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Competition Discussion: Indiana Pacers

The season is still a few weeks away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Indiana.

Last year's record: 36-46

In: T.J. Ford, Roy Hibbert, Jarret Jack, Brandon Rush, Rasho Nesterovic, Eddie Jones
Out: Jermaine O'Neal, Kareem Rush, Flip Murray, Shawne Williams, Ike Diogu, David Harrison, Jamaal Tinsley (any day now)

Projected starting lineup: T.J. Ford, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Rasho Nesterovic (I'm reaching, I honestly don't know)

Key themes:

  • Can a malcontent in Toronto be the orchestrator of Jim O'Brien's up-tempo offense?
  • What must Danny Granger do to take the next step?
  • Are they going to miss Jermaine O'Neal in any way?
  • Can Mike Dunleavy possibly be as good as he was last year?
  • Will Jamaal Tinsley ever get traded?
  • Will the guys acquired on draft day (Hibbert, Jack, Rush, Nesterovic, etc) make up for trading away Jerryd Bayless?
  • Who scores in the paint? 

Indiana's one of those teams I've moved up in recent days in the wake of all of our injuries.  I already felt they were underrated for this year, mostly because Jim O'Brien is a great coach and T.J. Ford has this funny way of leading his teams to the playoffs in his first year with them (see 03/04 Bucks, 06/07 Raptors).  Also, considering how much his play had declined in recent years, Toronto got a king's ransom for Jermaine O'Neal, parlaying him into a very good player (Ford), 10 million dollars in expiring contracts (Nesterovic, who was actually pretty good last year, and Maceo Baston) and a promising young guy in Roy Hibbert.  I hesitate to say they "won" the deal, but they got a lot more than they probably should have.

This is a team tailor-made for Ford's style.  There are no post-up bigs to steal from his surprisingly-effective chucking, a coach who loves playing fast and encourages quick shots, and two wings who play just about the same way.  Plus, with O'Brien and several decent interior defenders (Jeff Foster, Nesterovic, potentially Hibbert), they'll play decent enough defense.  There's also a ton of depth in Foster, Jack, Rush, Hibbert, Marquis Daniels and Travis Diener behind the starters. 

The only thing I worry about that could derail modest success is the shooting guard position.  Last year, completely out of nowhere, Mike Dunleavy had an awesome year, but he did that playing small forward most of the time.  Unless Rush or Daniels emerges, Dunleavy may have to play a lot of shooting guard, where he'll get abused defensively and see that his perimeter skills become more ordinary.  If he has to play a lot at the 2, Dunleavy's production is going to fall.

But improvement from Granger and the addition of Ford should make up for anything Dunleavy loses.  Indiana was a 36-win team a year ago without Jermaine O'Neal for much of the itme and they got better by adding Ford.  That makes them a low-end playoff team, particularly now that we're struggling with so many injuries.

Prediction: 40-42, 3rd in Central, seventh in East (was eighth until Haywood's injury)

Previously (predictions are me/Jake/Truth)...