After all, this is a team which struggled mightily on offense (24th, 96.7 points per game) and in distributing in 2013-14 (27th, 20.1 assists per game). To compound Indy's woes, versatile Lance Stephenson (13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG) signed with the Charlotte Hornets on July 18.
As if these weren't enough, savvy veteran David West sprained his ankle against the Dallas Mavericks during a preseason game on Oct. 18. According to Fox 59's Larry Hawley, the timetable for West's recovery is still unknown.
However, there's hope. Although West is ruled out for the remainder of the preseason, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told 1070 The Fan's Conrad Brunner on Oct. 20 that his prized power forward should be back sooner than later.
Vogel said: "Nothing major. It's just a sprained ankle—a good sprain, though, a pretty good sprain. It's going to be a setback but we've got to overcome it and we've got guys playing those minutes that are capable of getting the job done and that's what's going to be asked of them."
With this, Argentinian power forward Luis Scola remained optimistic about Indy's chances in the aftermath of West's injury, per Pacers.com's Mark Montieth:
I think we have a good group of players. I think we can be a very good team. I think we can be as good defensively as we were last year and we can be a little better offensively. As good as we were as a team last year, we weren't really a good offensive team. We were ranked 22nd (27th in scoring). I think there's a chance to be a very good team. I believe that.
While Scola foresees a sunny outlook for the Pacers in 2014-15, it will be difficult—if not impossible—for them to duplicate their 56-26 win-loss record and another Eastern Conference Finals stint considering the circumstances.
This was a team that went just 16-14 after the 2014 All-Star break, almost got eliminated by an upstart 38-44 Atlanta Hawks squad in the first round of the playoffs and endured two zero-point, zero-rebound performances from two-time All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the postseason.
Despite the Pacers showing some life as the 2013-14 playoffs wore on behind George, any hope of erasing the stigma of their infamous post-All-Star break debacle will be a daunting task. However, if unheralded players such as Solomon Hill and Chris Copeland rise to the occasion, Indiana can pull off a few surprises this season.
Biggest Question Mark
Just how the Indiana Pacers will perform in 2014-15 without Paul George is their biggest question mark.
For starters, Indy is 11-14 (.440) in the 25 games George has missed since his rookie year in 2010-11, per NBA.com/Stats. The team will miss a two-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA Third Team member, an NBA All-Defensive First Team member and the league's Most Improved Player in 2013.
When George broke his tibia and fibula during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas on Aug. 1, the prognosis seemed bleak. However, barely three months after the mishap, he was filmed shooting jumpers after a Pacers practice on Oct. 20. ESPN reported George said recently that "he plans to play at some point during this NBA season."
If he's shooting jumpers that soon after suffering what was arguably the most gruesome basketball injury ever (right up there with Kevin Ware's), Pacers fans have reason to hope. PG-13's return can't come soon enough. If he does join the team at some point where it is contending for a playoff spot, then Indy will no doubt make a strong push for it.
Just how lethal he will be is anybody's guess. Danny Granger's prolonged absence after a jumpers' knee injury in 2012-13 along with his age (31) were contributing factors to why he averaged just 8.3 points and shot just 35.9 percent in 29 games with the Pacers last season. As for George, he's just 24 years old. His work ethic is also unquestioned, so there's reason for Indy's fans to be optimistic.
Another question mark is how the Pacers point guards will perform. George Hill (who's more of a combo guard) has done as much as possible in the past two seasons as the starter. However, the lack of a playmaking point guard was a clear factor in why Indy was one of he league's cellar dwellers in assists.
No less than Pacers president Larry Bird told the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner in January that "turnovers will be their downfall" and "guys dribble too much"—a clear indication of a lack of cohesion on offense. This is something a pure point guard and better ball movement could have resolved. Instead, Bird is sticking to the trio of Hill, C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan to man the point this season.
It will be interesting to see how this gamble pays off.
Lastly, there is the Pacers bench—or lack thereof. It was almost as bad as it was two seasons ago when it averaged just 24.1 points per game (29th in the NBA), per HoopsStats.com. Indiana wasn't much better last season with its 25.0 PPG average. There's no question the Pacers need to get production from as many players as possible in George's absence.
Without George and Stephenson, the Indiana Pacers starting five gets a major face-lift in the 2014-15 NBA season.
George Hill will be the unquestioned starter at point guard. His offense regressed from two seasons ago (14.2 PPG to 10.3 PPG), but this can be attributed to George taking on a more significant load on offense. Hill will need to be more assertive on offense without PG-13 if the Pacers are to vie for a playoff spot.
What's more is Hill must work on his assists numbers (4.7 APG in 2012-13 to 3.5 APG in 2013-14) in spite of the fact that he is really a shooting guard in a point guard's body, because the Pacers have no bona fide playmaker at the 1-spot.
Shooting guard is a tossup between newcomers C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey—two players who have contrasting styles on offense. Miles is more of a spot-up shooter while Stuckey is a shot-creator and penetrator. The latter is the closest thing the Pacers have resembling Lance Stephenson's energy level, so he's better suited to give the second unit the spark it so desperately needs.
Just who will be the next man up at small forward in PG-13's absence? Solomon Hill or Miles could be that guy. However, Hill is still an unproven commodity. Miles is a hard-nosed, 10-year veteran who can deliver, but the Pacers should look at starting fan-favorite Chris Copeland, who never got ample opportunity to prove himself in his first year in Indiana.
Last season, good things happened when Copeland took the court (such as his last-second layup in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks in April). Montieth reported on Oct. 19 that Copeland "lost about 20 pounds" and is a candidate to play at small forward this season. If his 22 points in an Oct. 18 preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks are any indication, he just might get the nod.
Veteran David West is a lock to be Indy's starter at the 4-spot. It's unfortunate he suffered an injury during the game against the Mavericks, but he should be back sooner than later, as Vogel pointed out, per Montieth. West has played his guts out in his three-year stint with the Pacers, and that trend should not only continue, it should also rub off on his younger teammates.
And then there is Roy Hibbert at center. Just which Roy Hibbert will show up this season is a question many in Indianapolis beg to have answered. In 2012-13, he got off to a very slow start before finishing the season strongly (22.1 PPG, 10.4 RPG and 1.0 BPG against the Miami Heat in the 2012-13 ECF).
A year later, it was the exact opposite. Hibbert dominated on the defensive end to start off 2013-14 and then tailed off after his second All-Star Game appearance (those two zero-point, zero-rebound games in the playoffs, for instance).
Let's hope he plays like the "The Great Wall of Hibbert" he should be.
Twenty-three-year-old Solomon Hill leads the pack for Indy. Although a lack of opportunities were what led him to average just 1.7 points per game last season, he should be able to come through when given the chance.
In an Oct. 21 update, Montieth predicted that Hill will be part of Indy's 10-man rotation during the regular season:
Vogel plans to go with a 10-man rotation in the regular season, hoping that balance and depth can help make up for the loss of George and Lance Stephenson. Rudez will likely not be a part of that rotation unless an injury creates an opening, but Hill likely will be. His defense and all-around skill set should be enough to buy him playing time. Should he start hitting shots with any regularity, all the better.
If Hill can contribute 8-10 points per game with much-needed defensive intensity every night, it should go a long way in serving notice that he is becoming a valuable contributor to Indiana's cause.
Although Damjan Rudez (a 28-year-old Croatian nicknamed "Damo") is not exactly young by NBA standards, he is still in his first year in the league, so he has a lot to learn. The Pacers have had a fair amount of success (Rik Smits, Detlef Schrempf) and failure (Primoz Brezec, Sarunas Jasikevicius) with European players, so the Indy fanbase is hoping the trend will swing more toward the former with Rudez on board.
Rudez, who has shot a paltry three of 19 from the three-point arc entering the Oct. 21 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, has had a rough start in the preseason. However, he told Montieth he will stop at nothing in order to get better:
I had an open mind coming here. Just ready to soak it all in and learn every day. So far it's been a work in progress. I'm learning something new and getting adjusted. It's not easy. For sure, it's not easy. Everybody is so quick and everybody jumps high and everybody runs fast and everybody is strong, so for sure it's something I have to get accustomed to.
There's not much science to it. I'm going to keep working on my shot like crazy and just keep believing it and keep shooting.
Other youngsters worthy of mention are power forward/centers Lavoy Allen and Shayne Whittington. Both move well around the basket and can stick the medium-range jumper. Whittington, though, has three-point range, which bodes well for him as a potential stretch 5 a la Sam "Big Smooth" Perkins.
Team Award Predictions
Next Man Up Award: This goes to Chris Copeland, who, mercifully, will get his fair share of playing time in 2014-15. He will average 17 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the three-point arc. Should Vogel decide Copeland will come off the bench, he will be a serious contender for the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Best Newcomer of the Year Award: Stuckey will get the nod here. Look for him to average anywhere between 12-15 points per game for the Pacers.
Unheralded Player of the Year Award: Donald Sloan. In the absence of a true playmaking point guard, he will be no savior. However, he has proven he can lead the offense when need be. He will come through in those games where C.J. Watson and/or George Hill struggle at the point.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert has always been the cornerstone of Indy's defense, and this season will be no different. If only he would be more consistent on offense, though.
Biggest Disappointment: Luis Scola. He was inconsistent in his first full year off the bench in 2013-14 (a career 50 percent shooter, he shot a woeful 37 percent in February, for instance). He will have his moments this season, although he will continue to decline in production.
Seeing Scola struggle while Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee flourish with the Phoenix Suns must be painful for Pacers fans. But then again, both players (especially Green) were never good fits in Indiana's system.
When Dust Settles...
At best, the Indiana Pacers will finish with a 44-38 record in the 2014-15 NBA season. In this scenario, they will be the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, their postseason stint will be short-lived, as they will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in five or six games.
At worst, Indy will win just 37 games and will be eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of Oct. 22 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.