Who Will Be the Indiana Pacers' Playoff X-Factor?

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Who Will Be the Indiana Pacers' Playoff X-Factor?
John Raoux
Lance Stephenson and Paul George have had little to laugh about lately.

It's anybody's guess as to who will be the Indiana Pacers' X-factor in the 2013-14 NBA playoffs. 

Roy Hibbert, the once Great Wall of Hibbert who has crumbled, first comes to mind. Remember the Roy Hibbert of the 2013 postseason?

That's the kind of performance we need from him. He's been anything but that lately.   

The X-factor could possibly turn out to be Evan Turner, Indy's latest acquisition who has been a disappointment for the most part. 

How about Lance Stephenson? Hometown hero George Hill? Luis Scola

Anybody? Somebody?

The Indiana Pacers are in dire need of someone to give the team a lift. Paul George's 24 points and 10 rebounds were not enough to prevent Indy from collapsing against an inspired Atlanta Hawks team in Game 1 last Saturday. 

The eighth-seeded, 38-win Atlanta Hawks.

Flashback to 2000: This was the year the Pacers made the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. In that series, reserve forward Austin Croshere came to life, averaging 15.2 points and six rebounds. 

It wouldn't hurt at all if a new X-factor makes an emphatic statement 14 years later.

 

The Backcourt

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds versus the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1. Video courtesy of Gntirety Season Highlights.

Just who among the Pacers' guards have what it takes to be this missing X-factor?

Rasual Butler? Nope. Butler's been dependable coming off the bench, but it's hard to fathom Pacers head coach Frank Vogel utilizing him during crunch time. 

Donald Sloan? His playmaking skills are decent, but his shooting is far too erratic. 

George Hill? This guy has tailed off in the latter part of the season. Even though he scored 12 points against the Hawks on Saturday, he just couldn't contain Hawks point guard Jeff Teague

Hill is capable of putting up big numbers, but his playmaking skills have eroded this year. He is also is not a dependable free-throw shooter when the game is on the line (remember the two free throws he botched against the Heat on March 26?). 

On the other hand, C.J. Watson is a solid candidate. Whenever he plays well, the Pacers always seem to feed off his energy. Indy has never been a solid offensive club under the Vogel regime. When Watson sat out for a month due to elbow and hamstring injuries, that issue was magnified even more. 

Okay, how about Evan Turner (who plays both the 2 and 3 spots)? Can he possibly be that X-factor? 

He got off to a decent start in Game 1 against Atlanta, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists. Based on his career playoff numbers, he can contribute although his field-goal shooting leaves much to be desired. In addition, Turner has been anything but consistent since the Danny Granger trade. Inconsistency in the playoffs is a disaster waiting to happen. 

This leaves us with Lance Stephenson as the final candidate. Stephenson's rise has been pretty much under the radar what with the recent turmoil surrounding the team. However, he's been their most consistent and versatile performer this season. If you think about it, he had a solid playoff stint in 2012-13, his first year as a starter. 

Given his performance in 2013-14, that trend ought to continue in this year's playoffs. Stephenson's more well-rounded offense, above-average passing skills and energy are precisely the things that this collapsing Pacers squad needs. He also plays on a lot of emotion, just like Reggie Miller. Players easily feed off on somebody who can give the team a much-needed lift. 

This Pacers X-factor from the backcourt should evoke memories of Travis Best. Best was not a big name player, but he was not afraid to take that big shot at the end of the game.

Among all the names we rattled off, it's Lance Stephenson's that stands out.   

 

The Frontcourt

Paul George had 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series. Video courtesy of Dawkins.

As for the Indiana Pacers frontcourt, who is up to the task?

Lavoy Allen figures to be stuck at the end of Indy's bench in the postseason.

Ian Mahinmi continues to play his guts out as Hibbert's backup. In spite of his improved play, he is not the type of player who can blossom into a playoff X-factor. 

As far as Luis Scola is concerned, he can still deliver the goods off the bench. However, he also has had a tendency to disappear during stretches.

Pacers fans have been clamoring for more of Chris Copeland. Who can blame them? He provides instant offense off the bench and can space the floor accordingly. Copeland is a suitable option at the 3 spot in case Turner (who is a worse defender) isn't producing. However, it's anybody's guess if Vogel will play Copeland more.

Until that time comes, we will all be left wondering what could have been had Copeland taken the court more often.   

How about Roy Hibbert? Getting blocked by Kyle Korver and shooting a corner three with 10 seconds left on the shot clock in Game 1 against Atlanta ought to give you an idea of how far he has regressed. 

This is possibly the worst stretch of Hibbert's career, and it couldn't have come at a worse possible time. If he can somehowsome waymiraculously turn things around and be the Great Wall of Hibbert of the 2013 playoffs, great things will happen for Indy. 

Who is the Indiana Pacers' Playoff X-factor?

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David West didn't get off to a good start with his eight-point performance (on 4-of-10 shooting) versus the Hawks on Saturday. He's somebody who's usually hard on himself if he plays poorly, so count on things to get better. 

Franchise player Paul George showed why he's a great two-way player in Game 1 (24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks). He's the focal points of the Pacers offense, so this trend will continue. 

Indiana's history of frontcourt X-factors includes the likes of Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Antonio Davis. Derrick McKey also made his presence felt with solid defense despite not scoring much.

That being said, this season's X-factor does not have to produce an otherworldly stat line to make a difference.

However, given the various predicaments surrounding Indy's frontcourt, the edge would have to go to George, who is out to prove he's the franchise player he is.  

 

The Parting Shot

TNT analyst Charles Barkley calls the Pacers "wussies." Video courtesy of backone.

Okay, so we now have Lance Stephenson and Paul George as the final candiates to be Indiana's X-factor. 

Who gets the nod?

Paul George. 

Pacers.com's Manny Randhawa sums it up best in his April 21 update

After getting treatment for his quad contusion, George was just 1-of-8 from the field, but that was when the Pacers faced a late double-digit deficit and their star had to try to create something offensively with a 1-0 series deficit looming.

But prior to that, he was 5-of-10 shooting, creating offense off the dribble and hitting two of four three-point attempts. He also finished with 10 rebounds, giving him a double-double, along with five assists. 

George's aggressiveness on offense is important for a team that can only hope for some semblance of a league-average offensive attack in these playoffs if they are to advance as deep as they did last year. 

Even if both Stephenson and George played relatively well against the Hawks in Game 1, it was a collective effort that showed below-average execution and defense which really did them in. 

Unless Indiana manages gets to get its swagger back on both ends of the floor, the Pacers will remain wussies (per Sir Charles Barkley) and everything else that Paul George does will all go for naught. 

Paul George is the Indiana Pacers' X-factor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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