The Indiana Pacers have been through their fair share of ups and downs since 2013. The 2012-2013 team made it all the way to game seven of the Conference Finals, and they almost beat the eventual champions: LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Next year they started off as good as anyone, going 46-13, but then faded at the end of the year by going 10-13 in their last 23 games. The Heat beat them in the playoffs pretty easily. In the following offseason Indiana lost Paul George to injury for nearly the whole season. Indiana also lost Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets. The 2014-2015 season went as expected for Indiana, missing the playoffs. The highlight was Paul George coming back at the end of the season to lead the Pacers to 6-1 in their last seven games. But another low occured this offseason when Indiana lost David West and Roy Hibbert.
Between Stephenson, West, and Hibbert, these are three starters gone from those great Pacer teams. Not to mention Danny Granger, who provided integral veteran leadership. Who is replacing them? The Pacers biggest acquisition is Monta Ellis, an elite offensive guard who averaged 18.9 points per game last year. Chase Budinger is a bit of a mystery, he has struggled to stay healthy the last few years, but he is a solid bench player who can shoot. The big men they acquired are both suited for a small-ball style of play. Myles Turner is a bright rookie from Texas who looked good in the summer league. Turner averaged 18.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game there. Jordan Hill is intriguing. He averaged a respectable 12 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes per game for a bad team, but can he contribute to a winning effort the same way he contributed to a losing one?
So why are the Pacers the NBA’s biggest mystery? The Pacers are changing their identity. Not only have their personel changed, but their entire style of play will be new. Indiana is making the transition from being one of the most traditional, big, and grinding teams, to being a modern, small, fast break team. Leading the effort is a franchise player that missed almost all of last year in Paul George. Their second best player, Monta Ellis is a bit of a risk. He was great with Dallas, but he is still a defensive liability for the amount of risks he takes attempting for steals, thusly leaving his man open when he misses the steal. He is already undersized, and he also has to learn Frank Vogel’s system. George Hill played excellent last year, finishing with a PER of 20, but was that because of getting more plays run for him without Paul George? Or was it actual development? Will Solomon Hill’s offensive game catch up to his good defense? Solomon Hill made the Pacers 9.6 points per 100 possessions worse while on the court, and he shot a dismal 39.6% from the field. Can ball dominant players like Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles play with Paul George effectively? There are many questions to be asked, and they will be answered this season and maybe this postseason.