NBA AM: Pacers Thriving Despite Roster Changes

The Indiana Pacers have been one of the season’s biggest surprises. Can they keep up the momentum?

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Pacers are Relevant Again in the Eastern Conference

From 2012 to 2014, the Indiana Pacers emerged as an annual playoff thorn in the side of the Miami HEAT in that franchise’s quest to reach the NBA Finals. Those Pacers amassed an impressive 147-82 (.641) record and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals before finishing the 2014-15 campaign a woeful 38-44 and missing the playoffs.

Last season’s demise was expected as former All-Star forward Paul George missed all but six games after suffering a gruesome leg injury while participating with Team USA the previous summer.

What wasn’t expected was the decision made by Indiana’s front office this past offseason to revamp the team’s personnel on the fly and usher in a new style of basketball. First was the departure of former All-Star and starting power forward David West, who opted for significantly less money to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. Next, the team decided to trade longtime starting center Roy Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers. Also out the door in free agency was rugged veteran forward Luis Scola, who ultimately ended up in Toronto.

The Pacers then surprisingly reached an agreement with high scoring guard Monta Ellis in free agency and openly stated their plan was to utilize George at power forward during the upcoming season. This made it extremely clear the team wanted to play smaller and at a more frenetic pace.

The results have been largely positive to start the 2015-16 season. The Pacers (12-8) currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and are only 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top slot. George has adapted well to his new role at power forward by averaging 27.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

The overall transformation has been impressive on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, the Pacers scored 97.3 points per game, ranking 24th in the league. This season, the club is scoring 104.2 points per contest and rank fifth, while keeping their defensive efficiency rating consistent with the 2014-15 campaign.

While Indiana is currently on a three-game skid, the team had won nine of their previous 10 contests. The Pacers return to action December 11 versus the HEAT.

Celtics’ David Lee Wants More Playing Time

Former All-Star. Two-time 20-point scorer over a full season. NBA champion. At 32, David Lee may be past his absolute physical prime, but he shouldn’t be considered end of bench fodder either. However, he’s averaging a career-low 15.4 minutes per game this season for the Boston Celtics this season. Lee was dealt to Boston from the Golden State Warriors this past offseason.

The Celtics have plenty of youth up and down the roster so the acquisition of Lee was meant to inject a veteran presence in the locker room and a proven producer in the rotation.

Lee has, for the most part, taken his role in stride – but he also isn’t content with the amount minutes head coach Brad Stevens is playing him on a nightly basis.

“That’s all I can do, is be ready to play 25, 30 but realize that’s not going to be the case most nights,” Lee said according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “I can choose to be frustrated by it or I can choose to make the most out of my time and make a positive contribution and find a way to do it in different ways.

“I don’t know where it’s going to be, but I know I’m going to be aggressive and I’m going to play with energy. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”

Not surprisingly, given the low minutes, Lee is also averaging the lowest points (6.6) and rebounds (4.0) since his rookie season in 2006.

“I don’t accept [it], it’s very frustrating, and the moment you start to accept it is when [you’ve] kind of stopped trying,” Lee said. “While Coach can make any decision whom he wants to start or bring off the bench, my goal is to be a guy who’s playing 20, 25 minutes, and I’ve had a meeting with Coach and told him that.

“And that’s no disrespect to any other big [man] we have. But as a player I think everybody wants to play more and that’s just having confidence in your own game.”

The Celtics (12-9) are tied with the Orlando Magic for eighth place in the improved Eastern Conference. The team features other capable big men such as Tyler Zeller, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger so Lee’s playing time will likely continue to follow this current trajectory.

Lee, set to earn $15.5 million this season, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

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Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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