Connect with us

NBA

NBA Sunday: The Pacers Might Be A Problem

With Paul George’s return and an underrated offseason, the Pacers may race to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Moke Hamilton

Published

on

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

During last month’s draft, between the Boston Celtics desperately trying to unload their third overall pick and experts trying to predict where Skal Labissiere would fall, somehow, we overlooked the Indiana Pacers dramatically upgrading their point guard position by turning George Hill into Jeff Teague.

Somehow, we missed the Pacers turning the 20th pick in the draft into the versatile Thaddeus Young and, due to the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, overlooked the signing of Al Jefferson. Jefferson, who will turn 32 years old in January, has probably seen better days, but even still, when healthy, he is still a tremendous low post presence.

With newly installed head coach Nate McMillan calling the shots for the Pacers, there are a bevy of unknowns in Indianapolis.

But even still, it’s difficult to imagine them not reemerging as a power in the Eastern Conference.

* * * * * *

Seeing an opportunity to make a defensive play in an utterly meaningless game, with his sights set on James Harden, Paul George measured his steps and rose into the air. By the time gravity would take its course, on August 1, 2014, everything changed.

The Pacers were coming off of back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals and seemed to be the only team that could rightfully call itself a peer of the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. With a defensive-first attitude and career-best production from Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert, Paul George rose up from being simply a player with a funny haircut to one of the league’s best all-around contributors.

Today, we have no concept of history. It’s all about what someone has done for you lately and about what they showed you last week. But if you go back and watch the tape and listen to the commentary on and praise of Paul George, you will quickly be reminded that there was no player in the entire league that had his combination of size, length, on-ball defensive instincts, shooting ability and athleticism.

As he laid on his back during the pre-FIBA World Cup Team USA Exhibition in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, George and his parents wondered whether his career was over while the basketball-viewing public knew it was.

Miraculously, despite being ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season, George beat the odds by beginning to practice with his team in February of 2015. This was a miracle considering the compound fracture he suffered in his lower right leg. George ended up playing the final six games of a 2014-15 season that saw the Pacers miss the playoffs for the first time since he entered the league.

By the time the 2015-16 season began, George had long been cleared to resume basketball activities without any restrictions. By the time he did so, most of his running mates—Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert and David West among them—were gone. He was surrounded by new faces and suddenly saw his Pacers in the lower echelon of an Eastern Conference that had suddenly become more competitive.

George responded to that how any truly great player would: he excelled.

During the 2015-16 season, George appeared in 81 games. The lone game he missed was the final game of the regular season and it was because head coach Frank Vogel opted to rest four of his starters since the Pacers were locked into the conference’s seventh seed.

The Pacers would last all of seven games before succumbing to the second-seed Toronto Raptors, but in their first round playoff series, George was magnificent. He dominated the series on both ends of the floor and was clearly the best and most consistent player over its duration. During the series, his per-game averages of 27.3 points, 7.6 rebounds 4.3 assists and two steals easily tell the story of what he contributed.

In the end, he simply didn’t have enough help.

During the regular season, George essentially picked back up right where he left off. As compared with his output during the 2013-14 season, George was superior in a number of areas, including scoring a career-high 23.1 points per game, and accomplishing it while playing the least minutes he averaged since his sophomore year. His shooting percentages were consistent with his career output. He scored 35 points or more on seven occasions and 45 or more twice.

In short, after a one-year hiatus, Paul George had reverted to Paul George. And that’s something that the entire Eastern Conference needs to take note of.

* * * * * *

It’s October 28, 2015. George stands at center court of the Air Canada Center and greets Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They exchange pleasantries as a great many of the Raptors players welcome George back and wish him the best of luck.

With George Hill, C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis and Ian Mahinmi flanking him, George struggles a bit. In the end, after suffering a 106-99 loss at the hands of the Raptors, George recognizes that his 12 rebounds and eight assists were good output, but his 4-for-17 shooting from the field simply wouldn’t get it done.

As the season wore on, George became stronger, but the same couldn’t be said of his supporting cast.

Now, as the 2016-17 commences, the 30-year-old Hill has been replaced by the 28-year-old Jeff Teague while Mahinmi’s place in the rotation will be taken by new additions Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young. The sophomore Myles Turner truly hit the ground running during his rookie year and will eventually be a starter in the NBA for many years to come.

With McMillan replacing Frank Vogel on the bench, his responsibility will be to find a way to put the pieces together. But judging by the way McMillan handled the revolving door of players he coached with the Portland Trail Blazers, the head coach should have little difficulty with finding a way to put these pieces together.

In Teague, McMillan has a point guard who has played an integral role in his team’s reaching the playoffs in each year of his seven-year career, while Young has long been one of the more underrated two-way, combo forwards in the league. With Young and George in the lineup, the Pacers perimeter defense will be top-notch.

In Ellis, the Pacers will have a proven score and a player who doesn’t get the credit he deserves for seeing the floor as well as he does, and in Jefferson, the team will have an interior presence who has made a living for himself by attracting double teams and attention in the low post.

With Myles Turner, C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and Lavoy Allen, it’s difficult seeing how this experiment in Indianapolis will fail. It’s especially difficult considering that Paul George just recently celebrated his 26th birthday and is nowhere near his physical prime. History tells us that George will improve upon his 2015-16 season, and with the pieces that have been put around him, again, that’s something the entire conference should recognize; and perhaps shudder at.

* * * * * *

As the offseason continues, even as we enter and pass mid-July, there are still a number of impact free agents on the market. As of July 17, the Pacers have $12 million available under the cap and could have the $2.8 million room exception as their disposal. Next summer, depending on whether Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles opt out of their contracts (they will, in all likelihood), the Pacers could have as much as $50 million available under the cap.

With sensible contracts on their books, a fairly young nucleus augmented by productive veterans and the progressing Paul George, a bright season and a bright, bright future may lie ahead for the Pacers.

Indeed, since Paul George laid on his back in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center just about two years ago, things have changed dramatically.

The Indiana Pacers will prove in short order, though—change is sometimes for the best.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

Published

on

“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

Continue Reading

NBA

Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

Published

on

Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending Now