Best defense in the league will only get the Pacers so far next season…
With Paul George ruled out for the season and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, what does both the immediate and long-term future hold for the Indiana Pacers?
Despite the disappointment of how last season ended, the Pacers had solid grounds to be optimistic about their future as they continued to establish themselves as perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The loss of Lance Stephenson was undoubtedly a blow in itself given the 23-year-old’s development over the last two years, but ultimately, there was still a sense of content with how the franchise was building as their rivals made changes this off-season.
The Miami Heat no longer have the best player in the league at their disposal, but the Cleveland Cavaliers will need time to settle and ensure that a roster crowded with young talent is able to work with LeBron James.
Elsewhere, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are likely to be set for another inconsistent season, while the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors are still emerging and need playoff experience to be considered legitimate contenders.
That left Indiana in a strong position, arguably alongside the Chicago Bulls, however, all that changed last Friday night when George sustained a broken leg after an unfortunate collision with the basket stanchion.
Now the question is whether or not the Pacers can withstand the loss of their two best offensive players, albeit for a year in the case of George, but such is the potential knock-on effect, it could have bigger implications for the franchise moving forward.
With the best defense in the league last season after allowing just 96.7 points per 100 possessions over the course of the regular season, the Pacers understand and apply the fundamentals of the game and have an identity.
However, without two of their main scoring sources next year, they will need more than just defense to not only ensure that they remain in the race for the playoffs, but to then push on as scoring will become even more vital if they successfully reach the post-season.
Whether or not Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill are capable of stepping up and sharing that responsibility remains to be seen, but with speculation over Hibbert’s future this summer, if the offer is appealing enough then the roster could well be shaken up a little further.
The Pacers center established himself as a dominant force on the defensive end last season with his rim protection in particular drawing high praise, but his struggle in the second half of the season has seen his stock fall, and the incoming offers are unlikely to have the Pacers rushing to make a deal even if he will become a free agent next summer.
As a result, they are likely to be stuck with what Coach Frank Vogel currently has at his disposal, and unfortunately for Pacers fans, their defense isn’t going to be enough to avoid this season being a painful experience.
While they don’t have a reputation of ripping up an entire plan to rebuild, at this stage it is unlikely that they even have that as an option, and so instead they will be forced to work with what they have and in turn they will desperately need to find offense from somewhere to remain competitive.