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Competition Discussion: Indiana Pacers

The season is still not here, 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, we're going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next couple months or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Indiana.  Jump to the comments to discuss the Pacers and make a prediction on their record.        

Previously: AtlantaBostonCharlotte, ChicagoClevelandDetroit.

Last year's record: 32-50 (Pythagorean record: 33-49)
Playoffs: None

Offensive Rating: 103.7 (26th)
Defensive Rating: 106.8 (14th)
Pace: 97.1 possessions/game (2nd)

In: Darren Collison, James Posey, Paul George, Lance Stephenson
Out: Troy Murphy, Earl Watson, Luther Head, Travis Diener

Projected starting lineup: Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Roy Hibbert

Five big questions:

  • How good will Darren Collison be now that the league has learned how to play him?
  • Can Danny Granger bounce back a bit from an injury-plagued year and regain his 2008/09 level?
  • Roy Hibbert's received a lot of positive press this summer - will it pay off?
  • Where will Paul George fit in?
  • Will Lance Stephenson's and Brandon Rush's legal troubles derail Larry Bird's culture rebuild?

Every word of what Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports wrote about the Indiana Pacers on September 1 in the wake of the news that Brandon Rush flunked three marijuana tests in the middle of the season is true. Every. Single. Word. Larry Bird has been a failure as the team's GM, and the team has nobody to blame but themselves for its struggles since 2004. 

But despite all that, I'm actually kind of bullish on the Pacers this year, for a couple reasons.  One is that Danny Granger is back healthy.  He missed 20 games last year, and he's usually a durable guy.  A full 82-game season from Granger should improve things.

More importantly, I love the Darren Collison trade for them.  One of Indiana's biggest weaknesses all year last year was point guard play.  TJ Ford is horrendous, and Earl Watson is barely replacement-level.  AJ Price gave them a bit of a lift late in the year, but he's not a long-term player there.  Collison, on the other hand, was outstanding as a rookie, and possesses a unique game that prompted Dwight Howard to say that he's his toughest guard matchup on pick and rolls.  The upgrade from the pu-pu platter from last year to Collison is immense.  Consider that Indiana played at the league's second-fastest pace, despite being a pitiful offensive team last year.  With Collison, they can play at that pace and be better.  That's huge.

Finally, I believe in Roy Hibbert, and I think this is the year he makes a leap to being a competent center.  He's been training with Bill Walton this summer (why couldn't JaVale do that?), and I think that'll be a big boost to him as he learns how to cut down on his fouls and stay consistent.  If he emerges, suddenly the Pacers can run some real offensive sets in the halfcourt.  They can run Granger off baseline screens, use Collison in pick and rolls and play through Hibbert in either the high or low post.  That kind of offensive diversity will make it so they don't need to rely on run and shoot as much.

The loss of Troy Murphy stings a bit, but I don't think it's that huge of a deal.  Murphy was an underrated performer, but he also personified the run-and-shoot game. He made a living off grabbing the defensive rebound and lagging back as the trailer to shoot threes, so I'm not sure he'd succeed with a more conventional team.  Without him, Josh McRoberts (don't laugh) may finally get a chance to show his underrated game, and Mike Dunleavy may finally be able to rebound from two tough seasons.  In 2007-08, Dunleavy had a career year, mostly by playing in small-ball sets.  Without Murphy, and with little power forward depth, those sets can return again this year.  

I won't predict playoffs, but I think it's Indiana that ends up being the last team in the East on the outside looking in.  Tangential improvement, to be sure, but it's still improvement.  

Prediction: 37-45, ninth in the East.

BF editor predictions:

Team Mike Prada CJ Hempfeld Sean Fagan Rook6980 Jon Kelman Jake Whitacre
Atlanta 45-37 44-38 44-38 46-36 48-34 43-39
Boston 51-31 51-31 48-34 42-40 50-32 60-22
Charlotte 44-38 38-44 38-44 44-38 41-41 38-44
Chicago 49-33 46-36 46-36 46-36 50-32 49-33
Cleveland 27-55 24-58 25-57 23-59 24-58 16-66
Detroit 24-58 24-58 30-52 24-58 25-57 33-49
Golden State
Indiana 37-45 39-43 35-47 36-46 30-52 32-50
LA Clippers
LA Lakers
New Jersey
New Orleans
New York
Oklahoma City
San Antonio