Are the Indiana Pacers Stars Enough to Win an NBA Title?

Fred KatzFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen, second from left, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, left, center Roy Hibbert (55) and guard Lance Stephenson go for a loose rebound in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

We always hear that the team with the best player in an NBA playoff series is the one that should win. But that theory may not lend itself to truth with the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers have been dominant all season, but that's been more because of a team concept than anything else.

Paul George got his year off to a hot start, but has shot just under 40 percent from the floor over his past 41 games. In December, we were talking about how George was the third-best player in the NBA.

Now, that's probably not so. Third best in the league is Chris Paul or Joakim Noah or Blake Griffin or Stephen Curry or anyone else you may want to plug into that conversation. Unfortunately for Indiana, George just isn't part of that discussion anymore.

But the Pacers do have a Big Three at the top of the roster, which can rival that of any other team, even with the recent decline in PG's play.

Roy Hibbert is still the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, anchoring a defense that has ranked No. 1 in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions all season.

And then there's Lance Stephenson. Oh, Lance.

The same guy who did this:

And this:

He's the same one who could've been the Pacers' third All-Star this season. Who runs the second-unit offense even though he technically starts. Who is a ferocious defender and probably qualifies as the most physical shooting guard in the NBA.

Even if we agree that George hasn't been a top-five player for the entirety of this season, the Pacers still have one of the best trios in the league with PG, Hibbert and Stephenson. And the numbers back that up.

Take a look at the six-best teams in the NBA, and you'll see some form of a Big Three if you look hard enough. At least, you'll find whatever that particular team markets as a Big Three.

The San Antonio Spurs have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. The Miami Heat have LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Those groups are dominant when they share the floor. That is, after all, what a Big Three is supposed to do.

The Los Angeles Clippers' combination of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan has been the best of any of them, outscoring opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions (subscription required) when it shares the floor together. The Heat's Big Three has an 8.0 net rating (subscription required)The Houston Rockets' (Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons) has a net rating of 6.4 (subscription required).

We move on down the list, and these groups continue to put up big numbers.

The Thunder's trifecta has a 6.0 net rating (subscription required)The Spurs' is 3.9 (subscription required). 

Remember, these are the best Big Threes in the NBA. The top-notch trios from the league's elite teams. And the Pacers are right with them.

Indiana's Big Three has an 11.4 net rating (subscription required) on the season. That's just behind the Clippers. If we're talking about the NBA's best trios, the Pacers' is as good as anyone's statistically.

Indiana has depth, even after trading Danny Granger. It has guys like George Hill and David West, who are consistent mainstays. And for the Pacers, depth is about maintaining scheme.

The defense can continue to dominate when Hibbert is on the bench, because Ian Mahinmi allows the Pacers to play a similar style of D. Indiana can continue to funnel offensive players to the middle of the floor, feeling comfortable with Mahinmi as a rim protector.

David West plays defense. George Hill does too. All those guys do is let team identity persist, a character that spreads throughout the whole squad.

But, all of a sudden, this team finds itself in a major slide, dropping seven of its past 12 games. We complain about George's offense, about Hibbert's struggles to score, but are those truly the most concerning issues on this team?

It was just last year when the Pacers' 7'2" center shot under 52 percent in the restricted area. And that team still came just a smidgen away from the NBA Finals. Indiana doesn't need a dominant low presence.

I'm sure they wouldn't turn one down. But turning Hibbert into an offensive weapon shouldn't be on the agenda.

Over this 12-game swoon, the Pacers rank seventh in the league in defensive efficiency. It's a slip, a slight drop, but not one close to big enough to knock them off the top defense spot for the season. When offense lags and defense becomes just a little stagnant, the Pacers can struggle.

Maybe that's why having an upper-echelon best three players is so important. So they can pull their teams out of holes that others may have dug.

Ultimately though, even in reference to Big Threes, winning a championship is about consistency and roster depth as much as anything else.

In recent years, we, as NBA fans, have let the idea of the Big Three consume us. Maybe we can blame that on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Maybe it's the fault of James, Wade and Bosh.

It's someone's wrongdoing. 

Society's, the media's, the fans', the players'. Someone messed this up for everyone. Because in the end, maybe putting together some illusion of a Big Three isn't all that important. 

It's nice to have one. It's helpful. But is it fully necessary to win a championship?

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks seemed to deal just fine without one. So did the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who beat up on a Los Angeles Lakers team with a Big Four of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the NBA Finals.

So maybe the idea of needing a Big Three is wrong. Maybe a team doesn't always have to have one to win an NBA championship. But against conventional wisdom, the Pacers actually do sport a Big Three of their own, one that can be good enough to carry them through the playoffs as long as the rest of the pieces fall into place.


Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

*All statistics current as of March 25 and from and, unless otherwise noted.