scola when he expressed disappointment over the bench's 28th-ranked offense in the aftermath of the team's four-game losing streak:
Luis, the big thing is he's not scoring the ball like he did earlier in the season. I don't get it. They're ranked 28th, so they are what they are. I'm very disappointed in that. I thought they'd do a lot better for us.
People ask me if I'm mad at them. I'm not mad. I'm disappointed.
Scola's horrendous two-month stretch from January to February when he shot around .375 from the floor had a lot to do with the dip in bench production.
When Scola sputtered, so did Indy's bench. Prior to the acquisitions of Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner, the Pacers relied mainly on Scola, Watson and a struggling Danny Granger.
The good news is Scola has shown some improvement in March (.511 shooting) and has done just enough to place himself ahead of Mahinmi in the rankings.
7. Andrew Bynum
2013-14 stats: 8.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.2 SPG
In the two games he has donned Pacers blue and gold, Andrew Bynum has made a statement.
He has been averaging 11.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game for Indy through March 19.
Bynum was impressive in his first game since Dec. 26—a 94-83 win over the Boston Celtics on March 11. He fought for position down low and was a force on the glass, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Just when we thought we were getting to see the old Andrew Bynum, his knee issues begin to crop up.
According to Pacers.com's Scott Agness, Bynum underwent an MRI on his right knee and had it drained on March 17.
Bynum couldn't be more bummed:
This one is a little concerning for me because it caused a lot more fluid. I haven't had that much fluid in there since the (2010) Boston Finals in L.A.
It's not fun. It is what it is at this point.
His stats while playing for Indy speak for themselves. Bynum's recent work on the offensive end and on the glass was supposedly the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Pacers fans.
Now, all we can do is hope he shakes off the effects of his knee injury in time for an NBA Finals run in June.
6. Evan Turner
2013-14 stats: 15.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.9 SPG
As of March 20, here is Evan Turner's point production covering an 11-game span: 15, eight, zero, 22, five, two, nine, two, 20, four and three.
Will the real Evan Turner please stand up?
If there's one guy who needs to really play well off the bench, it's Turner.
C.J. Watson and Luis Scola have had their fair share of struggles this season. Chris Copeland, Lavoy Allen, Donald Sloan, Rasual Butler and Solomon Hill have rarely taken the floor for the Pacers.
Ian Mahinmi? He's been playing well as of late, but he's there mainly for defense.
Turner, the second overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft and the Philadelphia 76ers' leading scorer prior to his trade for Danny Granger, just cannot afford to add to Indy's bench woes.
He has the tools to blossom into a great weapon off the bench with his medium-range game, athleticism and ability to take the ball to the basket.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told the Indianapolis Star's Michael Pointer on March 14 that Turner has accepted his new role with the team:
Anybody that steps into our culture has to understand that the team comes first and that's clear the moment they set foot in our building and get around our players and our leaders.
I think he sees that very clearly and, obviously, that's the right way to approach free agency, to just help the team win.
Once Turner fully settles in, he will be more consistent and help fix Indy's bench woes once and for all.
5. Roy Hibbert
2013-14 stats: 11.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.4 BPG, 0.4 SPG
How the mighty have fallen.
Roy Hibbert is still a solid defensive player. It's his recent inconsistency on offense and his mediocre rebounding (just 4.5 rebounds per game this month through March 20) which have done him in.
Pacers assistant coach Popeye Jones seconds this motion when he spoke with the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer on March 18:
His confidence right now is not there offensively, but he's trying to get that back. I thought his confidence (hasn't) been there offensively or defensively since the All-Star break.
Is he distraught sometimes? Sure, anybody would be. Because you always want to play better.
He is also capable of producing a two-point, four-rebound disaster (such as the one versus the Utah Jazz three nights later).
Last season, he got off to a disastrous start before finally getting his act together just before the All-Star break.
This $58 million man can't afford to be inconsistent.
But just three rebounds and zero blocks? Come on.
He has to be The Great Wall of Hibbert for the Pacers to contend for an NBA title.
4. George Hill
2013-14 stats: 10.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.0 SPG
George Hill has done a credible job as the Pacers' primary point guard in March, averaging 34.8 minutes per game mainly due to C.J. Watson's injury issues and Donald Sloan's personal issues.
Hill has seen his field-goal percentage (.443 to .450), three-point field goal percentage (.368 to .377), free-throw percentage (.817 to .826) and rebounding (3.7 to 3.8) go up this season.
However, his scoring (14.2 to 10.9) and assists (4.7 to 3.5) numbers have gone down.
His drop-off in assists can partially be attributed to Lance Stephenson, whose playmaking skills have improved considerably in the 2013-14 NBA season.
Despite Hill's lower point production, the Pacers are 50-18—best in the East and second-best in the entire league through March 20.
It's not to say Hill should stay where he is. Far from it.
In fact, Indiana needs more from him, as he's shooting just .391 for the month of March.
Given Hill's fatigued state, that's understandable. Getting Watson back sooner than later should help Hill pull himself together in time for the postseason grind that lies ahead.
3. David West
2013-14 stats: 14.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.8 SPG
After a somewhat rough start to the season, David West has gotten it together for the Pacers.
In a year when franchise player Paul George was destined to break out, West has risen to the occasion whenever George plays poorly.
Some noteworthy examples:
- Thirty points in a 118-113 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 7 (George shot just 5-of-23 from the floor)
- Twenty-five points three nights later in a 119-80 romp over the Denver Nuggets when George scored just 12 points and shot 4-of-10
- Twenty-four points when the Pacers beat the Boston Celtics 94-83 on March 11 (George wound up with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting)
It's reminiscent of Reggie Miller and Jermaine O'Neal in the early 2000s.
Still, West has experienced a three-point drop-off from his scoring average last season (17.1 to 14.0).
With George taking more of the scoring load this year, it comes as no surprise.
What also won't come as a surprise is David West coming through in the clutch in the postseason as he has time and again during the current regular season.
2. Lance Stephenson
2013-14 stats: 14.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.8 SPG
Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson.
How about other suitable nicknames? Say "Do-It-All" or "Fearless?"
Whatever the case may be, Stephenson continues his ascent toward NBA respectability.
He has improved in several statistical categories from last season, namely points (8.8 to 14.2), rebounds (3.9 to 7.3), assists (2.9 to 4.9), field-goal percentage (.460 to .495), three-point percentage (.330 to .337) and free-throw percentage (.652 to .709).
The one thing he has to keep in check is his turnovers (2.7 per game).
He and David West are locked in a heated battle for the No. 2 spot in the power rankings. West has been a better clutch player while Stephenson is more versatile.
However, Stephenson gets the nod over West by virtue of his improvement in several areas of his game. While West's scoring average has dipped, most of Stephenson's numbers, as previously mentioned, are up.
Love him or hate him, think about how far Stephenson has come.
From the infamous LeBron James choke hold as a bench warmer two years ago to near All-Star miss and potential 2014 NBA Most Improved Player.
With these, Larry Legend should do all he can to make sure the man known as "Born Ready" will be locked up to a long-term deal come next summer.
1. Paul George
2013-14 stats: 22.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.8 SPG
Paul George is still No. 1 in the Indiana Pacers key player power rankings.
Stats-wise, he continues to lord it over the rest of his teammates, which is why he came out on top.
You can be sure he will be in the running for All-NBA Second or Third Team honors by season's end, but not the MVP award.
As good as George is, his erratic shooting has been a bothersome trend.
How about a combined 8-of-31 shooting in consecutive games against the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks (including an airball toward the end of the first quarter against the Knicks)?
Not MVP-caliber numbers, to say the least. But George, still a work in progress at age 23, will eventually get there.
In fairness to George, he has had his moments as well. Aside from several scoring outbursts, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for Oct./Nov. 2013 and an Eastern Conference All-Star for the second straight year.
His work ethic will eventually see him through. We've witnessed this firsthand in the past few seasons.
Take it from George himself in an interview with USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt on Feb. 12:
For me, it's about building a legacy. I feel like I can be one of the best players in this league and one of the best players to play this game as far as both sides of the floor.
I feel like every year I get better, every year I learn something new, and I don't plan on stopping.
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