The Pacers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009-10. Fans of the team might not recognize Indiana this season as it plans to change tempo. The Pacers have a wins total of 40.5 on BetOnline's NBA odds with both options at -115.
Frankly, Indiana's season ended last August, well before the team even was thinking about training camp. That's because forward Paul George, easily the team's best player and a Top-10 overall guy, suffered a horrific-looking broken leg during a scrimmage with USA Basketball. George went up for a block in the fourth quarter of the scrimmage in Las Vegas and as he came down his right foot landed awkwardly on the stanchion that supports the basket, snapping his lower leg. It was the NBA's Joe Theismann moment, although obviously not an NBA game.
Indiana had won an Eastern Conference-best 56 games in 2013-14 with a healthy George and reached the Eastern Conference Finals for a second straight season -- and again losing to the Miami Heat. But without George, last season was lost before it started. It wasn't expected that George would play at all, but he did return in early April as the Pacers tried to make a late push for the playoffs. George was rusty but looked pretty decent overall, averaging 8.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per night over six games. More important, he had not setbacks and should be 100 percent for this season.
The Pacers finished 38-44, losing a tiebreaker with Brooklyn for the East's final playoff spot. They were 42-37-3 against the spread on NBA odds and 45-36-1 'over/under.'
Let's Speed It Up
Not too long ago, Pacers boss Larry Bird said he could never see his team playing up-tempo basketball. When Indiana reached those consecutive East Finals, it did so with defense and slowing the pace. But the NBA is changing and so will the Pacers this season as Bird has promised a dramatic shift in style.
Clearly Bird wasn't kidding because he traded center Roy Hibbert to the Lakers in exchange for a future second-round pick. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert remains a defensive game-changer, but he also clogs up the lane completely and wouldn't fit at all with a team that wants to play faster. The two-time All-Star averaged 10.6 points per game and led the team with 7.1 rebounds per game. The Pacers also said goodbye to David West, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson.
The big acquisition was the free-agent signing of guard Monta Ellis, who got a four-year, $44 million deal. He turned down a bit more from the Sacramento Kings. Ellis wanted to play with George and also close to his wife's hometown of Memphis, which is about a 4.5-hour drive from Indianapolis. Ellis averaged 18.9 points last season to become the first player other than Dirk Nowitzki to lead the Mavericks in scoring since 1999-2000. Indiana also added big man Jordan Hill and drafted Texas' Myles Turner in the first round. Second-round rookie Joseph Young (Oregon) looked terrific in the Summer League, averaging 22.5 points.
So the Indiana Pacers are looking at a starting five of George Hill at the point, Ellis at shooting guard, C.J. Miles at George's usual small forward spot, George at power forward and Ian Mahinmi at center until Turner is ready to play big minutes. Turner will lead the reserves along with Hill and guard Rodney Stuckey.
George isn't thrilled with moving to power forward but that's the plan for now.
"I don't know if I'm cut out for a 4 spot. Defensively, it's rough," George said. “It’s just being outmatched strength-wise with guys at the 4 spot is really the only concern."
Coach Frank Vogel recently said that starting George at 4 will be more situational and dependent on who Indiana plays on a given night. But the Pacers' thinking is that a smaller lineup means a faster team, which should mean George will get more easy looks in transition. And few players can finish like he does. In the half-court offense, George should be able to beat those bigger, slower power forwards off the dribble and get to the basket. It has been four years since Indiana ranked higher than No. 20 in offensive rating.
NBA Picks: According to real plus-minus, Indiana projects to win in the low 40s and reach the Eastern Conference playoffs. This team isn't a threat to win the Central Division (+2200) or the East (+2500). I'd go slightly 'over' the 40.5 wins with my NBA picks at BetOnline but the ceiling is probably 45.