Number 31 was still in the starting lineup the last time I was this excited for an Indiana Pacers team.
Expectations are high in Indiana this year. A strong post-season performance last year against the Bulls, even if it didn't result in many wins, has fueled Pacer fans' devotion to the 2011-2012 bunch.
The draft night acquisition of George Hill, the signing of David West and the strange growth spurt of Paul George have all added to the excitement.
Although the Pacers have 15 players on their roster according to the team's website, I have ranked the top 12.
Out of those 12 players, who is the most valuable to the Pacers in their quest for a higher playoff seed and perhaps a post-season run? This isn't necessarily the best player, or Danny Granger and David West would likely be first and second. It is instead the value the player has to the teams chances of succeeding.
Here is a ranking of the value of each player to the team's chances.
PPG –6.5, RPG –1.4, BPG –0.02, APG –2.2, FG% -.356, SPG –0.58
I am in the minority here, but I am going to miss A.J. Price getting significant playing time.
I realize his shooting percentage is awful, and he had a tendency to throw up bad shots with about 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock, but I like Price.
A.J. came in the same draft as Hansbrough and played a lot more and played better than pretty much any Pacers fan expected. I like his toughness and fearlessness, which goes back to watching him play at UConn.
With Darren Collison, George Hill and Lance Stephenson on the team, I doubt A.J. Price will see the floor too much this season.
If he does, I guarantee he will be ready to shoot.
PPG –3.1, RPG –1.5, BPG –0 APG –1.8, FG% -.333, SPG –0.33
Larry Bird has been high on Lance Stephenson since he arrived in Indianapolis last year. Bird told a reporter last year, and I am paraphrasing, that Stephenson was the most talented player on the Pacers team.
Lance didn't get a chance to show that much last year. He had some off the court troubles and found himself in Jim O'Brien's doghouse a time or two.
Now, with Frank Vogel running the show, Stephenson is getting some playing time. Already, in the season opener, he made a couple really nice drives and dishes.
Stephenson was highly regarded coming out of high school and had an up and down freshman season at Cincinnati. The talent is obviously there, so it is the mental aspect that Stephenson must grasp.
If he can continue to make the pass when it is there, his scoring opportunities will open up as well. He could be a very dangerous player if he puts it together.
PPG –6.3, RPG –1.9, BPG –0.16, APG –0.7, FG% -.467, SPG –0.44
Dahntay Jones has been a real enigma in a Pacers uniform. He has games where he looks like a 20-point-a-game scorer, and some games where he looks like he couldn't out-shoot Jeff Foster.
Jones has a reputation as a defensive stopper, and that is something the Pacers are focusing more on this year.
I would be surprised if Dahntay Jones played a whole lot this year because of the emergence of Paul George, but when playing some of the top teams, he may be called on more than usual to guard the opposing superstar.
PPG –4.3, RPG –4.0, BPG –0.7, APG –0.4, FG% - .454, SPG –0.3
Brandon Rush is gone from Indiana. Rush was sent to Golden State for Lou Amundson.
Amundson is a hustling, scrappy power forward type, much like Jeff Foster or Tyler Hansbrough. Watching Amundson play is not always pretty, but he has a tendency to get the job done.
With this current crop of Pacers, led by guys like Foster and Hansbrough, Amundson should fit in very nicely.
PPG –3.3, RPG –6.3, BPG –0.55, APG –0.8 FG% -.479, SPG –0.43
The Knicks almost stole him away. Instead, Jeff Foster is back in a Pacers uniform, the only uniform he has ever worn.
Foster, already a fan favorite in Indianapolis, endeared himself to Pacers fans even more during the playoffs last year. Foster was not hesitant to go in and foul Derrick Rose, or any other Bull who was driving down the lane.
The Pacers know what they get with Foster. He is tough as nails and will do whatever the team needs. Foster will never score much, but he is a solid rebounder, especially on the offensive end.
It will be nice to hear the cheers for #10 at home, and the boos on the road.
PPG –11.0, RPG –5.2, BPG –0.21, APG –0.6, FG% -.465, SPG –0.53
Somehow one of my least favorite college basketball players of all time has become my favorite NBA player. I love watching Tyler Hansbrough play.
Tyler Hansbrough proved in the playoffs last season that he can perform against the best teams in the NBA.
I fully expect Hansbrough to still see a lot of playing time, even with David West in the lineup. Hansbrough just provides too much of a spark and is playing too well to keep him on the bench.
Psycho T averaged only 11.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg last year, but those averages will probably go up. I would not be surprised one bit if Hansbrough is in the running for either Most Improved Player, or Sixth Man of the Year Award at the end of the year.
PPG –11.6, RPG –2.6, BPG –0.3, APG –2.5, FG% -.453, SPG –0.9, A/T – 2.1
Indianapolis's son returns home to play for the Pacers. George Hill, the IUPUI product, is now the back up point guard for the Pacers.
The Pacers acquired Hill on a draft night trade with the Spurs. This was a guy that Larry Bird had attempted to acquire before and finally got.
Hill was sneaky good for San Antonio the last two years and will be an excellent backup for Darren Collison. Frank Vogel has been pretty consistent with his point guard rotation, so Hill will get plenty of minutes.
I would like to see Vogel play Collison and Hill at the same time at certain points and see Hill attack the rim. Hill could be one of the better under the radar pickups of the offseason.
PPG – 13.2, RPG –2.8, BPG –.18, APG –5.1, FG% -.457, SPG – 1.10 A/T -2.1
The numbers were not terrible last year for Darren Collison, but he was looked at by some as a minor disappointment.
Collison was supposed to be the Pacers point guard of the future when he was acquired from New Orleans last offseason. Collison still had games where he looked great, but other times it was hard to argue that he was even a top-15 point guard.
Collison should be a little better this year. It is his second year with the Pacers and he is reunited with David West.
George Hill being the backup also gives Collison from extra motivation to preform at a high level. I expect some improvement from Collison this year. He should show if he is truly a point guard who can lead a contending team or not.
PPG –18.9, RPG –7.6, BPG –0.9, APG –2.3, FG% -.508, SPG –1.0
The Pacers made a splash a couple weeks ago by acquiring David West. West received some heat from Ray Allen for signing with the Pacers instead of Boston, but West responded nicely and seems happy in Indiana.
West had some knee problems last year, but the former all-star looked really good Monday night considering it was his first game back since knee surgery.
West is the rebounder and inside scorer that has always been lacking since Danny Granger has been the man in Indiana. Roy Hibbert can score inside, but West can step out and knock down the 15-18 foot jump shot.
Pacers fans are excited to have West in Indiana for at least two years. If West shows no lingering knee issues and the Pacers become a top five team in the East, he may want to stay a little longer.
PPG –7.8, RPG –3.7, BPG –0.43, APG –1.1, FG% -.453 SPG –1.02
Paul George is the starting shooting guard for the Pacers. The youngster from Fresno State has limitless talent.
George apparently grew two inches in the offseason and is now 6'10 instead of 6'8. This growth spurt was national news, even PTI talked about it.
What George does with his extra height remains to be seen. The Pacers must be pretty confident in George's ability to turn the shooting guard position over to him and send Brandon Rush to "The City".
Paul George could be the next great Pacer if he starts to mature and use his considerable talents. While George's emergence is a big question around the Pacers this year, it may be the biggest issue going forward for the next five years.
George could be a franchise player. What he does in his second season remains to be seen.
PPG – 20.5, RPG – 5.4, BPG – .78, APG –2.6, FG% -.425, SPG –1.13
Danny Granger no longer has to do everything for the Pacers. Granger will likely lead the Pacers in scoring again, but he doesn't have to score 25 a night for a win.
Granger has shown a lack of trust in teammates in the past, but that seems to be just that: the past. Granger had a couple nice looks in the opening game in situations where he likely would have shot last year.
The scouting report on Granger has always been that he could be a important piece of a championship team, just not the superstar. I don't know if that is true or not, but we will find out this season how Granger performs when he has some legitimate players around him.
As always, Granger will be critical to the Pacers hopes of competing this year, but he doesn't have quite as much weight on his shoulders as he has had in the past.
Time to be a leader Danny, not just a leading scorer.
PPG – 12.7, RPG – 7.5, BPG –1.75, APG –2.0, FG% -.461, SPG – 0.41
With David West, Paul George and Danny Granger on the team, it may seem strange for me to rank Roy Hibbert as the most important Pacer to their season.
Hibbert had a roller coaster season last year. He didn't seem to get along with Jim O'Brien and got in foul trouble at times, but when he was on, Hibbert was a top 10 center in the NBA.
Hibbert worked hard during the lockout to stay in shape and looked really good against Detroit.
The center position isn't what it used to be in the NBA. With strong power forward play by West and Hansbrough, it is possible that Hibbert could be a top five center.
If Big Roy can stay out of foul trouble, avoid a week or two of bad games and can continue to improve his post game, Hibbert could be the MVP of the Pacers and the anchor of a top four team in the East.